Tuesday, November 24, 2009


The last day of school was always a bit of a problem for everyone concerned.

All the actual work had been done, none of the students could be bothered to work and none of the teachers could be bothered to teach.

Seriously, who's going to sit there and do math that wasn't going to count towards any kind of final grade when school would be over for six weeks in just a few hours?

What made this problem worse is that you had to do something, otherwise what was the point? We needed some sort of task to perform, otherwise it was just a bunch of teenagers and adults sitting in a building from 8.30am to 4pm for no good reason.

One year our teachers had a brainwave. We had an 'activity day'. We had a set of borderline educational 'games' to play that were fun enough to where we'd actually want to do them, and just educational enough to make doing them at school make sense.

(In the real world these are called 'Management Retreats' or 'Team Building Days' and are just a big of a waste of time, only in the real world there's usually one completely out of touch boss who's taking it super seriously and thinks running an obstacle course will make everyone work harder for no more pay.)

These tasks and games were set to take place over the whole day. For example, for part of the morning we had 'problem solving' where a bunch of benches, pommel-horses and other assorted gym equipment was set up in the sports hall, and you had to get your team from one side of the room to the other without touching the floor.

The weirdest part of the day was the teams. You see, my high school was divided into houses (Yes, like Hogwarts, but not nearly that exciting) and for organizational ease, the whole year was split in two. It was rare to be put into a group with someone from another house, but you never ended up in a group with someone from the other half of the year.

That day, all that went out the window. I ended up on a team with people I'd never so much as spoken to before.

The worst news was that our team functioned in the same way any group of teenagers who don't know each other will function when forced into a group together:

One person (usually a girl) will spend the entire time with her arms folded, not speaking to anyone or doing anything. One guy will decide this is his big chance with the ladies and will try to come across as ultra masculine, but will actually come across as a future serial killer whos had too much caffeine…and everyone else in the group will want to be in charge, regardless of their actual level of skill or talent.

Luckily, by the age of fifteen I'd discovered the secret to actually being in charge and getting things done when working with strangers in groups. If the task is a purely mental one like a puzzle… simply work on it yourself quietly and it's almost guaranteed you'll have it solved long before the rest of the team have finished arguing over the best way to start. If it's a task that requires co-operation, people don't respond to good ideas, qualifications or anything that makes sense (If the task is to build a tower out of straws and you're an architect/structural engineer, the guy who works detailing cars will still argue with you over the best way to build it)…but these types of people are extremely easy to manipulate.

So the final task of the day was one I'm sure everyone who's ever been forced to go on a team building day will be familiar with. We were given a plastic cup filled with various odds and ends, and using the materials provided, we had to build something to allow an egg to survive a two story drop.

My team got to work…and by that I mean, two people started fighting over the materials, Miss Popular rolled her eyes and folded her arms slightly tighter, another girl kept saying the same really bad idea over and over…and Mr. Alpha suggested an arm wrestling tournament to decide who's idea we should use.

Anyway, I put 'Operation Do As I Say' into action. If you don't know how to do this, pay attention, as in any group context it'll get you your own way nine times out of ten… or at the very least hurry things along:

Firstly, you let everyone argue for five minutes or so, without joining in. Then you pick the person trying hardest to be the Alpha male or female and say: "Hey, I really like (loudest guy)'s idea that we should do (insert your own plan/idea here)'.

This works because, in a group situation, no-one is actually listening to a damn word anyone else is saying. Whenever anyone's talking, everyone else is simply using that time to think about what they're going to say next. Also, when someone hears you say that you like their idea, there's no way in hell they're going to contradict you. If you tell someone you love their idea, they'll take credit for it

Then you say: "I also really liked (second loudest guy)'s idea, I think that would really help with (first person)'s idea. What was that again?" Then listen with rapt attention to whatever drivel they come up with.

The first guy will actually listen because the second person is only 'helping' with their awesome idea, and person two is now on board because it's his genius idea that's the super-important lynch-pin that makes the first guy's obviously stupid idea work.

Then, you do whatever you damn well please as long as you remember to only refer to the project as the other two peoples' idea. If someone else pipes up with a stupid addition, you tell that person that they're absolutely correct, you can't believe how stupid you were not to see how vital their addition is…then you give them some 'important' busy work to distract them…and don't even think of implementing their idea.

It was really funny to watch, actually. Alpha was smug as hell that he was getting all the credit for an idea that wasn't his own, and the Alpha wannabe was smirking that 'we' were obviously just pretending to give Alpha his way when everyone was really following his lead.

I know it sounds a little evil, but imagine trying to explain to a knuckle-dragging idiot that if you tape a popsicle stick to the top of an egg it will not work like a helicopter rotor no matter how much spin you give it when you chuck it out of the window

So, we ended up going with my idea. We put crumpled up newspaper in the bottom of the plastic cup as a shock absorber, put the egg on top of that with more newspaper above it, we sealed the cup with tape and made a parachute out of string and a plastic bag. We were done in record time as well, we were putting the finishing touches to our parachute, everyone else was still arguing over how to start.

At the end of the day, the teacher's took all our creations, took them to the top of the English block and chucked them out of the window while we all gathered underneath. Ours was the only egg to survive completely intact…

Then everyone said we cheated because we used the cup the materials came in and came out with some bollocks that it wasn't an 'allowed material', even though it said nowhere on the task sheet we couldn't use it.

The teachers upheld the decision.

Personally, I thought that was total bullshit.

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