As a basic premise of my book on designing engaging learning, I maintain that learning can, and should, be ‘hard fun’. When you look at learning and engagement, you find this perfect alignment of elements. And, it occurred to me, that’s also true for good project work. And here I don’t just mean coursework assignments (though that too fits), but organizational innovation should also be hard fun!
As I’ve stated before in various places, when you’re designing new solutions, problem-solving, trouble-shooting, doing research, etc, you don’t know the answer when you begin. Therefore you’re learning when you do so! It’s not formal learning, it’s informal, but it’s still learning. So what works in learning should make sense for innovation too.
And in learning, the alignment I found between elements of effective education and engaging learning make sense. Both require (amongst others):
- clear goals
- appropriate challenge
- meaningfulness of the problem to the context
- meaningfulness to the learners
And those also define a meaningful project for solving in the workplace.
That is, first you need to have a clear goal. The size and scope of the task should be within the reach, but not the grasp, of the team. The project has to have a clear benefit to the organization. And the team should be appropriately constituted with skills and committed to the project. The methods required for the innovation will be experimentation and feedback. Of course, you also need diversity on the team, safety to experiment, accountability for the results. (Which is helpful for formal learning too!)
We can, and should, be setting up our projects to meet these criteria. We get better outcomes, research tells us. That not only includes the product of the work, but team engagement as well. This is also a possible start to creating a culture of experimentation and continual learning. Which also has long-term upsides.
This came to me because I was asked in an interview what were the most fun projects I’d done. I realized that working with folks together to address problems, like when I led a team to develop an adaptive learning system, fit the bill. And that’s work I love, whether having a group together to collectively work out better design processes or performance and development strategy. Folks who’ve worked with me similarly have found it valuable. So who’s up for some ‘hard fun’?