Thursday, April 02, 2009

Can Your People Pass the Banana Test?

I'm researching an upcoming live-online session, "Tips for the Positive Deviant" and just ran into this anecdote:

During a positive deviance workshop designed to surface strategies for curtailing the spread of AIDS/HIV in Myanmar, "The group consisted of prostitutes -- nearly all of whom insisted she faithfully made her clients use condoms. The moment of truth occurred when each participant was asked to apply a condom to a banana. Varying degrees of dexterity quickly differentiated the pretenders from the practitioners...With the right exercises, many organizations could profit from appropriate reincarnations of the 'banana test'."*

We talk a lot about "assessment" of our learners, but do our assessments pack the punch of the banana test?

From Pascale, R. & Sternin, J.(May,2005). Your company's secret change agents. Harvard Business Review.


The upsycho said...

I think they should have used a cucumber instead. Closer to the right diameter and, let's face it, men with penises as curved as bananas are pretty rare!

Dave Ferguson said...

A striking example, Jane.

The title reminded me of a related banana test, one that incorporates concepts like pretest and statistical significance.

Rather than give it away, I encourage your readers to watch at least the first 2 1/4 minutes of this video. (The whole thing's worthwhile, but the banana example runs to that point.)

Hans Rosling on third-world myths:

Jane Bozarth said...

First, Karen: From now on don't hold back. Say what's on your mind! :-)

My own take on the 'banana test' involved a past experience with colleagues who could talk a good game about how they were selling management's new approach to salary administration, but could barely articulate any of the concepts associated with it. Having them teach it back in class(rather than just making them sit through more and ever-longer 'expert'-provided presentations about it)would have revealed what was really happening out in the field.

Guy W. Wallace said...

This reminded me of a Thiagi story about him teaching use of condoms in India to reduce pregnancies using a broom in the demonstration. Later when several got pregnant any way, someone investigating saw a broom in the corner with the condom on it. Lesson: make sure your demonstrations are very clear and when you are simulating reality - explain that carefully!


Jane Bozarth said...

Guy, I'd like to have heard Thiagi tell that himself. (Those who've heard Thiagi will know why.) Think we can get him to do a podcast?

Todd Hudson said...

The final 'banana test' in business is seeing improvement in the metrics targeted by training. Yields poor? They should go up. Returns too high? They should go down.

Any other made-up assessment metric is, in the end, meaningless.

During training we have to assess whether people understand and can apply their new knowledge. So, there are banana tests along the way. What's a mini-banana? Anyone?

And before training we have to determine if people WILL apply new learning and change their behaviors. Are there current metrics and motivations that obstruct change? For example, no point teaching people JIT production techniques if they're rewarded for making a quota. Waste of time.

That's the BIG BANANA test.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of bananas and making training....

Anonymous said...

I once witnessed a sales training. Sales was a major job duty for all participants, but they had other job duties as well. In pre-assessment, most particpants claimed to be spending adequate time selling, but the trainers were skeptical.

In the training session a real-live industry specific customer agreed to be interviewed by the participants on a mock sales call. Much of the post-training feedback from participants was -- "Hearing what our customers want was the most valuable part of the training." ...That feedback validated the trainers' hunch that people weren't really devoting time to selling, otherwise "hearing what our customers want" would not have been a unique experience for them.

As if one of the prostitutes had said after that training session, "Getting practice on the banana was a good learning experience."

It's great when the assessment is also a learning experience, and vice versa.