Thursday, 26 February 2015

Time to apply

As somebody who creates and delivers a lot of training sessions, I'm used to putting together workshops and activities.

I have a process which I work through which usually involves providing some background context to the activity, lots of questions to ask participants, and then the key theories or principles that underpin the workshop. Throughout the session I will regularly ask questions to try and determine how well participants are internalising and making sense of the information I'm providing.

But how is it possible to determine whether participants will really be able to apply their new knowledge to their own work once the workshop is over? For example, let's say I'm giving a workshop on creative thinking to a group of car mechanics. I may be an expert in creative thinking, but I have very little understanding of the day-to-day activities and processes that my participants undertake. What happens if they ask me how they can reimagine one of their complex assembly procedures?

The answer is that I can't. But in many ways it's also important that I don't, because if I were to provide an answer they wouldn't feel as if they 'owned' it. As a facilitator, it is always tempting to try and provide answers, especially when participants ask you to do so. But it's much more valuable to give them the time and space to arrive at an answer themselves as this will create the realisation that they have the ability to apply creative thinking to solve problems in their own specific context.

A common issue with many professions is that problems and situations are often complex, what Schon (1983) referred to as 'the swampy lowlands of professional practice'. A workshop facilitator cannot and should not attempt to provide answers, but should instead strive to create the belief in participants that they themselves have the ability to address and resolve these problems. As Schon observes, learners need time to 'reflect in action' as well as 'reflect on action'.

In future I think it might be a good idea to manage participants' expectations by making this abundantly clear at the start of the session. And also build in more time for them to reflect on how they might apply their new knowledge to their own specific practice.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

The agony of choice

I recently came across this insightful and humourous TED talk by Dan Gilbert about the surprising science of happiness. The talk provides a fascinating insight into the human ability to 'synthesise' happiness - in other words, our ability to convince ourselves that we are happy. But it also highlights the complex emotional responses brought about by having to make choices. If you have 15 mins to spare have a watch of the video, he's a great presenter and the science is fascinating. Here are some key points from the talk:

If we don’t have options, we convince ourselves that what we have is great. We synthesise happiness.

As soon as you introduce choice, you introduce the fear of choosing the wrong thing. And consequently the potential for unhappiness.

Examples: Moreese Bickham, who spent 37 years in an American jail for a crime he didn’t commit, was exonerated at the age of 78. He stated, “I don’t have one minute’s regret, it was a glorious experience”. And Pete Best, former drummer of the Beatles, who stated, “I’m happier now that I would have been in the Beatles”.

Some implications for experience design:
  • If we have limited options, it leads us to work joyfully and have a better experience. But if we have many options, we fear the impact of making the wrong decision.
  • If we believe a decision we have made is irreversible, we convince ourselves that we made the right decision.
  • Understand and fulfill customer/user needs as fully as possible while minimising their options. This should lead to them being happier and having a better experience.
There are also important links between Gilbert's findings and research into the effect of having to make choices on our willpower. This post from Creative Huddle explains how having to make too many choices can lead to 'ego-depletion'. Here are some key extracts:

Choice requires effort. Willpower is a finite resource.

The simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make further decisions.

Example: Barack Obama “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m wearing or eating because I have too many other decisions to make”.

Implications for experience design:
  • Choice causes fatigue.
  • Don’t force people to make choices unless absolutely necessary.

Further reading: David McRaney on ego-depletion.