Fun and Learning – Ezine May 2005

Fun and learning

I got bored with writing a rather heavy piece on choice and responsibility and decided to abandon it. If it bored me, it would certainly bore you!

So, this one is about fun and learning and should be more enjoyable for all of us! It is also quite short.

Why is this important?

We learn in order to get or be what we want. As the rate of change accelerates this becomes increasingly important. Many of the readers of these articles are helping other people learn. In either case, we may as well make learning as much fun as we can. 

People major in learning. We are generalists. We are always doing new things. If we are learning, we are “doing what comes naturally”. Evolution or God or the Universe will have made sure we enjoy doing it or we would stop, be stuck and become extinct. So, fun and learning are “permanently intertwined” like the honeysuckle and the bindweed in the Flanders and Swann song.

You can also see it is true by noticing the best learners we have, infants. I have written about this before in the article on Accelerating Learning

Organisational implications

As organisations get tighter, downsize and eliminate slack, they can also eliminate the space for people to “be”. Tightness increases stress and stressed people in stressed organisations don’t have much fun or the energy to learn new things. 

There is a paradox here. You do need slack to provide time to think. Time to think and play can help the organisation be more creative and even get rid of unnecessary or low added value work. It is hard when you have 150 emails to read and another of those wretched ezines from Nick Heap! (Time to Think is also an excellent book by Nancy Kline)

There are organisations that have created an environment where fun and learning happen. The South West Airlines story in Nuts! by Kevin and Jackie Freiberg is inspiring. Also look at The Spirited Business by Georgeanne Lamont for more inspiration. I have met Henry Stewart (now Henry Happy(!)) at Happy Computers and they do walk the talk.

I have written about some of the things that organisations can do to become more creative in “The Creative Organisation” I wont repeat too much detail here, but some of the dimensions I explore are Play (fun again), Flexible Persistence, Power, Purpose, Attention, Inspiration and Awareness with ideas on how to develop them.

Where are the practical ideas?

OK, they are coming! 

Use “games” to encourage fun and learning

You know that the timing of games in learning events is very important. You always have to think carefully about the purpose and depth of the game. Ideally, make the decision to use a game at a particular time with a particular group for a particular purpose. If it becomes “automatic” or worse you run one to meet your own needs rather than the needs of the group, then it will backfire. I’ve been there, done it and not enjoyed the experience.

There are a few games on the site here with, I hope, enough explanation to help you make intelligent judgements about how to use them.

I very much like, the name game, which is an excellent way to create a learning climate at the beginning of a course, workshop or meeting. It also gives people a great sense of achievement to learn everyone’s names in a few minutes and not forget them. It’s very good with shy groups.

Get people to “do” things, in a light-hearted way

I had a client who was very scared of presenting. He thought he ought to use slick Power Point slides, be superbly prepared and be very formal. He was a friendly, informal sociable man who was very good at chatting to people.

I worked with him one to one and we decided to set up an “impossible” situation so he could face his fears and have a good laugh. I asked him to tell me something he knew nothing about and then gave him two minutes to present his ideas on this to me while I avoided eye contact, looked bored and anything else he thought would put him off.

Surprisingly, he made a very good job of it, even enjoyed it and it was interesting too. He learned that his natural friendly style worked well. Later he reported that his presentations were going down well. Also he had spoken at his father’s funeral service, which he never thought he would be able to do.

Try being silly – you may learn a lot

A friend challenged me at a conference. She said she wanted to run a short workshop with me and did not mind what it was – as long as it was silly! Ulp!

We found a few other people and each of us decided to design and run a mini training event that was “too silly to get away with at work”. We all took part in each other’s events. 

The one I remember most vividly used a table and chair to represent an organisation. The boss sat on a chair, which was on the table, the two middle managers on the table and the five workers on the floor. Communication was by note only. It was much easier to communicate downwards than upwards. The managers got progressively more smug and detached and the workers more angry as it went on. It mimicked real life!

All of us got beyond our comfort zone in the mini-workshops. I think it helped us extend our thinking about what was possible at work. It also reminded us that the people we develop, using methods we are familiar with, might feel just like we did.

Give permission and encouragement

In my experience, people learn better when they know what is expected of them or what they need to do to get the most out of an event. So, you can try suggesting to people that they will get more out of the event if they listen to each other, share their thoughts and experiences, are supportive, explore and value differences, give feedback honestly but with care. You can also ask if there any other things that would help.

I also say “You have my permission to enjoy it”. This will usually get a laugh but the permission is important. So many planned “learning” experiences are not enjoyable that some people don’t expect to enjoy them or even think they should!

That’s more-or-less it

I would be interested in any ways you find of encouraging fun and learning. Also in any thoughts you have about this article. There is a reply box at the end of the text, please say something, even it is “What rubbish” 

If you would like help using this idea, or have any comments or questions please contact me. Thanks, Nick