The Inner Game

Johnnie Moore

I’m Johnnie Moore, and I help people work better together

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I am re-reading Peter Block’s preface to Tim Gallwey’s Inner Game of Work. It’s reminding me why I love this book.

Block argues that much of the effort to create a learning organisation reinforces the limiting idea that learning and doing are separate competing activities. For example, “we worry about the ‘transfer’ of learning; how to take learning and bring it ‘back’ into the workplace.” As Block elaborates:

The idea that our standard methods of teaching and coaching reduce performance is radical. Most educational institutions and workplaces rely heavily on instruction and direction, so if all those efforts at improvement are not useful, we had better pay attention.

He then describes a radical idea that Gallwey applied when asked to host a tennis tournament for a sales team. He suggested that the winners would be out of the tournament and the player who lost would go through to the next round.

Each player had to confront the question of why he was playing the game. The conventional answer, especially among salespeople, is that they play to win. Tim’s answer was that there is a better game to play, and that is to play to learn, to play to fulfil your own potential. And ironically, if you do this, you will actually get better performance.

Lovely stuff.

On a related note, some of my favourite improv games explore similar territory, challenging us to rethink what winning means. One of my favourite teachers explained how a game called Big Booty can do this. I can’t do justice to this game in writing; suffice to say it’s a group passing game in which people are highly like to get confused and make a mistake.

Upon making a mistake, you have to to do your own big booty dance while everyone else cheers. The dancing becomes much more fun that stiffly focussing on not making mistakes, and after a while those who “succeed” in not getting caught out are left rethinking what winning such a game really amounts to.

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