Happy Śmigus-dyngus!

09E2BFEE-2824-4D85-8AB6-E9BFCCD7D7EE.JPG

While you were busy celebrating Easter, Passover, or Holi, you could be forgiven for forgetting the most glorious and humble of holidays: Śmigus-dyngus. Now, many have accused me of making this up, which is understandable given the name, but I assure you I do not jest.

Śmigus-dyngus, or Wet Monday (aka: lany poniedziałek; try saying that three times fast) is the Polish Easter Monday tradition when boys try and drench girls with water and slap them with pussy willows. For those interested in equal opportunity, the ladies get their chance the next day, although it has basically become a free for all in recent years; a massive water fight in the streets, no matter the temperature.

I experienced my first Śmigus-dyngus when I taught in Poland. Yes, while my friends were off earning money teaching in Japan, or sunning themselves in Thailand, I went to the appealing Valhalla of Northern Poland. In case one fears I am exaggerating, I taught Intro to Literature on the second floor of an old college. Downstairs, the fine art of gravestone masonry was studied. Nothing like arriving to work with a hundred tombstones outside. In the field behind the college was a military training centre, so it was not uncommon to hear the rapid fire of Kalishnikov’s in the background. I neglected to mention the latter in letters to home.

Despite being raised by a Polish mother and babcia, Śmigus-dyngus was not practiced in our home. This is surprising given their love of all things that remind me who is really in charge. Which then gets me to thinking: how are ideas spread?

Years ago, the traditional Jack-o’-Lantern had triangles for eyes and nose, with a wide open mouth. Cue the internet and suddenly every carved pumpkin is inspired by Pinterest and Instagram worthy! People create and share carving tips and tricks. Not only that, Hallowe’en is no longer a North American phenomenon. I was surprised to see it celebrated in Poland and Germany, when just a decade ago, it was not. Although, I do appreciate the appeal of free candy versus a drenching of cold water.

So how do we make this type of experience in learning? In global companies, how do we share and embed concepts and methodology? Unfortunately, we are rarely subtle in our industry. Everything obvious and stark for learners: you will learn X; pass this test! Even covered in mandatory sauce and cut up into microlearning bits, the experience is unappetising. I suppose this comes from ensuring clarity and purpose for the audience, but what if your neighbourhood enforced a carved pumpkin mandate? Would you even bother putting in the effort or just do the minimum and get on with it?

Yes, there are times when regulatory environments make content mandatory, but use sparingly. No one likes to be ordered what to do. Fit the content into the everyday workflow, even if it means breaking it free from the LMS, which you should be doing anyway.

Ideas also seem to spread faster when they are spoken about by peers or influencers. In the case of the pumpkins, I am sure the root was an article by Martha Stewart, and Hallowe’en likely spread globally via the social posts of celebrities trick or treating in cat costumes. So rather than a talking-head CEO video, look at who your audience gravitates toward. See if you can utilize them to spread your message. One caveat: be cautious with this tactic. No one likes a shill and you could lose credibility, or worse, your influencer will. It takes a long time to build trust in a virtual relationship. Be authentic.

Last tip is to be frequent. I know I mentioned subtlety before and this would seem dichotomous, but hear me out. People rarely change behaviours after seeing something once. In marketing, the metric is people rarely have brand engagement even after five encounters. In learning, we build one learning asset and that is it. Maybe there is an LMS generated email, or a communication piece, but it still makes the content too easy to ignore.

Consider other ways to infiltrate the audience other than the elearning module: screensavers, articles, widgets, etc. In fact, get rid of elearning modules all together in favour of learning campaigns and experiences, but that is another blog post.

I accept I cannot run down the streets of Toronto throwing buckets of water at people today, but all is not lost. Buffalo, NY, boasts the largest Dyngus Day outside of Poland. For the price of a pussy willow pass ticket, you get all you can consume vodka, pierogi, and polka. This is so on my bucket list. If not, I will just have to spend next year in Krakow!

Happy Śmigus-dyngus! (And yes, I made those eggs in the photo).

Post-script: in case you missed it, I have changed roles to Chief Learning Officer at Fuse. I am so excited to be working on a dream learning platform that can deliver the metrics and experience so critical to today’s audience. You can still catch me here on the blog, on LinkedIn, or on Twitter @loriniles. See you there!