Desert Survival Situation™ Testimonials

Survival Series

We intentionally chose a problem with no educational content, the Desert Survival Exercise, to increase the likelihood that students would focus on process, not content. (See Lafferty, Clayton & Pond, 1974,) for more details on this exercise.) Students were expected to practice the targeted skills as they worked on solving the problem embedded in the Desert Survival Exercise….. Students discover through this exercise that applying the interaction method, the problem-solving process, and the various tools presents much more of a challenge than they had expected.  Their realization stimulates them to work on mastering this material during the succeeding projects. 

Edwin M. Bridges (2004).
Problem-Based Learning and Its Role in Preparing School Leaders for Collaboration. In Janet H. Chrispeels (ed.), Learning to Lead Together: The Promise and Challenge of Sharing Leadership. 
Thousand Oaks CA: Sage Publications (page 351).


One particularly enjoyable and enlightening break-out was an exercise called Desert Survival that consumed the first afternoon…. It simulated an accident in the wilderness that required a small group to rank items of survival equipment, work together to “use” them, and then observe the wisdom or folly of their choices as the simulation proceeded.  By comparing individual strategies with team consensus, the exercise graphically demonstrated the value of cooperative collaboration. 

Excerpt from:
John Black (2000) 
Lean Production: Implementing a World-Class System
New York: Industrial Press Incorporated (page 81)


An outstanding way to prove the point that teams outperform individuals is to engage people in an exercise like Desert Survival…. The teams almost always outperform the individuals and, if they do not, the reason can usually be traced to poor functioning of the team. (pages 103-104) 

Excerpt from:
Ken Blanchard, John P. Carlos, and Alan Randolph (1999).
The 3 Keys to Empowerment: Release the Power Within People for Astonishing Results.
San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.


Listening costs money because it is time consuming. However, in the end it saves money because mistakes are corrected, potential problems are avoided, and more creative and cost-effective solutions are generated. Studies by Human Synergistics, developers of the classic team exercise, the Desert Survival Situation, demonstrated that teams with good listening skills consistently outperformed teams where the members did not listen to each other. (page 31) 

Excerpt from: Glenn M. Parker (1998).
25 Instruments for Team Development.
Amherst MA: HRD Press


Finally, the best thinking very often results from a team effort. With few exceptions, repeated research has established that groups are usually better than individuals at solving problems where no one has deep or relevant experience…. A forceful example is an exercise called the Desert Survival Situation. (page 20-21) 

Excerpt from:
Robert H. Waterman, Jr. (1992).
Adhocracy: The Power to Change.
NY: W.W. Norton and Company


A technique used widely in helping groups to understand the value added from team performance is a classroom exercise designed to demonstrate synergy…. Upon completion of the rankings, both the individual and group rankings are compared to an ordering by experts (desert survival experts). 

The parallel between lessons learned from this exercise and those learned in many aircraft accidents is more than casual. The characteristic of the classroom task that results in such predictable outcomes is its high degree of ambiguity to the participants…. Only when we integrate a number of varied experiences are we likely to arrive at a high-quality solution. 

Excerpt from:
Earl L. Wiener, Barbara G. Kanki, Robert L. Helmreich (1978)
Cockpit Resource Management
Houston Texas: Gulf Publishing (page 77)


I pushed the chemistry desk into the hall (only to be reprimanded later by both the registrar and the janitorial service department), and we began the Desert Survival Exercise that every member of the introductory course had agreed to use in the first class. 

I had been skeptical about the exercise, but it worked. The students broke down into small groups to play the roles of survivors of an airplane crash in the desert…. It turned out to be a particularly appropriate exercise for the first day, as it came so close to some of our real survival emotions. An important lesson that emerged was the need to determine objectives or strategy before allocating materials. Student-survivors who didn't first figure out whether to signal for help or to walk out of the desert ended up with the wrong mixture of resources. 

Students also discovered that decision making in groups, though less efficient, led them to make better choices because of the information exchange, the disagreement, even the conflict in deciding which resources they wanted. Learning to accept and even seek out the intellectual interdependence and to respect conflict as well as cooperation would be a key to making our case discussions work. 

Coleen Burke (1961).
Tulips, tinfoil, and teaching: journal of a freshman teacher. (37-68)
In C. Roland Christensen, David A. Garvin, Ann Sweet (eds.), Education for Judgment: The Artistry of Discussion leadership.
 Boston: Harvard Business School Press (pages 46-47)