In my favorite joke of all time, Steve Martin delivers a very detailed buildup of sprinkler terms to what he believes is a group in the audience from a “plumber’s convention”. In the culminating delivery of the “punch line” of the joke, no one in the audience laughs; the real punchline is then delivered by the comedian looking confused and, after a worried pause, asking the stage manager “where those plumbers supposed to be here tonight, or tomorrow night?” The audience then erupts in laughter at the idea that the joke failed because he simply just didn’t deliver it on the correct night.
We can learn a lot when we learn to frame failure, struggle, and frustration in a neutral or even humorous way. The humor in the above scenario is the non-humor in the joke. No one understands what the details are in the joke, so no one laughs; the laughing that finally does erupt is from the humor that the joke just failed so amazingly. There is such wisdom in the ability to learn from our mistakes, our shortcomings, and our struggles when we can learn to be fully present, non-judgmental, and embracing of our ability to LIGHTEN UP on ourselves and other people.
Why games and play?
1. Attention, interest, and engagement, and investment from the player. Play is a great way to harness focus! Full-presence can be quickly attained by structuring lessons into play. Plato is credited with suggesting that you can learn more about a person in one hour of play than in one year of conversation; that has indeed been my experience.
2. Structured failure helps build resiliency. Although initially distasteful, a structure of play that involves the participants experiencing more difficulty and ultimately failure as the games progress builds mastery and a real sense of accomplishment; no participation awards- only real, personal and team accomplishment and insight is experienced when these games are structured well. Self measured against self is the deepest competition. Pierre de Coubertin, the father of the modern Olympics, explained that the motto citius, altius, fortius (Latin for faster, higher, stronger) that he wanted interwoven with the Olympics was faster than ourself, higher than ourself, and stronger than ourself!
3. Experience is owned by the participants. Theory preaches concepts, while play teaches in a way that participants own the experience.
4. Reflection enhances learning! Research suggests the critical piece of structured fun-failure activities is in the debrief and reflection; carefully modeling and guiding participants through a process that can be, let’s be honest, REALLY scary in a social setting, is the critical piece that takes self-awareness, neutrality, acceptance, joy, and an ability to play host to the discomfort that may arise. The real trick- the alchemy- is when we learn to transform the experience of failure from avoidance to acceptance, then info fun and learning!
So play, focus, and lighten up to the joy of learning from failure!