I’m not afraid to admit that my morning runs are simply not that interesting. Podcasts are what get me out the door, and provide a welcome, outside perspective on the work we do. The other day I happened upon one such podcast, and the ideas it shared stopped me in my tracks.
It was an episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History with Adam Grant, The Wharton School’s Saul P. Steinberg Professor of Management and author Give and Take and Originals. The entire podcast is a fascinating listen but one section in particular caught my ear – their debate on what makes an idea interesting.
In the context of the playful back and forth, each man mentioned what they felt made an idea interesting, and by extension memorable. If you permit me a gross oversimplification of what was argued, Malcolm recounted his belief that specificity is a critical component of an idea’s strength. With country music as his muse, he built an argument for leveraging shared experiences to create rich, detailed ideas that stick. Simply stated, the more precise the description, the stronger its potential to engage.
True to form, Adam disagreed, but only slightly. He argued that specificity is only half the battle. To be truly interesting a concept should be surprising or novel to the listener. Building upon the work of sociologist Murray Davis, he cautioned that if the audience already held a strong view on the matter, the idea ran the risk of being labeled extreme and off the spectrum of what makes an idea interesting. Therefore, using surprise as a path to interesting was not a boundless approach, and it works best with topics that the audience is unsure about or where they lack strong convictions.
Together they agreed upon what I believe is a simple yet deeply elegant definition of what makes something interesting:
I couldn’t help but reflect upon these qualities in the context of active learning. Most of our focus has been on the research driven benefits of this approach, however, this discussion provided a potential structure to remain focused on what works. Below is how I think active learning, and our games specifically, align with these qualities:
This alignment may be why this discussion stuck with me days after my run, and why I thought it offered an powerful frame through which to reflect upon why our games can be so effective. At the core, we create a specific shared experience between students and instructors. Plus, since they are interactive games, there are plenty of controversies to review and discuss.
By building games that hit on all of these points, we’ve helped make the concepts we teach memorable learning experiences. That’s the reason we started on this journey a few years ago, and why we continue to build momentum along the way.
If you want to double-click on these concepts, the following link will fast-forward you to this part of the discussion, but you should out the full podcast when you have the chance (07:25 mark – link).