What Do StarPower® Participants Learn?

Power is a taboo topic for most people. Yet, it profoundly affects the way we do business, manage organizations, and relate to those we are supposed to serve.

StarPower is used in cultural diversity programs, management training for younger managers on the “fast track”, training on the proper use of power for such diverse groups as police officers, doctors, gangs, supervisors of factory workers and their managers.

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StarPower Kit

StarPower Kit Includes All Materials For Up To 36 Participants

StarPower helps participants:

  • Understand that power must have a legitimate basis to be effective.
  • See and feel the effect of disempowerment.
  • Realize that sharing power can increase it while hoarding or abusing power can diminish it.
  • Understand the effect that systems can have on power.
  • Be aware of how tempting it is for well-intentioned people to abuse power.
  • Understand that there are different kinds of power.
  • Personally experience and discuss the excitement of power and the despair of powerlessness.

As part of management training, StarPower illustrates how power affects performance, motivation and behavior. In diversity training, StarPower provokes discussion surrounding bias and gender, and helps examine how power manifests itself within a diverse organization.

What Happens in StarPower?

StarPower participants are challenged to progress from one level of society to another by acquiring wealth through trading with others. The first two rounds are very sociable. People are laughing, talking, and having a good time exchanging chips. Then the wealthiest group gains power.

Barriers spring up between the various levels of the society. Communication gets strained. The group that has the power often tries to protect their power through illegitimate means. The others respond by giving up, organizing, or overthrowing the power group. After the simulation winds down, participants discuss power in safe, yet revealing, ways.

Discussing StarPower (Excerpts from the Directors Guide):

There are many ideas, beyond those listed below (click +/-), which may emerge in a discussion of the StarPower simulation and it is likely that each facilitator will want to examine the implications of such ideas for the specific topic under consideration. For instance a facilitator concerned with improving relations between two racial groups, between employers and employees, or between men and women, might discuss the parallels between the powerlessness felt in situations created in the simulation.

Generally however, groups need to discuss the simulation in personal terms of “who did what to whom”, before going on to the issues involved.  This can be an important experience in interpersonal relationships, helping members of the groups to understand their reactions to authority, competitive situations, etc.

StarPower is a situation which is competitive, has only a few winners and is highly unbalanced with regard to the distribution of power. Such a system almost invariably produces aggressive, authoritarian behavior. It would be possible to take a group of aggressive StarPower players and put them in a social system that rewards openness, honesty, warmth and tenderness and have them act entirely different; not because they are any better or worse as individuals but because they are operating in a different social system.

Consequently, many of our efforts to improve relations between races, different factions of the community, and improve morale in businesses are doomed to failure if we also don’t try to change the social system in which they operate.

Before the simulation, most players would agree with the statement of Lord Acton who said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. But after the simulation, they assert their belief with a new respect for its validity. At least the Circles and Triangles do. The Squares sometimes have a hard time admitting that they abused their power or that they enjoyed exercising it. The Circles and Triangles are generally quick to point out instances where the Squares did not treat them fairly such as arbitrarily rejecting proposals by the Circles and Triangles, claiming special privileges, restricting the right of the Circles and Triangles and so on. Also, such non-verbal behavior as pulling their chairs close together, laughing devilishly and being unusually animated as they made their rules, would seem to suggest that perhaps they enjoyed it. And that, of course is the point. The reason power is corrupting is that it is intensely satisfying, makes one feel supremely important and creates an insatiable desire for more power. Few people can resist its influence. If this is so, then the clear implication is that we must not only try to avoid abusing power ourselves, but also guard against its abuse in politics, business, schools, families and in on-to-one relationships with others.

The idea that power corrupts as well as the other ideas which are listed below are often known by the participants before they participate in the simulation. Yet, when participants of all ages and sophistication are asked to place a value on what they learned from participating in StarPower, they consistently report that it was “very important” to them. In  looking into this seeming contradiction of participants placing value on learning concepts which they already knew, it seems that the playing of StarPower has given new strength and validity to old but important ideas. It is one thing to know that power corrupts everyone, it is quite another to realize that power might also corrupt Ted or Mary or even oneself. This realization can often help the participants look at these ideas with a new perspective – an ideal time to re-evaluate them, to determine if there is still truth and meaning in them, to apply them to one’s own discipline or situation or simply re-affirm their importance.

When the Circles and Triangles realize that the Squares are not going to be fair with them, they generally drop out psychologically or, physically, try to sabotage the efforts of the Squares, or seize the power for themselves.

This is not a new or surprising idea, but experiencing it directly can often help people see the behavior of those who are reacting to powerlessness, real or imagined, with a new tolerance and understanding.

When the Squares are given the power to make rules they are told they can make any rules they want but they must also enforce any rules they make. They rarely pay much attention to the enforcement part of the statement until the Circles and Triangles decide to disobey them. Then the often appeal to the director to make the Circles and Triangles obey them, and they have to be reminded that it is their duty to enforce the rules. They generally respond by piling on more rules which also are not obeyed.

This raises several interesting questions. Under what conditions is it possible to make unfair rules and have people obey them? Is it worth the price? Are people justified in disobeying unjust rules? Always?

Even when the Squares willingly admit that their rules are not fair, they often cannot understand why the Triangles and Circles are so upset. If a measure of perceived fairness were available, there is little question that there would be a great disparity between the Squares and the Circles/Triangles’ perception of what is fair. It is this discrepancy which often creates serious communication gaps between administrators and teachers, management and labor, the legislators and the people, the rich and the not-so-rich.
When a Circle or Triangle is promoted to the  Square group, he or she almost always participates in the rule making which discriminates against the Circles and Triangles.

Even when they do protest during the rule making, they will often use the rules to their own advantage and to the disadvantage of the Circles and Triangles. There is a question, or course, whether they would identify so closely with the Squares, if they continued to wear their Circle or Triangle badges after being promoted or if they had been sent to the Square group with the express purpose of representing the Circle and Triangles.

Conclusions from Participants

StarPower is different than anything I’ve ever played. I learned that, for the most part, when someone ‘makes it’, they tend to forget about the people who got them there. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
StarPower and Where do You Draw the Line? are incredible games. I am responsible for training over 1500 people and these games have presented me with the opportunity to present easy yet interactive training to my folks. Good job to all who were instrumental in making these games.
SFC Keith Arachikavitz, U.S. Army

I have been using StarPower since 1983, when I first started teaching. I showed Inside Job to my students and pondered how to get at the underlying lessons. I decided to use StarPower illustrate many of the films major themes [including dealing with financial crisis}. The film is widely shown in high school and college classes. It remains the single most effective teaching tool I have ever encountered.

Fred Smoller , Chapman College

What are the minimum and maximum number of participants for StarPower?

StarPower requires a minimum of 18 participants and as many as 36.

How much time is required for StarPower?

StarPower is a strong half-day format. We recommend two to three hours for this simulation — a minimum of one and a half hours for the simulation and at least a half hour for discussion.

How is StarPower used?

Many companies use StarPower as an introduction for multiple day workshops on management skills, team building or TQM training. StarPower is also used in cultural diversity programs, management training for junior managers on the “fast track,” and in training on the proper use of power for such diverse groups as police officers, gangs, factory workers and managers.

What does the StarPower Kit include?

StarPower contains all of the materials for up to 36 participants.

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