Our family has a wonderful tradition on New Year’s Eve. We gather at my in-law’s house - with all of the cousins, aunts, and uncles - and play games until midnight.
It’s important that the games continue right up to the ringing of the new year. Any downtime presents significant risk that the adults will fall asleep.
We have a mixture of annual favorites, like Scattergories (where my father-in-law tries to add adjectives in front of words that do not start with the assigned letter - think “red car” for the letter “r”) and Pictionary. Each year we try out one new game to see if it will make the cut. This year we played a Name That Tune type game, except with kazoos.
Seems simple enough, right? Teams of five or six to guess, very well-known songs, and without the traditional auction to limit the number of notes. The goal is to guess as many songs correctly as possible during your timed turn, but you can hum any part or length of the song into the kazoo. It should be a slam dunk.
But it’s not.
It’s a great lesson in making sure that communication is tailored to and has value for the listener. It also illustrates the complexity of communication as a team increases in size.
First, let’s look at how complicated things can get as teams get larger. The old formula to calculate the number of communication channels on a team is N(N-1)/2. That means if only Uncle Dave and Aunt Liz are paired on a team, there is just one channel of communication: N(N-1)/2 = (2*1)/2 = 1. But, when it’s the entire Hersher family plus grandma there are (6 x 5) / 2 or 1 5 possible channels of communication. So, when Matt guesses “Ice Ice Baby”, when it’s really “Under Pressure”, that seed gets planted through the team in multiple directions, no matter how proud you may be that he remembers your high school jam.
That complexity underscores the real challenge: When it’s your turn, you know the song and hear it clearly in your head, no matter what you are pushing through the kazoo. But, what’s in your head is of no value. The only thing that matters is what you can get your team to recognize.
When it’s your turn, and time counts, don’t spend the majority of it humming the three simple chords that make up the verses of “All the Small Things” by Blink 182. Your team will never be able to go where you are trying to lead them. Start with the bridge, chorus, or any part of the song that’s recognizable and likely to create a shortcut to common understanding. Play for the audience, not what’s in your head.
Or, better yet, quickly decide that the kazoo is the wrong tool for that song and move on to the next one.