Saturday, August 25, 2007

Scoring the Game

In the sprit of prototyping, and failing often to succeed sooner [thank you IDEO!], indulge me on this one….. I recently bought a book on baseball scoring [The Joy of Keeping Score by Paul Dickson]
for a friend, and was reminiscing on how satisfying it is to score a game, how it keeps me focused in what can otherwise be distracting conditions, and how it’s actually possible to review a scorecard years after the event [I once scored a game that Roger Clemens pitched for the Yanks a few years back, and can recreate some of the drama of the game by re-reading the scorecard even now] and virtually re-experience the action. Wouldn’t it be great if we had something like this in our executive development classrooms?

Like any athletic event, an executive education encounter [a few days, maybe a week, probably more than a single session, should add some value to the client, or else it’s a holiday] should all be about pushing the boundaries of what we’re capable of accomplishing. We do that by putting ideas into play and seeing where we can take them. It can be hard, however, in the midst of the action, for a participant or a facilitator to see where particular conversations are taking us, or how specific sessions add value. “Scoring the game” could change that.

I believe that participants should enter any executive development encounter with specific objectives in mind – issues to think through, problems to solve, skills to apply, etc.; they should show-up prepared, in other words. The encounter, itself, is, on the other hand, playing according to a different agenda…. that of the facilitator [professor]. There’s nothing wrong with either of these starting points, unless that’s where they also end-up. To make an encounter value-adding for both parties, there needs to be a convergence between what the participant is looking for, and what the instructor is “pitching.” Both sides have to change: the participant has to take ownership of the ideas, and put them to work in at least a prototype fashion, and the facilitator/instructor has to vary his/her “delivery” to make their materials more relevant and applicable, and hopefully also learn themselves in the process. All too often, neither party is even aware of this partnership, and the encounter ends with the participant being “entertained” or maybe even “excited”, but without actually engaging a useful idea; and the facilitator leaves with some vague sense of the session having gone well, or not. This would never happen in a baseball game, where the scorers would have a well-informed view of what made scores possible, or where opportunities were missed.

Of course, I’m talking nonsense here, but what if each participant scored ideas as they were “pitched.” In a normal session, there might be one or two “ideas” that are served up to the group. [Here, I'm somewhat mixing metaphors. Unlike a baseball came which is competitive, in Executive Education the ideas are "pitched" in the hopes that they will be "hits."] Most will not be homeruns; homeruns, which bring real immediate value to the individual or firm, are rare; just like in baseball. But what we should expect from a decent session is that we get somewhere with at least one idea… we get on base, at least. Then, over the course of the encounter; in subsequent sessions, and activities, we should be thinking about whether or not that idea is advanced; and why or why not? What are the additional things that help move that idea from “first base” to eventually scoring – being able to actually own and apply the idea when I get back to work, and make a difference as a result? Who is responsible for moving the ball? Who “enters the game” without result? Who makes the “errors”? Also, by comparison of participants or instructors, “who is least prepared”? Who should be sent down to the “minor leagues” for further conditioning?

I see scoring as a metaphor for adding focus, recognition and accountability to both sides of the game of executive development. Scorecards which focus on idea-advancement, rather than merely session entertainment quality, speak to the very mission of Executive Development. In addition, if we could review these scorecards after an encounter, my sense is that both participant and facilitator would be better prepared for the next event, and would be committed to making a difference through their encounters in the future.

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