This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

May 12, 2011 - harness the power of play

Imagine an underground train station. Coming out of the station, commuters can take the stairs, or take the escalator. Most people take the escalator.

Now suppose that you wanted to get more people to take the stairs.

If you were to pose that problem to most adults, they would offer all the usual strategies.

* A campaign of shame. Put up posters of really fat people. Then show the young, attractive ones taking the stairs. Make people feel bad for being lazy.

* An educational campaign. Write a series of newspaper articles, do a few grim video shoots, deploring the epidemic of escalator dependency, and pointing out the alarming, no, the enormous consequences of waddling commuters, including health care, not to mention the rising costs (get it?) of escalator repairs. Make people feel righteous for taking the stairs.

* A campaign of incentives. Pay people to take the stairs, or give them a discount on their train ticket. Figure out how to enforce this later. Different turnstiles, maybe.

* A campaign of punishment. Levy fines on fit people who take the escalator when they should be taking the stairs. Of course, you'd have to have exemptions for various medical conditions. So you'd need escalator permits, probably.

Or Google up "underground stair piano" to see a delightful alternative (it should be the first hit -- a Youtube video from Stockholm). They simply replaced the stairs with enormous piano keys. When you take the stairs, the steps (black and white) play musical notes.

A hidden camera tells the story. Without seeing any advertising or exhortations at all, by the end of the first day, 66% more people took the stairs. They not only walked up the stairs, they bounced up and down them, and even teamed up to do coordinated melodies. Many people, particularly children, literally danced up the stairs.

How often have you heard that "nobody likes change?" Nonsense. When it's more fun to change than to stay the same, change is embraced.

For instance, I learned more about physics ("the angle of incidence is equal to the angle of refraction") in pool halls than in physics classes. In pool halls, I paid attention.

This is called the Theory of Fun. When we want to change people's behavior, we get quicker results when we appeal to their sense of play than when we appeal to their sense of duty.

Now apply this to management. Let's face it: even the most enlightened managers tend to fall back on top-down and even punitive approaches. We tell people how things are going to be, by God. Then, if they don't move fast enough, we write them up. If they still don't do what we want, there are consequences.

Another approach is "appreciative inquiry." We try to appeal to people's pride, their accomplishments, their desire for a better future.

But none of that seems to be as immediately effective as just giving folks the opportunity to fool around.

Recently I attended a workshop about organizational culture. There are three levels for any organization. First, there's what you see: the physical attributes of a place, and what that says about what matters. Second, there's what the leaders of an organization tell you about what matters. Third, there's how things really are. It's rare when all those things match up.

I wonder what American public service and corporate culture would look like if we all tried a little harder not to try so hard. Wouldn't that be fun?

LaRue's Views are his own.

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely delightful -- the video, that is...! We are a strange, creative race, one to which the quest for creativity, accomplishment, pride in doing ...and fun... is simply a fundamental part of being. Why we "don't get it" and don't more consciously apply this to ourselves is a part of our self-conundrum. Yet "appreciative inquiry" will trump "executive order" every single darn time!

    "...there's how things really are." There's a whole radio conversation (or more!) in here, Jamie!