The Link between Google Piñata and Deliberate Practice
Updated: Mar 15, 2019
Thwack Attack Since 2013 I have used the Google piñata as one way to deliberately practice moving beyond any skill plateau. The piñata is a Google home page interactive doodle celebrating the company’s 15th birthday the year I began thwacking. This basic video game challenges users to release as many virtual sweets as possible by thwacking a star-shaped piñata with a stick.
Through an experience-feedback loop, it helps make immediately tangible the common sense tenet that growth at higher skill levels is incremental not measured in swaths. When attempting to remove a blind spot or discover new behaviors that will propel me beyond a competence ceiling, I get to thwacking.
I reached a score of 150 quickly and easily with unconscious effort.
After repeated best scores of 150, I recognized that to move beyond that ceiling I’d have to play differently. I didn’t yet know how.
I experimented: Muted the game sound, which felt designed to distract more than entertain; adjusted hand-eye coordination; focused on different areas of the screen and most importantly, took bigger risks: I was willing to sacrifice a one-off high score (aberration) to identify which actions (piñata momentum, timing and location of thwacks) might consistently produce scores greater than 150 (game changer).
Deliberately applying these new actions to game play led to increasing, yet sporadic, higher scores above 150 (more candies released).
To consistently exceed the 150 plateau, experimentation continued with different combinations of individual high-scoring actions. With this new strategy, I reached and consistently maintained a high score of 169.
Though I’d reached a new plateau, the achievement had come from repetition that sparked muscle memory and automated recognition by the basal ganglia. This brain part is responsible for “converting a sequence of actions into an automatic routine” writes Charles Duhigg in his book, The Power of Habit. I hadn’t consciously standardized the actions required to maintain this new skill level. I know this because when I took a break from, then returned to the game I consistently scored between 150 and 169. The good news: biological automation sporadically moved me beyond the first plateau. The greater opportunity: deliberately practice newly-discovered combinations of behaviors to consistently maintain then exceed the second plateau. And, consciously apply the learning elsewhere.
A couple of hours with breaks sprinkled in, I broke 170. Then 180 with a best score of 189. With 4 levels of plateau-busting under my belt, I could not only perform but also articulate and document success patterns.
This set my brain ablaze. How could I apply to my professional development as a writer, what I learned in a few hours of deliberate practice with the Google piñata? I’m still on that journey. Here, though, are some observations and early findings:
The game’s simple nature and short length allow for immediate feedback and reserved brain share to apply learning to more complex goals (sports scores or writing productivity).
Distilled experience from Google Piñata play provides momentum when applying new learning to break achievement ceilings in other areas of skill.
In practical terms, Google piñata deliberate practice provided a working metaphor for new achievement: multiple, high quality books written and published annually.
In the past, I’ve attempted to multiply the mechanics of writing a single book by the number of books I desired to write and publish in a year. In this area, I’ve had far more success at plateau-busting when applying deliberate practice learning through piñata play. The experience prompted me to experiment with new ideas (writing books in parallel batches vs. singular and end to end), and catalyzed new connections between previously old ideas (how to progress on a book while taking a break). A concrete result: My newest book, Formula 5: Brain Science Your Way to Batch System Writing was released on Amazon last month.
In the macro, deliberate practice using the Google piñata is a process petri dish that lends insight into, and provides a new framework for managing my brain. It allows me to objectively observe how I assimilate then deliberately apply new data in service of professional growth.
If you haven’t already, give it a thwack! Then consider the 4 prompts below: http://www.google.com/doodles/googles-15th-birthday
What’s your (unconscious) “comfort zone” score?
How must you play differently (deliberately) to move beyond it?
Uncover any blind spots or counterproductive tics?
How can you apply what you’ve learned to an area of professional achievement where you’ve felt maxed or sluggish?