The unbelievable (im)possible task

How can a team guess two hidden cards out of 52, without having absolutely no extra information? None. It’s an impossible task, apparently, isn’t it? I thought the same until I saw what happened.

This particular cards guessing moment blew my mind, until today. I don’t understand the magic behind it, but I can describe it.

Some days ago, I had the privilege of attending a one-day workshop with a team of 80 people, approximately. My job was to record and support the event with all the necessary logistics and while I did it I observed what happened.

A coach entered the scene to motivate the team and he brought a challenge. They should cut a deck of cards as many times as they wanted until it was undoubtedly shuffled. No questions about that. Then, he called a person to pick the two cards from the top of the deck and to insert each of them in two different envelopes, and the show started.

The coach asked:

– How can you, as a team, guess which cards are in there, without knowing any information about the other cards of the deck?

Some answers quickly came out, some of them shy, others amused:

– We make you questions – Great idea, but… the coach didn’t see the cards either

– Let’s wet the envelopes and against light, we can see inside without open it – another brilliant idea, maybe they could destroy the deck next time

– If we don’t ever open the envelope, any answer will be correct – that’s true! If we don’t know the real facts all the guessings are a possibility

Lots of laughs emerged with most of the proposed solutions to solve the impossible task. When no more ideas were available in the room, the coach decided to guess together with the team.

– Who thinks that the 2 cards are black?

Just a few raised the arms.

– And who thinks they are both red?

Also just a few raised their arms.

-Who thinks that one is black and the other is red?

The majority raised their arms, but not everyone participated and noticing that the coach encouraged those who didn’t vote:

– you don’t know the answer, but let me tell you something important: neither they do!

Laughs and laughs again and again. The questions went on. The coach would ask them about the figures and numbers; if the numbers could be even or odd; low, mid or high; and the guessing of the majority would prevail, until they had in a draw the possible cards: a 9 of clubs and a 6 hearts.

The most expected moment came – opening the envelopes. All the persons in the room were curious to know if they were close or not from the real ones. The odds were low… really low. The result?

The first card was a 9 of hearts and the second was the six of clubs! Amazing! But, still, not the exact match because the guessed cards that were drawn on a flip chart were the 9 of clubs and the 6 of hearts. What happened next was a stroke of genius. The coach concluded:

– A key ingredient was missing. In Portugal, we are the champions on that and it is called “desenrascanço” (unleash), so if we spin the draw everything goes right. With a little bit of “desenrascanço” everything works out in the end. You should own your special characteristics, but remember that you have more characteristics and “desenrascanço” is not the only one!


I will remember this moment forever

A simple game conducted a team to take a decision, one at a time until they solve the (im)possible task. I don’t know what was the trick behind it (and wouldn’t tell anyway as you would understand) but it was a genius one. Pure magic with people minds. And this is what great leaders do: they know their team minds and they know how to lead them through the unknown ground. Great leaders respect decisions. Great leaders trust the team and make the team trust that they can do it, whatever it is. Above all, great leaders have the ability to make their team believe that they can solve (im)possible tasks.


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