Playing to Learn

By Steve Radick posted 04-22-2010 14:19


How did you first learn how to join a team and start contributing?  Where did you first learn leadership skills?  When was the first time you learned conflict resolution?

I don't know about you, but I first learned these skills as a little kid when I first joined the basketball team.  I wasn't actively trying to learn how to integrate into an existing team or how to be a better leader or how to resolve a conflict between two kids - I just wanted to play.  Looking back, learning those skills were just an added bonus.  I didn't even realize I was learning anything at all.

Similarly, I first learned to edit a wiki when I created a Pittsburgh Steelers badge for my profile on an internal wiki.  I first learned about blogging when I started reading and commenting on sports blogs. Learning while playing is something that we do from a very young age and continues throughout our life.

You don't encourage your kids to join the baseball team because you want them to become the next Albert Pujols. Kids join Little League to learn how to build and maintain relationships, to meet other kids, to learn how deal with conflict, to learn how to be a team player, and yes, to have fun.

At what age does learning while having fun no longer apply? Is it when you get your first paycheck?  When you start wearing a suit to work?  Why does learning while playing apply to our kids but not to us?

So when I'm talking with a client about their own internal Enterprise 2.0 tools, and I get asked questions like the one below, I have to wonder when and why they stopped playing.

"Are all these social media tools a peril to productivity? I don't want my staff spending their time on the company dime engaged in superfluous online activities, like blogging about their favorite football team or organizing happy hours!"

I suspect that if you're reading this, you've heard a similar argument in your organization.  However, ask yourself this - why are managers reluctant to allow blogs about nonwork-related topics yet they encourage employees to join the company softball team as a way to network with others?

With any Enterprise 2.0 implementation, there has to be a certain amount of "playing" that occurs.  If you've never used a wiki before, are you really going to start by creating a wiki page on something that could potentially cost you your job? Are you going to risk editing that wiki page with all the most recent contracting data on it?  Or, are you going to feel more comfortable creating a wiki page for your organization's book club to better coordinate their meetings?

This is the way these things work.  People are going to post unusual pictures of themselves on their profiles.  There will be non work-related wiki pages, and there’s going to be blogs that aren’t entirely about work. The first blog post someone writes probably isn't going to win any awards. In fact, it will likely be pretty awful :).  That's perfectly ok.  Not only is this not a bad thing - it’s a really good thing!!!  People are learning how to use these tools - that's how we learn.  We click around, we test out the buttons, we get a sense of what we can and can’t do, and most of all, we PLAY around with it.

So if you encounter someone who sees the potential for social media, but can’t think of something to blog about or is intimidated by the wiki, tell them it’s ok to just play around.  Tell them that a blog about something fun is a good thing.  Tell them that creating a wiki page for your softball team is perfectly acceptable.  Because while that wiki page you started for your book club may not be the reason the wiki was deployed, it is helping you get accustomed to the way wikis work.  And, once you get comfortable with how these tools work, it's going to be a hell of a lot easier for you to understand how they might apply to your day-to-day job too.

Playing is a good thing - playing helps us learn.

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