Performance Management Blog

Square Wheels – People and Performance – A joke and a story
Square Wheels, Caterpillars and Butterflies and the mentor painter

Square Wheels® are engagement tools, a series of images around a metaphor of how things really work, that are used to lead discussions in-person and virtually. The images and reactions to them are all about People and Performance and they are are used for storytelling, coaching, innovation, engagement and team building.

They are also great for engaging people in online discussions about issues and opportunities and we have about 200 related images in our files to support all kinds of key learning points and organizational improvement frameworks.

The main image has gone through three main iterations and now appears as the illustration on the right, our new main style.

Square Wheels One images since 1993 including 2022

And, as part of that stylistic conversion, which was to add color and interest and modernize the images somewhat, we also had my main storyline and message converted into a large image “compendium” and into a VERY UNIQUE learning and discussion tool around change and diversity of thinking.

Let me show it to you as an image and then tell you the joke and then build out the story and the learning lesson.

Really; take a minute and LOOK at the drawing and see what you see and think what you think, before I start my narrative.
Catch as much as you can and let me see if I can surprise you!

(and please do not take my image which is protected by copyright and trademark.)

Square Wheels, Caterpillars and Butterflies and the mentor painter

Okay. What do you think? Take a minute to reflect on what YOU see when you look at the above.

Let me share how I use this in presentations. I show the image and tell a joke, generally after I have already shown them “Square Wheels One” and have engaged them in a discussion around that main wagon cartoon. Then, I show them the above image and say:

There are two caterpillars sitting on the wagon and a beautiful butterfly floats by. The one caterpillar says to the other,“You’ll never get ME up in one of THOSE things!”

Before reading below, THINK about the above for at least a few seconds!!

Let me first note that I had been telling this joke and showing a similar image to audiences for a couple of years. People always laughed and I moved on.

But in a presentation in an Asian country (I think it was for a session of managers for a client in Hong Kong), the reaction I got was a little puzzling so I relied on my general approach to facilitation and I asked them to discuss the image and the joke in small groups. I thought language was the issue.

So, they started and then it got very animated, with the different groups laughing and talking and laughing and talking. I thought it was simple and that they would get MY meaning for the joke: Active Resistance to Change, because that was what the overall session was about. 

So, they continued this for what had to be 5 minutes and I stopped them and asked for, The Answer. What I got amazed me, and after my initial shock, I started writing. Instead of them getting MY Answer, they had MANY of their own!! 

  • The wagon is rolling on Square Wheels with a cargo of round rubber tires.
  • The round wheels are already in the wagon but they are too busy pushing and pulling to make changes.
  • The caterpillars will, in fact, become butterflies. Change is inevitable for them.
  • Do caterpillars know that their future will be different from their current reality?
  • The View from the Front of the wagon is lovely, but the View at the Back is boards and hands. Not very motivating for pushers.
  • The wagon pushers are actually in the mud, and mud makes even this journey more difficult.
  • There are obviously silos here in this situation, and we find them in most work situations.
  • They have Spectator Sheep watching the journey, and they are probably going, “naaaaaaaa,  baaaaaaa” as things progress.
  • Ah, and there is the painter. What does HE understand that the caterpillars may not? One can call him a mentor, because he sees the potential for improvement in the caterpillars.
  • The wagon looks like it is going slightly downhill. That is good for them and certainly better than the more normal situation of people pushing their wagons uphill!

In telling the story and asking for The Answer, in subsequent training sessions, I always ask the group to discuss the image and I always get a lot of different responses. I think I collected 27 of them.

Got any more thoughts of your own different from the above?
And from those thoughts, do you have any suggestions for using this approach with your people?

Lastly, note that most people do not really see the guy at the bottom right, using the image of a caterpillar to paint a butterfly. That is another discussion, but it is why the name of this image is, Mentoring!

I used this image to frame up overall ideas about managing and leading change in a large workshop I led in Amman, Jordan in August, 2022 which is why this has my current attention. I shared the image and then anchored the discussion to the key learning points, one at a time. Discussions at the tabletops are about change, teamwork, alignment, missions and visions and about continuous continuous improvement.

My goal is to package this up with discussion-aids / handouts as a simple tool any manager can use with their people in a remote discussion about workplace issues and ideas. I have consultants who have used the metaphor for more than 25 years and who tell me that they always carry it on their computers just in case they need it in a presentation. 

If you see some possibilities around using the images and the metaphor in your organization, connect with me. I have a LOT of these tools and am looking for some projects on which to collaborate to develop some really powerful tools for performance improvement. These are really great tools for improving facilitation skills, engaging people in workplace improvement, and for leading discussions around innovation and change,

For the FUN of It!

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 who is trying to retire!! He now lives in Cuenca, Ecuador.

You can reach Scott at

Learn more about Scott at his LinkedIn site.

Here is a 2-minute overview of the virtual team building game:

logo for Lost Dutchman Virtual online edition


This text is a link to a press release about The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine teambuilding exercise and its 30 years of impacting people and performance.

Square Wheels® is a registered trademark of Performance Management Company
The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine is a trademark of Performance Management Company
Square Wheels images © Performance Management Company, 1993 – 2023. All rights reserved.



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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