Our approach to problem solving and change management is related to our experience and focus in the areas of learning and training. Many of the problems we are confronted with, both personally and professionally, are the result of changes that require us to learn new ways of functioning to adapt to what is taking place. Many times, the root problem is a resistance to the learning that needs to take place, rather than the actual change taking place. This means the issue can be a personal one, calling for some type of personal change. The core of our approach, called TranceFormational Learning(R), includes these key elements for successful problem solving and change management:
1. Any problem solving/change management activity begins with a careful root cause analysis. It is common to find that the problem being addressed is not the actual cause of the situation, but is a result. The entire experience must be analyzed to determine where the true focus needs to be placed.
2. Participants have a personal and emotional investment in the way things are, and any change to the situation may be seen as a personal criticism or attack. To resolve the problems or make the changes, it can be helpful to consider the full “experience” of those involved, and use that experience to bring about a resolution. Participants will be drawn into an engaging personal experience that evokes an emotional response from each participant. This personal engagement is the secret of good games, and can easily be used to enhance problem solving activities.
3. While there are times it happens, problem solving and change management does not require that blood be shed, or that people go away. If participants can be helped to see personal value or meaning in steps needing taken, or at least be freed from feeling personally denigrated, most will choose to take the steps needed. The goal is to provide the opportunity for all participants to find that personal meaning, and to accept the decision of those who choose to not participate. Focusing on providing that learning experience to all participants, rather than focusing on changing a few of the participants, leads to a more positive outcome.
The most critical element of a successful learning activity is the personal experience learners have as they confront the issue. TL believes that we can use key elements of highly successful games to create similarly engaging experiences in problem solving and change management. This does not mean the activity is a “game”, but that the experience during the activity uses the same psychological and emotional “hooks” that create the strong game experience.
The success of TL activities supports that belief.
CASE STUDY IN PROBLEM-SOLVING/CHANGE MANAGEMENT: For-Profit University
Challenge: A traditional non-profit university had begun a new program in thevery non-traditional market of game design. While enrollments were the highest of all of their programs, student satisfaction and retention were the lowest. Administration and instructors faulted the students who “would not do the work” and did not behave like their other students. We were asked to show them how to get the students to participate in the program and stop the bleeding.
Approach: After spending time talking to administration, faculty and students, and reviewing the courses and activities, we determined that the solution being asked for was not addressing the problem that existed. The issue was not that students were not capable or willing. Although the university intentionally recruited this community of non-traditional, “gamer” students, they were expecting them to participate and behave like the rest of their traditional students once they enrolled. The program and courses were designed for traditional learners, with no consideration of the differences of this community. For example, while the students were openly and clearly there for “games”, they were not offered a course that actually dealt with any game-related topic until their second full year in the program. The first year was filled with traditional subjects that this student community had experienced minimal success with in high school. Now, their first year instructors continued to berate them for “playing games” instead of studying. The solution was not for the students to change, they were recruited for their uniqueness. The solution was for the program, and the university, to change.
We made the following key changes to the program:
1. We immediately reschedule the course sequence to include a game design course in the first term, and in each term to follow.
2. We began a series of conversations and discussion with administration and faculty about “Gamers” and their culture. We researched to find examples that demonstrated the real strengths and potential of these students, and how minor adjustments in our thinking could impact success.
3. We worked with faculty and others to create activities specifically designed to showcase the abilities of the game students, and to more actively help them engage with the larger university experience.
Outcomes: At the end of the first year, retention was equivalent with other new programs at the school. After 18 months, retention was second highest of all programs. Student satisfaction, and admin/faculty satisfaction experienced similar gains.
NOTE: This case study is not in any way intended to paint a negative picture of the institution involved or anyone involved there. The situation faced here has been replicated at numerous institutions, and represents an ongoing challenge when new communities are invited into an organization.