What Can You Learn from a Card Trick?

Last week we went to a fantastic workshop on gaming given by one of the gurus in this field, Sivasailam “Thiagi” Thiagarajan, whom we have mentioned before in a previous blog post (“Bingo!”) . His website on Improving Performance Playfully, is a wealth of free games, interactive training exercises and ideas for trainers and facilitators.

At one point in our workshop, we were taught a card trick. Well, actually we were taught two card tricks – one we were taught directly by Thiagi, and one we were taught by someone else (who had been taught by Thiagi).

What did we learn from a card trick? Well, there is an incredible difference between understanding how something is done and actually being able to do it yourself (let alone being able to teach it to someone else).

When Thiagi first did the card trick, many people could not immediately see the “trick” part. So he showed us the trick and then how to do it in detail. He then handed us each a pack of cards and instructed us to practice and in 5 minutes we would do it for someone else, and then show them how to do the trick.

Let me tell you, it is very hard to turn explicit knowledge (knowing how the trick works) into implicit knowledge (being able to actually do the trick). And it is even harder to then teach it to someone else (explaining it to make it explicit again.) And that was just a card trick, imagine if it was leadership or environmental management. It is not that it is impossible to do. But often when we teach or train, we leave people with explicit knowledge (knowing how the tool, methodology, practice works) and don’t go much further than that.

I came away from that exercise with one card trick that I can do acceptably well after lots of practice (at least to the delight of my 6 year old) and a much better appreciation of why watching someone use games will not necessarily make us better gamers, and reading all kinds of articles on leadership will not make us better leaders, and why saying “I know how that works” will not necessarily mean that I can actually do it myself.

1 reply
  1. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the thoughts on learning playfully, Gillian. My teammates and I just discussed this topic at lunch. We need to make a presentation to others on the topic of project management and leadership. Our theory is that people will take more away from the event “playing” a board game we design to teach about PM and the metholology we use, instead of lecturing for 2-3 hours, like it’s normally done. It’s funny that I came across your blog article 20 minutes after our discussion. Thanks and keep up the good work!

    Jeff in USA

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