Are You Tougher Than a Boy Scout?

Dan Carusi Dan Carusi, Learning and Development

If you are not familiar with the show, “Are You Tougher Than a Boy Scout”, it matches up middle-age men going through a mid-life crisis against Eagle Scouts in a series of challenges based on merit badge competencies.  These are not your typical Boy Scouts but rather some kick-@$$ boys that could probably stand toe-to-toe with Bear Grylls.  They have mastered the merit badge skills and dominated over the men in almost every challenge.  So rarely did you hear someone say, “I’m tougher than a Boy Scout”.

My son is currently a Boy Scout at the Star rank so we took particular interest in this show. Especially over the summer since this is the time the Scouts pack their gear in head off to the scout reservations for camping and earning as many merit badges as possible. I have been fortunate enough to attend and witness the merit badge process first hand and it is not so easy to earn a badge. It is not just about knowledge transfer but mastering competencies – so there is a revolutionary idea!

Let’s look at Archery as an example. The scout learns from an instructor the history of archery, safety rules, range commands, parts of a bow & arrow, make a bowstring, targets & scoring, and much more. Sounds like a lot to learn for a 13-year-old or perhaps even for one of your employees? Congratulations, merit badge has been earned. Not so fast, that was the easy part. The scout is required to demonstrate mastery of the competency starting with identifying parts of the bow, answering questions to hitting a number of targets to score qualifying points. If they fail, they will finish camp with a partially completed badge and need to continue working on it until they can successfully demonstrate mastery of the competency.

If we apply the merit badge theory to our corporate learning environment, we need to ask ourselves ‘how many of our employees are walking around the office with a partially completed merit badge?  A very scary question for many of us.  More and more organizations are moving away from basic knowledge transfer programs towards ones that focus on what they can do – learning by doing and successfully demonstrating new skills. I recently did some work with SNHU and was excited to see it launch a competency-based curriculum versus credit hours.  The focus is on mastering competencies versus the standard two and four year programs: A student demonstrates mastery of the competency and moves on to the next one.  The length of the schooling is determined by their ability to learn and progress through the competencies.

Why is it the level of effort for a Scout to learn and demonstrate the skills required for a merit badge significantly higher than corporate learning programs?  Probably because we teach Scouts skills critical for survival in the wilderness so they “see it as a life or death skill”. However, we don’t ensure employees learn the skills or competencies to survive in business. One of my peers mentioned to me recently that if he designs learning programs that are challenging or difficult, employees would not participate. (Remind me not to go into the Back Country with anyone from his company since chance for survival will be little to none!)

We need to start challenging our employees to learn beyond basic knowledge transfer and design programs that require them to demonstrate what they now can do. Identify the key skills and competencies with a particular organization and build programs that require complete command of the competency.  Make them earn the merit badge versus the guaranteed course completion certificate.  To my fellow Scout Masters out there, we challenge the boys every day to learn the skills and competencies to survive on their own – so let’s take that same concept to our employees so they can survive in business and stand up to say, “I’m tougher than a Boy Scout.”