Toolkit: Jolts Revisited

Fifteen years ago, I introduced the concept of jolts to the training field. Since then, Tracy and I have written a couple of books on the design and facilitation of jolts.

It is now time to share new principles and procedures that we have learned about jolts.

Here's a Jolt for You

The best way to learn about a jolt is to experience it. Here is a jolt called Number Series.

Look at this series of numbers:

1, 2, 4, 8, 16, ?

What number comes next? Try to figure out the answer.

Write the answer on a piece of paper. Or just think of the answer.

Don't read the next paragraph until you have completed this task.

The next number is 32. You figured this out because each number in this series is double the previous number.

Let's try another task.

Look at this series of numbers:

2, 3, 5, 9, 17, ?

What number comes next? Try to figure out the answer.

Don't read the next paragraph until you have completed this task.

The next number is 33. You figured this out because each number in the series is double the previous number minus one.

17 x 2 is 34.

34 - 1 is 33.

One more time. What is the next number in this series?

8, 5, 4, 9, ?

Don't read the next paragraph until you have completed this task (or want to cheat).

If you have not figured out the answer and if you want a clue, here it is.

Here's a clue: Spell out the numbers like this: eight, five, four, nine.

Does this help you figure out the pattern?

Review the words, figure out the pattern, and write the next number.

Write the answer on a piece of paper. Or just think of the answer.

The next number is 1. You figured this out because this series contains single-digit numbers arranged in alphabetical order (when spelled out).

That is the end of the Number Series jolt.

You are probably a little resentful because we tricked you with two similar tasks and then gave you a third task that is different.

That is the learning point: Don't assume that all tasks are exactly the same. Don't become complacent and think that that the strategy you used to solve one problem will work with all problems. Remember, as Marshall Goldsmith says in the title of his bestselling book, “What got you here won't get you there.”

So This is a Jolt

Now that you have experienced a jolt, we are ready to give you the official definition:

A jolt is an engaging learning activity that lasts for a brief period of time and illustrates one or more important learning points.

Here are some additional facts about jolts:

Jolts provide insights. A typical jolt does not teach a skill. Instead, it helps you experience an important principle in action and provides you an “aha” moment.

Jolts are highly engaging. They capture your attention by startling you. They maintain your attention by intriguing you and by providing an emotional impact.

Jolts force you to think—and to share. During the activity, jolts encourage you to think about what you are doing and why you are doing it. After the activity, during the discussion, jolts encourage you to share your insights with other participants and to discover that different people have different perspectives.

Jolts are brief (but debriefing discussions are lengthy). We define a jolt as an activity that lasts for less than 5 minutes. Some jolts last for an even shorter period of time—less than a minute. However, the debriefing discussion that follows a jolt may require a lengthy period of time. For example, we start our conflict resolution workshop with a 2-minute jolt. Then we spend the next 2 days debriefing this jolt and learning relevant principles and procedures.

Jolts are metaphorical. You can use the same jolt to drive home different learning points. For example, we used the Number Series jolt to emphasize the need for solving each problem from scratch rather than re-using an earlier strategy. We can also use this jolt to illustrate the importance of lateral thinking, the fact that numerals represent words, the advantages of being flexible, the consequences of persistent behavior, the influence of context, and the usefulness of thinking about how we think.

Types of Jolts

Positioning. The Number Series jolt is an example of an entrapment jolt. This type of jolt lulls you into a false sense of security and leads you to misuse a specific strategy. You are enticed into making a mistake and, later, you are encouraged to learn from this mistake. In contrast to entrapment jolts, enlightenment jolts help you discover important principles without leading you astray.

Number of participants. A jolt may require just one participant, a pair of participants, a team, or a larger group. The Number Series jolt involved just you, a single participant. We could have asked you to work with a partner, thereby increasing your level of engagement and understanding through the conversation between the two of you.

Media. Jolts can be presented through a variety of media including video and audio recordings and different types of printed materials. The Number Series jolt used text to provide you with the necessary instructions.

Activity. Jolts may require different types of activities of the participants: listening, thinking, reading, recalling, talking, drawing, debating, and undertaking physical activities. The Number Series jolt involved reading and thinking.

Modifying Jolts

The jolts that we have published in the newsletter represent a variety of types. Once you are familiar with a jolt, you should be able to modify it to a different type to better suit the resources and constraints in your situation. For example, you can use a set of PowerPoint slides to present the Number Series jolt when you have a larger group of participants.