Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Humor is serious.

Why? I think humor aids learning. And who would argue that it's not a great way to relax people, get them talking, loosen up tense situations and get your brain working again when it's been sitting dormant or bored?

Every VTS should have a learning objective -- a clear and real goal -- that can be referred back to if things get off track or bogged down in details.

But first check out this excerpt from Todd Holm's web site at Minnesota's Concordia College:
Education teaches convergent thinking. We teach students to look for the answer. Thinking converges on an answer, through a formula. There are measurable, right-or-wrong responses.

Humor promotes divergent thinking. We are encouraged to look for the possibilities not the answer.

"Children start off life putting ideas together in all kinds of ways, creatively and freely. Not coincidentally, they also laugh frequently, 5-year-olds over 400 times a day. But as [they] grow up, [their] thinking gets more constrained, in part because it becomes more goal oriented and more bound by conventions (Morreall, 1991, p. 368)."

So what we don't want is for the session to be all work and no fun. It's OK to have a good time, too. And while there's no elegant, surefire way to inject humor into every VTS you can easily change the pace and pick things up with a quick round of "misinterpretations."

This is purposeful divergent thinking -- (almost) purely for fun. Here's how to try it:

  1. Pass out slips of paper with different phrases on them or have individuals (or groups if you have a lot of people there) reach into a bucket to get one. These phrases should be prepared before the session and can be related to a specific topic related to this VTS -- or not. It's good to have some sort of a unifying theme, though, such as "common travel phrases" or "things said at technology conferences."

  2. Have everyone visualize their phrase on a whiteboard or giant Post-It. Ten minutes should be enough. Try to do all the drawing in one room with the images up on the wall.

  3. Now everyone walks around and makes at least one attempt to correctly interpret one of the drawings, in writing on the whiteboards or sticking up smaller Post-Its.

  4. Once they've made an honest effort, everyone goes around to all the drawings and purposefully misinterpret them. Write what you think each drawing *could* be representing even if that interpretation is funny, unrealistic or downright ridiculous. Give this part another 10 minutes or so.

  5. After everyone has contributed, go around the room and read off all the misinterpretations then tell the group the drawing was supposed to represent. Done.

Chances are you heard lots of chuckles and a few big laughs as people went around writing down their smart-aleck comments.

But the serious takeaway is how easy it is to misinterpret a drawing meant to have one specific meaning. Often visual communication work has enough context to help icons or illustrated scenes make sense, but this exercise reminds everyone that it is frighteningly easy to be too vague or too specific when visualizing something -- the right balance is difficult to achieve when you are trying to keep visuals simple but informative.

With a quick 20-minute exercise like this, you've gotten everyone up out of their chairs, moving around, talking and laughing. Getting back to business should be easy after this refreshing exercise/break.

Communicating effectively is serious business, but remember to have fun out there!

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