When experience becomes the frame of reference from a design perspective, it can be focused at different levels within the system with each level feeding the next and vice versa. The first thing we need to do is to capture the experience authentically and compellingly. This starts with understanding what experience our targeted participants need to have. What challenges, in what contexts, do the participants need to have Deliberate Practice so that can ultimately improve decision making and morale. Once the Problems of Practice are identified the Experience Design Process works to understand what makes them a Problem by articulating the underlying Tradeoffs that are at play. By capturing these elements within an authentic and recognizable context, we can successfully capture the experience compellingly. The next step is to deliver the experience at the individual or participant level. In our case, we work at the Leadership or aspiring leader level, but this approach can be utilized for any level of educator or school staff. The Sims manifest as a compiled, easy-to-use, online application that can be run on any device so they can be accessed wherever the target audience is. The Sims utilizes a combination of text, audio, video, and still images that enable us to capture the Problems-of-Practice in an authentic and recognizable story inside of which participants can readily see themselves in the scenario so that the experience can be ‘sticky’. In this way, our approach to delivering the experience enables a sitting or aspiring leader to have a “lived experience” around a challenging Problem of Practice in a safe space as a self-paced or ‘just-in-time’ exercise. This is great for skill development and capacity building at the participant level, but The Experience Design Process, via deploying the experience, provides a roadmap for applying this development for the improvement of the School, District, or System. As schools deploy the Sims across a system, there is the opportunity to deploy the experience in groups or small-team or intact-teams settings, then participants have the additional opportunity and encouragement to bring their experience and expertise to any discussion and benefit from the experience of others as well in a focused and engaging manner. The Sims can therefore assist and be foundational support for School Transformation, Turnaround efforts, or any Culture/Climate improvement effort. The Sims approach is powerful because it helps this on multiple levels simultaneously:
- Skill Development
- Practice Decision Making
- Team building
At the leadership or practitioner level, we capture the experience or articulate the Best/Worst Practices and more importantly, the thinking that went into making those practices good or bad. At the organizational level, we deploy the experience; we blend the experiential component with other PD content and modalities (i.e. workshops, meetings, mentoring, or on-the-job elements) that will ultimately enable success through the Blend. This deployment approach provides for a shared experience across the organization (building, district, state, or even the nation) that facilitates broader and deeper communication which fosters a stronger context for effective dialogue and execution. The shared experience gives anyone who has played the simulation a common reference point from both the situation as well as character perspective so that they can be referred to and understood. This is the power of the Experience Design Process:
- Capture the Experience – Problem-of-Practice/Authoring
- Deliver the Experience – Individual Leader-Playing
- Deploy the Experience – System or Building
Capture and Deliver the Experience
Engage – Storytelling
If we do not have engagement, we have nothing. Simulations derive their strength through the power of Storytelling. A good story can engage any level of the audience as evidenced by stories such as the seven Harry Potter books which were popular around the globe with all ages, and they were long books. In the context of simulation, a good narrative simply needs to reflect the reality that the targeted participants face. A good narrative helps participants to see themselves in the story. This facilitates both the intellectual and emotional engagement that leads to impactful experiences to populate the experience portfolio.
Analyze – Critical Thinking
At our core, human beings are habit-forming creatures and are therefore subject to ‘mindless’ decision making as we exhibit rote behavior, or if you are familiar with the Conscious-Competence matrix, Unconscious Competence. When it comes to leadership, which focuses on interpersonal and contextual issues, we can never be ‘unconscious’ about anything but must find a way to effectively Analyze situations or scenarios that we face and use Critical Thinking to navigate through them. Simulations provide an opportunity for deliberate practice around the Thinking that goes into decision making and establish muscle memory around the thinking as part of the doing.
Apply – Consequences
One of the key benefits of simulation is that leaders have the opportunity to experience (and sometimes suffer) the consequences of their actions in a safe environment. Bad outcomes are a part of life, even when we make the correct decision, especially when we have complex stakeholder groups whose demands are exclusive of each other as is the case for leaders in K-12 Education. By experiencing the consequences of our decisions, leaders have the opportunity to build resilience to deal with failure, as everyone makes mistakes, but also the negative fallout that can accompany even the best of decisions.
Learn – Judgment
Good judgment comes from experience and good experience often comes from Bad Judgment (Chad Checketts). This is what makes Experience the Best Teacher and allows us to learn and grow. Simulations capture the flow of time and encourage a more system thinking approach to decision-making by leaders so that they can process what they have learned in a realistic context and exercise better judgment in the contexts they face.
Evaluate – Scorecard
When it comes to effective Leadership, the job is filled with context-driven issues. For Simulations, the challenge is not to just make people more comfortable with making decisions but to be comfortable making the tough decisions and solving the tough problems. It is when there is no good answer or when the best answer also has significant negatives associated with it where the real challenge is. Having insight into what the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ tradeoffs are may help to shed a brighter light on the decisions being made and help with better decisions or build resilience to deal with the bad. The Scorecard is essentially a Trade-off Report which provides students with insight into what the positives and negatives are or the costs and benefits associated with their decisions and they can use better judgment.
Another way of thinking about the Scorecard is to view it as a tool for distinguishing the difference between what we fear and what makes us anxious. Theologian Paul Tillich distinguished them in his writings that “Anxiety is amorphous; it doesn’t quite have an object, it’s a state. And so, it’s harder to shake and no empowerment necessarily comes from it.” The job of the Educator is filled with anxiety-provoking circumstances, situations and stakeholders. The challenges are daunting and sometimes overwhelming. The opportunity with Simulations and the Experience Design process is to name the things that we are afraid of and that cause anxiety. As Tillich writes, “Fear is of something, you can name it and face it, and in the facing of it lift your morale, show yourself what’s in you.” The Simulation is around anxiety-provoking Problems of Practice and the Scorecard is an articulation of the specific elements and consequences that we are afraid of and that cause the Anxiety. The Simulations provide a safe space to provoke anxiety and also name potential things that we fear. In this way, participants can face those things and develop mitigating strategies where possible. In addition, by facing the specific elements they fear, the Sims help to break the grip of the anxiety so it reduces its power to paralyze. This has the dual benefit of helping to improve decision making, and maybe even more importantly, enhance wellbeing. Especially during our current circumstances, this kind of experience can help educators to break down generalized anxiety into specific fears and deal with them courageously.
Create – Best Practices
A Simulation approach provides the opportunity to focus on what makes a best practice a ‘Best Practice’, and therefore establish learning with greater impact. By capturing the experience of the practitioner, there is the opportunity to put the practice into a context and allow other leaders to interact with it. What goes into the experience is going to be more along the lines of the best thinking (why and when) rather than the best practice (what and how). What we want to know is when the best practitioner made a decision, what were the alternative paths that he/she could have taken, and what would the consequences have been of those alternatives. This helps to manifest the judgment and critical thinking required to be effective. The outcome of this approach is a decision tree that enables other leaders to experience the thinking behind the best practice and play it through themselves.