The Paper Airplane Exercise and Comfort Zones

In the YCISL workshops, we play the Birthdate game where a group of students have to line up in the order of their birth date (date and month, no year) without talking (and now with hands in pockets). This is to explore how they behave when their normal go-to method to solve such a problem is removed. Do they have leadership tendencies or do they immediately look for an available solution from someone else? Do they follow or help enhance the solution?

In 2019, we added the Paper Airplane exercise to explore the same comfort zone borders. The objective was set to maximum distance – and accuracy was thrown in by opening a door through which they could fly farther. I couched this as a prototyping exercise where getting out of the comfort zone is necessary to be successful. They had 10 minutes to build their paper airplane.

Within each group (I expected), there was likely to be some who would know how to fold a paper airplane (upper mid-quartile). Then there would be others who either don’t know, can’t exactly remember, think they don’t do it well and perhaps know exactly what they need to do. I was interested in the various behaviors and responses to one’s comfort zone.

During the construction period, a few students happily built their paper airplane using basic techniques. Others who perhaps have never built a paper airplane before asked for help from a friend or looked up the web for instructions. I think no one simply tried watching someone else and copying.

We flew the paper airplanes. There were a few that got out the door. But more importantly we showed how a team collectively can find their way to step out of the comfort zone and learn immensely from one another in the prototyping stage of project development. It didn’t really matter how they chose to step out.

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