Carnivals, Building Behaviors and Resiliency Cristin Grogan

Carnival Games and Building Behaviors + Resiliency

For some reason, this afternoon, while I should have been thinking about a recent work project, I was thinking about carnival games.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. I was actually thinking about this project and, more specifically, how we as humans learn behaviors through practice (see behaviorism, if you’re interested in learning more about this theory integrates with learning and development!). But I was thinking of examples of when you need to learn how to do something at an ‘expert level’ and you need to learn how to perform at that level really quickly. The first example that popped into my head was a carnival game…

Maybe you’ve been to the carnival before with the rows of carnival game-stands, set up side-by-side, with colorful, inviting, flashing lights, loud, playful organ music and oversized stuffed animals ready to be (somehow) strapped into your car and taken home.

At the core of my thought process was how easy those games should eventually become with multiple rounds of practice (and of course, it’s a given you have the money to play these games over and over! ‘Carnival game inflation’ is a real thing!). I’m finding my personal learning theory identity tends to sway toward behaviorism…so my thought process is that if you do something over and over again enough times, eventually you’re going to get better at it, right? You’ll hack it. Kind of like a carnival game: if you go ten rounds of shooting a water gun at a target, you should, over time, get quicker at finding that target. You should be ready for the minor blowback that’s going to come when the water spits out that first second of pulling in the trigger. You anticipate all of that and you prepare yourself for it. And the more you practice, the more you increase your chances of winning the prize. In all simplicity, building behaviors should be as simple as this. As any good behaviorist will tell you, quite simply, ‘practice makes perfect’.

But nothing in life is ever that simple, of course! Especially in learning and development : ) So why isn’t it that simple?

Let’s say we’re as prepared as we possibly can be going into our 10th round of our carnival game. We’re ready for the blowback, our finger is primed and ready on the trigger, we know exactly where to aim because we’ve had nine previous rounds of experience.

But we’ve missed accounting for something that practice won’t prepare us for.

We also need to account for what I call, the ‘conditions on our playing field’.

Obviously this is not my term, pretty sure it’s a sports term, but it works pretty well for L&D, too!

So, here we are at the carnival, nine rounds behind us…we’re ready for the 10th round, right? But, have we accounted for the increase in players that just joined the game? Are the stakes higher because there is now more competition? How does that influence your behavior? Or something completely different: maybe you moved to another station that may have different waterflow pressure? Maybe a new player took the water gun right next to you; will that affect your spatial awareness and your aiming stance and throw you off? Even though you’ve prepared for nine rounds for this moment, it’s inevitable that all of these elements will contribute to your performance in some way, shape or form.

The elements I’m describing become the conditions on your playing field. And what this example hopefully illustrates is that, no matter how much preparation, training, and practice your learners get, the conditions on your field are going to make an impact.

I challenge you to find ways to teach your learners how to perfect their performance even in the midst of challenging conditions. In fact, that’s I think how we best learn.

At the end of the day, training and learning and development is not just teaching how to perform behaviors when the conditions are only perfect. Especially because the conditions (how many players are playing, where they are stationed in proximity to you, etc.) at some point, will likely be impacted or change in some way!

Instead, we need to teach them about building resiliency skills, even in the face of challenging conditions so that they feel prepared to execute without being affected by other elements.

Some of the best way to do this are through expanding role-plays to a group role-play when there are multiple people involved, providing additional ‘distractions’ or ‘challenging conditions’. Or even asking participants in a class how they would approach situations where the elements of the situation/scenario differed just slightly: have them reflect on what they would change, what adjustment they’d need to make in their behavior/approach, or what solutions they could come up with to help them acclimate to the external elements.

Building ‘immunity’ to conditions on the playing field makes for better-developed employees who are more confident and resilient, too!