Performance Management Blog

On Dissociation and Innovative Thinking – Stepping Back from The Wagon

On a LinkedIn group discussion on innovation and “Thinking out of the box,” I posted up some of my thoughts about the metaphor. Basically, I have never quite liked that old “Box” anchor point, and I remember the old “Joshua in the Box” McGraw Hill training video from back in the 70s —

Working with groups around organizational improvement and creativity, I prefer using the Square Wheels cartoons and related metaphors for these workshops.

Readers of my blog and visitors to my site will understand that the Square Wheels One illustration is used for a lot of things:

How things really work in most organizations - they roll on Square Wheels

The basic metaphor is a wooden wagon rolling on Square Wheels with a cargo of round ones. It is a truly effective projective inkblot-like tool to get people thinking and discussing issues and opportunities.

If I am doing some more senior manager intellectual kinds of work, it can  sometimes be beneficial to get into the “psychology” of how this works:

  • Associated Position: Most of us go through life “associated” in that we see things through our own eyes; after all, that IS how we view the world.
  • Dissociated Position: Counseling psych will tell us that it is VERY useful to view things from a dissociated position — like we are watching TV, since that is a less emotional way of looking at things.

So, I’ll talk about “Stepping back from the wagon,” and NOT seeing things from the view of the wagon puller (lovely vision of the future) or the wagon pusher (boards and hands), but from the viewpoint of the VIEWER of this situation (the participant’s view of what is happening).

The View at the Front and the related View at the Back.

That dissociated viewpoint is what allows one to see different issues and opportunities. Stepping back from the wagon allows us to see things much differently than if we are looking at “the job at hand” in most situations.

And almost always, the Round Wheels are already IN the wagon. But if we keep pulling and pushing like we always have, we will not ever see them!!

Have fun out there!


Dr. Scott Simmerman

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant, earning CPT and CPF credentials. -- You can reach Scott at and a detailed profile is here: -- Scott is the original designer of The Search for The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine teambuilding game and the Square Wheels® images for organizational development.

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