Squirm Test

From Faster Than 20

The squirm test is a thought experiment / exercise to measure a group's shared understanding. It is performed on a group of people collaborating on something together.

  1. Sit in a circle. Everyone should be sitting on their hands. (This is a technique stolen from writers' workshops, which encourages you to listen rather than respond and react.)
  2. One person stands, and explains what the group is working on and why. No one is allowed to respond.
  3. That person sits, the next person in the circle stands, and repeats the exercise.
  4. Do this until everyone has had the chance to speak.

The amount of shared understanding of the room is inversely proportional to the squirming in the room that happened while people spoke. If no one squirmed, you have strong shared understanding.

Real-Life Examples

While The Squirm Test is meant to be a thought experiment, you can actually perform it as an exercise with a group of people in a room or even virtually. In fact, Wikipedia's notion of Neutral Point of View (NPOV) is a real-life example of The Squirm Test in action. The idea behind NPOV is that anyone should be able to read a Wikipedia article and feel like their view is fairly represented. In other words, they should be able to read it without squirming. That's essentially the Squirm Test. Encouraging NPOV drives a group forward by developing a strong shared understanding in an asynchronous, emergent way.

Flip charts and dots.


Eugene conceived of The Squirm Test in 2000. He was working with a group (including Eric Armstrong) that was struggling to think through Doug Engelbart's vision for a next-generation hyperdocument system. Things were not proceeding smoothly. During one of our discussions, Eric noted that one of the participants was squirming in response to something that someone else had said. That imagery stuck in Eugene's head, and soon afterward, he posited the Squirm Test as a thought experiment. This simple thought experiment has been remarkably generative.

See Also