With 30+ years of experience leading programs with tens of thousands of people all over the world, this is what I know:
- The most successful programs (think schools, camps, corporate training rooms, sporting teams, families, etc) are those which intentionally develop trusting and healthy relationships from the beginning;
- It is impossible to change how people think or what they do, without first, changing how they feel; and
- Humans are comfort-seeking machines.
In a nutshell, building and strengthening relationships is hard work.
Trust does not turn up just because you tell people what to do and how to think. And people are not naturally inclined to want to do this work unless, and until, they are given a reason to do so.
So, the million-dollar question is this: If we want people to grow, learn and develop, and we accept that this only occurs in the Stretch Zone, and humans are naturally inclined to seek comfort, how do we influence them to stretch a little?
The most powerful and successful strategy I know is to have fun.
Obvious fun is very hard to stand away from. It’s contagious and pretty much speaks everyone’s language. Fun disarms people because it often involves a lot of unself-conscious activity. And, let’s face it – it’s hard to look cool when everyone else is having a great time.
I’m sure you noted the misspelling, but there’s no mistake. FUNN is a whimsical acronym that means Functional Understanding Not Necessary, a term coined by the masterful Karl Rohnke that says ‘If it’s fun, I want to be a part of it.’ Which is exactly its purpose.
FUNN is good, agreeable, contagious, its own reward, etc, etc, but it will also help to facilitate your program goals. The best part is that your group does not need to know that this is happening, ie functional understanding is not necessary.
Yet, programmatically, a liberal dose of fun is absolutely essential if you want to influence the way people feel, and create an environment that encourages them to step outside their Comfort Zones.
To this end, fun (no matter how you spell it) is the magnet I use to invite people out of their Comfort Zones to try something new and grow. Think of it as a gentle invitation (a pull towards their Stretch Zone) rather than a coercive push (or a nudge out of one’s Comfort Zone) if this metaphor helps.
To Step Out of One’s Comfort Zone
Until now, all of my language has been about inviting people to step out of their Comfort Zone into their Stretch Zone – sorry to say, but this actually isn’t happening. Nevertheless, to scaffold your learning, this has been a necessary step in the process of expanding your understanding.
To be fair and scientifically accurate, from the perspective of the participant, they remain most of the time within their Comfort Zone (remember this is our default position.) The ‘fun’ environment which has developed during the program serves to influence the perception of the task or challenge as suddenly more doable, more successful.
This ‘braver’ environment causes the participant to stretch themselves (beyond their initial self-perceived limits) which, in effect, expands their original Comfort Zone. And, voila! Call it what you will, you successfully invited this person to grow, and importantly, to do so willingly.
For example, the invitation to stand up in front of a group to introduce oneself in the first two minutes of a program can be a daunting task for some people – an experience well outside one’s Comfort Zone for all sorts of reasons. But, to perform this task after several hours of highly interactive, non-threatening fun which generated lots of sharing, laughter, and energy is suddenly a whole lot easier.
Why? Because, it’s impossible to change how a person thinks (eg I won’t get this right) or what they do (eg I haven’t got much to say) without, first, changing how they feel (eg I feel more comfortable or brave now to give this a go.)
In short – environment dictates performance.
If you create a highly interactive, supportive, and fun environment in which to engage your group, the more powerful, meaningful, and rewarding your program will be.
Below, I share all of the tools and a powerful sequential framework I use to intentionally create this environment. But for now, it’s worth spending a few moments considering the impact of our language, because it informs and guides so much of why this unique approach works.
We All Need Fun To Be Human
I know I have used the word ‘fun’ to describe the strategy I employ to invite people to step outside their Comfort Zones, but it’s not quite the right word.
In purely scientific terms, a more accurate word would be ‘flow’ but this can be a difficult notion to get your head around, too. Another word that comes close is ‘play’ but once again, you are likely to misunderstand its true meaning – I’ll expand on its meaning for you shortly.
What I can tell you is that the fun I am referring to is one of our most basic psychological needs. As researched by Dr William Glasser, there are four psychological needs of being human:
- Belonging – to be loved, to share, to co-operate and be accepted;
- Personal Power – ability to achieve, be recognised, respected, and feel competent;
- Personal Freedom – ability to make choices, to be given responsibility and feel independent; and
- Fun – laughing, playing, and engaging in healthy relationships.
In essence, this research tells us that incorporating ‘fun’ into our lives is critical to the healthy and balanced development of being human. As a core psychological need, we may suffer if we do not take fun more seriously.
To my way of thinking, anyone who is responsible for the emotional wellbeing of a group is called to integrate ‘fun’ (as described by Dr Glasser) into their programs. This means elevating its importance in not only our program approach but in our discussions with clients in advance of delivery.
Equipped with a growing body of research that fun matters, we can no longer accept the commonly-held notion that fun and play are childish pursuits and a waste of time.
To the contrary, and without argument, fun is and should remain, an integral component of every program. In fact, I would argue that there is no better way to build trusting and healthy relationships.
The Importance of Play
It is no coincidence that many of the characteristics of this psychological need for fun reflect the essential elements of play, as described by Dr Stuart Brown, President of the National Institute for Play. Backed by his research over many years, he has characterised play by seven key properties:
- Apparently Purposeless – it is enjoyed for its own reward
- Voluntary – people willingly participate, without coercion
- Inherent Attraction – something causes you to want to participate
- Freedom of Time – you never notice the time passing
- Diminished Consciousness of Self – you notice little of anything going on around you
- Improvisational Potential – there are no rules, little focus on win or lose
- Continuation Desire – you want to keep doing it
Note, play is not an activity as much as it is a state of mind. It speaks directly to an environment or atmosphere in which participation occurs, which is why a playful approach is so critical to and successful at creating powerful program outcomes.
Indeed, Dr Brown argues that play is as essential to the development of a human being as sleep and nutrition.
This is a bold statement, but I wholeheartedly agree. Let’s reflect on it for a moment.
Play Is Essential
To start, I think we can all agree that sleep is fundamentally related to the health of a human being. Without adequate sleep, we simply do not function as well as we would like. I pushed through three nights without sleep once to complete a university assignment, and I was a zombie at the end of it. Consequently, it was not my finest accomplishment.
Equally, there is now solid evidence that clearly shows that eating a balanced, nutritious diet helps us live healthier for longer.
And now, the research is in, suggesting that generous doses of play are as significant to our overall health as sleep and nutrition. Put side by side, this is a very exciting scientific development.
Added to this, there is growing evidence which points to a condition called ‘play deficit.’ It’s not causal, but researchers have discovered a high degree of correlation between incarcerated youth and adults and significant deficits of play in their lives, especially their childhoods.
And I know from experience, when groups willingly enter into the space of ‘play,’ growth and transformation are significantly more possible than without it.
Why? Because it’s impossible to ‘pretend’ to be something that you are not when you are engaged in play (or flow.)
I don’t mean that you can’t pretend in the way a four-your old pretends to be superwoman. I mean, it’s a lot more difficult to work with a group that is very busy trying to ‘be’ something that they are not. The sooner those masks are taken off, the better.
Making A Difference
No matter how you describe it, fun or play or flow greases the wheels of interaction and invites people to laugh, share, trust, loosen up, set the tone, change the pace, grow, and so on – all of which contribute manifestly to the breaking of ice and the strengthening of healthy relationships.
For example, I always introduce a simple, quick energiser at the very start of a program to engage my audience quickly, and get them laughing and, perhaps, interacting. Sometimes, I connect the exercise to the theme of my session or simply invite everyone to enjoy a moment of play.
Conference organisers and keynote speakers love me for this trick alone. There is nothing better than entering a space that has been warmed up and exudes a strong sense of everybody leaning in and ready to go.
I have long held the fervent belief that fun group games and activities are a powerful (and attractive) way to help people connect. Riding the crest of a 30+ year career as an experiential trainer, I know this truth to be self-evident.
I also know that the stronger the connections I build within a group, the more they can amplify the results of whatever they are trying to get done. Greater participation, increased productivity, improved performance, etc, etc.
Which is why you’re reading this page, right?
Fun, FUNN, or Functional Understanding Not Necessary is just one of a set of five essential tools I use to intentionally create a positive learning environment and influence the way people feel.
You can learn more about playmeo’s innovative approach to education by clicking the links below.
This article about fun and Functional Understanding Not Necessary has been adapted from No Props No Problem: 150+ Outrageously Fun Group Games & Activities Using No Equipment and Serious Fun: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Leading Remarkably Fun Programs That Make a Difference.