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September 30th, 2020

EPISODE 3: Virtual Learning in a Hybrid World

In this week’s episode, NLI Co-founder and CEO Dr. David Rock is joined by Senior Vice President of Client Experience Katherine Milan to discuss the science of learning. Together, they unpack the latest research around memory and habit formation, discuss how to make learning more social, identify the five biggest mistakes organizations are making when transitioning learning to a virtual format, and reveal the five ways you can avoid those pitfalls and design better learning experiences. Hint: it’s by following the science.

Episode Transcript



[00:00:04] GB: Maybe it happened when you’re in the shower, or walking the dog, or doing the dishes, it could’ve been anywhere. You had a moment of inspiration that resolved a long-tangled knot in your brain, or that shed new light on an old question, or that changed the way you saw the world. That’s an insight.

At NLI, we believe that insight is the active ingredient of learning, and that they can happen anywhere if you create the right conditions. That’s the point. They can happen anywhere, even virtually. As organizations transition learning programs from in-person workshops and events, to online experiences, they’re faced with a question, how can we do this better? We’re helping them do it by designing experiences that generate insight and in turn, change behaviors at scale. You can do this too, if you follow the science.

I’m Gabriel Berezin and you’re listening to Your Brain At Work from the NeuroLeadership Institute. We continue to draw our episodes from a weekly webinar series that NLI has been hosting every Friday.

This week, our panel features NLI Co-Founder and CEO, Dr. David Rock and Senior Vice President of Client Experience and Product, Katherine Milan. Together, they unpack the latest research around memory and habit formation.

In this episode, they also discuss how to make learning more social. They identify the five biggest mistakes organizations are making when transitioning learning to a virtual format, and reveal the ways in which you can avoid these pitfalls and design better learning experiences. Enjoy.


[00:01:35] DR: For of those of you new to the organization, I see we’ve got about 250 or so people. Our vision is making organizations more human through science. It’s almost like we wrote that for 2020, but we didn’t. It’s a few years old. We’re about using science to make companies better, but by actually increasing really the way they deal with humans from a science perspective. Really understanding how we thrive, what makes us really thrive and following the science at every level.

We’ve published over 50 peer-reviewed academic research papers. We’re scientists at the core. Over the last 15, 20 years, we’ve actually been advising over 50 of the Fortune 100 as well. Now the impact of the work is at the scale of millions of people a year, which we’re very excited about.

We’ve been in the learning space a long time. 2008 was the first time that we published anything on learning. I’ll just give you a quick walkthrough how we’ve been thinking about learning. It’s been a topic, has been really, really important to us right from the start. 2008, we published a piece on how insight actually happens in the brain. I had a really, really strong hypothesis, actually from even years before that that insight was the active ingredient in learning. It literally changes the brain in ways that never goes back.

We looked in 2008, how it works. 2010, we published a big piece that’s down 10-years-old. That’s standing the test of time. It’s really organizing all of learning into one framework that gives you a set of principles. We’ll dig into that today a little bit. 2014, we came back to ages to say, what really matters most. One of the things that we saw in there was the power of social learning and the importance of that and I’ll dig further into that with Katherine today.

2015, we finally published seven years later, something I’ve been dying to publish forever, which was why insight actually changes the brain and how it actually works and why it’s such an important ingredient in learning. If you’re in learning, if you’re in designing, or delivering learning, you are an insight architect, or an insight facilitator. When you start thinking that way, actually changes everything. It’s a really powerful way to think about learning overall.

Then finally, we published a really important piece recently on coherence, which is the structural integrity of ideas. There’s actually a science to how you design any learning, or change experience, such that it has maximum structural integrity, or coherence. It’s about the science and practice of that. There’s a really fascinating body of work that emerged out of that paper and then we’re assessing coherence across organizations, all sorts of fun things.

We’ve published five pieces. That’s the tip of the iceberg. There’s also many, many other pieces and industry research and all sorts of other stuff. For us, learning is the mechanism of activating habits. Ultimately, we’re in the habit activation business scale, or not the training or learning business. We’re in the business of activating habits at scale, but the mechanism is some learning experience. For us, it’s amazing to follow the science and that’s what we’ll talk about a little bit more today.

We’re going to talk about three things. First one and then I’ll put a lot of the science in here, there’s an opportunity to radically improve all learning. That’s the thing. Pretty much anything that you’re teaching can be better in a virtual world. I haven’t seen something that actually is better in person. Unless, it involves some physical interaction with some physical, like a machine, or using some – you’re in a lab, or you’ve really got to see people physically next to you doing something. With the exception of that, everything you’re doing particularly in soft skills should be better. There’s nothing I’ve seen that actually should be better in workshops. I’ll explain why. Includes leadership development, deeper programs. We’ll talk about that second. Then we’ll talk about large events briefly as well. Most of this will be upfront.

I do want to make a distinction. When you start thinking about the science, there are two broad categories of learning. The technical skills category is things people know they need. They know they’ve got a gap in how to use some new software, and they think they’ll feel better if they have it. They know they need it and they might procrastinate, but ultimately, they know they’re going to need to do it. Versus most human skills, the more you actually need it, the less you think you need it. Often people, you really, really avoid doing any of that work.

You can think really differently about technical skills and human skills. I think with technical skills, you’ve got this broad swathe of options from self-paced, to these wonderful, internally generated pathways from degree and others, which is the playlist things, internally generate. You’ve got lots of different ways of doing technical skills, because people do tend to self-serve, but there’s a long history and a lot of research showing people do not self-serve well on the human skill.

You actually have to think about this differently. From our perspective, the human skills should be super-efficient and also, we’re now experimenting with event-driven learning just as something’s happening, actually giving people the exact powerful, very quick tool at a glance to make them better, just as they’re doing something. Either very efficient ahead of time, or super-efficient in real-time. That’s the world of human skills, or where I’m starting to cover both.

We’re going to talk about human skills. I’m not really going to talk about technical skills today. You want to walk us through this Katherine? This is ridiculous data give, but give us a little bit of the background of this, what the number is.

[00:06:47] KM: Yeah. One thing I just want to make very clear, in terms of virtual learning, that can mean a lot of things for us. That can be a blend of asynchronous learning, self-paced learning with a social component layered in, it could be virtual instructor-led training. The great thing about that is that it does offer a lot of variety that we’ll all see strong results coming from.

What we’re looking at here is a comparison that we did. This is a clear breakdown of one of our clients who rolled out Decide, which is our unconscious bias solution. They ran several hundred sessions with several thousand people through this program. We were able to compare then, the folks who went through the workshop, versus the folks who went through our distributed learning solution, or DLS, which is three weeks of self-paced content and then capping it off with a interactive live webinar in week four.

What we see here is what we call BCP. We’re looking at behavior change percentage. Training is really only worth it if people actually go out and do something differently as a result of that training. Why are we investing millions of dollars to just hand out smile sheets and say, “Oh, did you like it? Would you recommend it to a friend?” That’s not what’s going to actually shift behavior, shift your culture.

One of the questions that we ask in this analysis of Decide and that experience for participants is how often are you using a strategy to mitigate unconscious bias each week? What we’re looking at here, 59% which is a good solid number are using a strategy at least one to three times a week or more. Those are the folks who went through the workshop. If you look at that 80%, those are the people who went through the virtual training. 80% of those people are using a strategy once a week, or more to mitigate unconscious bias. If you look at that at the end of the day, that adds up to hundreds of thousands of biases mitigated over the course of a year. Really powerful stuff.

[00:08:53] DR: Yeah, that’s great. Thanks, Katherine. What’s important to realize here, also is if you have even 10,000 employees, to put 10,000 employees through workshops just is never going to happen. It’s going to cost many millions of dollars, huge manpower, people are never going to prioritize it. You’re just never going to impact everyone. Actually, you could impact the entire 10,000 people literally in one month with the – and get the 80% number. It’s mad.

The comparison with 10,000 people would say, half a million dollars with 10,000 people, you’re going to hit a very small number of people and it’s not going to be as effective. Far less than that, you’re going to hit the entire company in a month and then be able to move on. This is the power of virtual. It’s not just about you can scale. It’s not just about you can do it faster. It’s actually just literally better from the point of the percentage of people activating habits.

I know Katherine and her team have been working on all this years’ data from hundreds of different projects. At our summit coming up, we’re going to share out all the new data we’ve got comparing workshop with other things as well.

Just to put a point to it, virtual because people are asking, virtual for me just means not physically in person. The way we’re defining it, there’s sure lots of definitions, we’re defining it as there’s no in-person in the same room experience. Might be a Zoom experience, a platform like that. It might be sharing stuff out virtually, but sharing content out, all of that. There’s a particular quality to the way we approach it. I think I’ll explain that best by just walking through the science.

Yeah, let’s dig into ages just looking at the time, we’ll get lost in the detail a little bit. 2010, let me go back to the paper from earlier. 2010, we basically published a piece that at the time, we thought was important. This ended up being super helpful and really transformational for us and many organizations. Essentially, what we did was and this is something we do a lot is we basically said, can we define a set of first principles for how to design learning, starting with just basic memory formation in the brain? Can we build a set of first principles that are a guidepost for everyone in learning to use, that generalizes across all types of learning?

It was about a year-long project. We worked with one of the leading memory labs in the world headed by Lila Davachi at NYU and a number of other folks. We basically did this giant organizing thing of all the research out there on learning. In particular, what we looked at is recall and easy recall. You’ll hear this a lot from us. They’re recognizing something after you’ve learned it. That’s not so useful for most soft skills. Recall is one thing, like recalling an idea, but easy recall is a whole next level. Then easy recall under pressure is a whole next level.

To learn something so you actually get easy recall under pressure is a whole different level of learning than just recognizing something. It’s really far up in that continuum. I think a little bit about the thing you – I don’t know what they’re called. You know that when you whack a hammer down and the thing goes up at a fun fair. If you hit it really hard, you hit the bell.

[00:11:56] KM: Yeah, strong man.

[00:11:57] DR: Strong man thing. Yeah. It’s like that. You got to hit this learning experience really hard for easy recall under pressure. What we looked at with learning was what are the ingredients for easy recall under pressure? What does it take? Without getting too deep into the science, essentially, it’s – the hippocampus is a fascinating network in the brain. It’s really a network. It’s in a location, but it’s part of a memory network. The hippocampus activates according to the strength of whether you’ll remember something later. That was a hypothesis for a long time. It’s actually been tested and proven out in the last decade.

You can try different activities and see how much the hippocampus activates and it really does correlate with whether you remember something later. What we did was look at all the different research on what makes the hippocampus maximally activate and all the stuff. We can’t do these four things, I’ll be careful I don’t get lost in the science, but attention has to be really focused. The irony of this is actually the less media, the more focused you can be. You can be really distracted between chat and visual and words. In some ways, just being on a phone bridge and hearing a really powerful story and having to focus, means your attention is higher. Not having pictures, but having to draw something that an instructor tells you to draw, actually is really more attention than watching a slide, for example.

We have attention wrong. It’s very close attention. We also need generation that is really making connections, or generating connections between a new schema and your existing schema. Any new schema, or concept that you’re trying to learn has to link with existing schemas or concepts as adults. That’s the generation moment. That one’s relatively intuitive, but people get attention wrong, generation we get in general learning principles. Emotions, we get really wrong, because everyone tries to make learning lovely and nice and positive. Actually, what you need is strong emotions for the hippocampus to tell the amygdala to tag this thing as important. There’s no strong emotion somewhere.

Basically, the amygdala doesn’t get connected into the network. You need that amygdala activation during an encoding task to actually have the hippocampus say, “Oh, this really matters. Let’s really remember this.” The challenge is negative emotions are much easier to ramp up than positive. You got to be comfortable making people uncomfortable. In fact, we wrote about this. This was a piece in fast company a couple of years back. Maybe my team can dig it up and find it and we’ll put in the chat, but we wrote a lot about you have to be willing to actually make people a little uncomfortable, but maybe then bring them back.

Emotions in some way, need to be high for learning to actually stick. Then the one that people get really wrong is spacing. In fact, there’s a lot of research about how wrong people get this, in that we do learn better if we learn in a block, if we only need short-term memory. If we only need to remember something for a little while, then learning in a block can be beneficial. If we need to actually remember something long-term, or even mid-term, you actually must space the learning out. It’s weird, the more you space it out, the better.

People chunk learning together, like a half day or a day and they miss this massive benefit from spreading it apart. Anyway, that’s enough on ages. This is our foundational principle. We essentially, seven years ago went back to the drawing board when a client said, “We want you to train 5,000 people really fast.” We had no idea how to do that at the time. “We want you to train 5,000 people really fast. Can you work out how to do that?” We went back to the science and we came up with this completely different way of delivering learning that now is the way we run our whole business around learning.

Let me give you some basic principles. I’m going to tell you five things companies do that make things worse, that make virtual learning worse and then five things you can do to make it better. The first thing is people are keeping eyes of the same content, but chopping it down. You know what you end up chopping down? The actual digestion activities and the stuff that really matters. It’s like taking all the nutrients out of food. The other thing is virtually, you do have less – it’s a little bit harder to keep attention, although it’s much easier if you do it regularly in short bursts.

It is true. You want shorter. If your brain says, “Well, we have a four-hour classroom. We’re going to need to make it three hours,” that’s not the way to think about it. You’ve got a four-hour classroom. What really matters in that classroom and how do we turn that into small bites. I’ll talk more about that in a minute. People are still putting all the learning in one week and I’ve heard this literally 50 times. If we have to do it in one week like we used to, because we’ll lose too many people.

They haven’t done the actual math on what happens if you spread it out. Now, I did this recently I actually did the thought experiment really carefully and thoroughly. We haven’t been able to collect hard data on it, but we did a serious thought experiment of basically taking a three-hour workshop that you would do, either virtually or in-person, which is three hours back-to-back and turning it into three 50-minute Zoom sessions over three weeks. We call that a HIVE, high-impact virtual experience, or three virtual Zoom sessions. Roughly 20, 30 people in that area.

Basically, three hours in a block, or three hours over three weeks, one hour a week. We looked, I mean, there’s a difference everywhere, but a really poignant data point was you’re likely to get in the order of six times as many actions people will take if you spread it out. Literally six times as many actions people will take from whatever the learning is, just by spreading it out that way.

Obviously, the other mistake is running long sessions. You don’t have two or four hours of actual attention. An hour is a heap for really focusing. They’re not leveraging assignments between sessions is a huge opportunity. Only collecting NPS and general feedback. Those are mistakes. Let’s talk about what to do differently and then Katherine, maybe you can add some color to this.

Number one, reduce your content to a small set of the essentials. Look at what really matters. Rather than trying to teach everything you would in person, say what really matters? What can we get the real return from? Secondly, focus on habits, not content. What habits do you want people to have? Whatever you’re doing in soft skills, there are habits at the heart of it. Once you work out what those habits are, it’s actually much, much easier to think. Giving away a lot of our secret sauce here, but think in terms of habits, not in terms of content. When you do that, you can actually reduce the content a lot, once you know what the habit is, because it’s much quicker to think about habits than it is content.

Stretch things out. That’s an obvious one. Make them 50 minutes each to keep attention and do a really intense 50 minutes that people can’t look away. Really focus people’s attention for 50 minutes on something and then engage their network in between sessions. Katherine, anything you want to share there, just from your experience then we’ll look at a case?

[00:18:27] KM: Yeah. I’d actually like to share an example of a client that we were working with recently, who I think hit on almost every one of these five ways that virtual can be better and also link that back to ages, like we were talking about. We were working with a major luxury retail brand who had to close all of their stores. Shutter the stores because of COVID. They have a learning event that they do every year in person, and so they were able to get about 35 people to this event, because cost of travel, things like that.

They recognized that the COVID environment gave them an opportunity to totally rethink the way that they would do this training event, the way that they would do this HR event, and worked with us to design a totally new agenda, totally new way of doing this. They actually used to have two days where they brought everyone in person and it started at 8:00 in the morning and it went through almost 8:00 at night. Really crammed things in.

We worked with them. We broke that up. We said, we need to cut these sessions down, so 50, 55 minutes max. Start all of them with a really great engaging question. Ask people to connect with one another. Really get to that high relatedness, evoking emotions, things like that. They spread out the training. They looked to do a reconfigured slide deck, so they used to have a lot of text on their slides. By just doing simple things, like moving to more visuals, or doing builds on slides, they were able to help with generation, because your mind wants to fill in the blanks.

They were starting to make those connections. The most exciting part of working on this project had to be when we asked for feedback. At the end of the very first day, participants were saying things like, “This is refreshing. This is exciting. I feel like my voice is being heard. I feel like I’m able to be involved. This is so much more interactive than it’s been before.”

The thing is, it really was more interactive and it was more inclusive, because they were able to have 250 people participate in a virtual event, as compared to just 35 who could do in-person. They’re able to create a more compelling, effective learning event and include more people in it.

[00:20:53] DR: Yeah, that’s great. It’s just a lot more people. That’s one of the things we’re finding. You can be far more inclusive with virtual learning. While there are downsides, of course, people would prefer to be in-person. No question. It’s easier. It actually feels nicer. There’s all sorts of reasons we’d love to see each other. In terms of actual effectiveness, virtual can be dramatically better. You’ve got to be careful the question you ask. Do you lack the training? No. People would rather be in a room. Have you built habits is the question? Because it’s a different world. We’re seeing, learning can be faster, wider, more scalable, better habits and more inclusive, all of those things.

I’ll show you a data point and then we’ll change gears. Seven years ago, as I said, we changed our whole strategy on learning and we essentially said, look, we’re going to work out. It took us really seven years. We’re going to work out how to not be a training company, workshop company, but a behavior change company. We worked out this framework for measuring learning. Instead of using NPS, which is net promoter score, we created our own framework called the behavior change percentage and Katherine mentioned earlier. It’s literally the percentage of the target audience doing things differently now, activating your specific habit.

I’ll show you a quick data point from [inaudible 00:22:00]. We ran two different solutions with one was connect, which is our solution around just better conversations. Here, we had 4,000 people in 70 countries go through an experience that is better than if we put a whole day workshop together, which they could never have done. In fact, they could have done the whole thing in one month, but they scaled it out over 11 months, but impacted 4,000 people. What we know is that 95% of people were having more effective interactions, at least once a week. Their interactions were better.

Decide as our breaking buyer solution, 89% are deliberately mitigating bias at least once a week. Again, that’s 1,100. We’re actually doing a lot of work around bias and we’re impacting 5,000, 10,000, these kinds of numbers in a month and seeing the same data that you can actually get people really mitigating bias every week. Most people really, really fast if you follow the science.

Virtual learning is not new for us. As I said, we were 89% before the pandemic hit. The way we built it was not through technology. We’re actually technology agnostic. We don’t care what technology you have. It wasn’t about that at all. It was about, what are the habits people need? Moving backwards from there, what actions do they need to take to build that habit? Moving backwards from there, what insight do they need that will motivate them to take an action? Moving backwards from there, what’s the ideal research and the ideal story that creates the strongest possible insight? That’s our whole way of thinking about this. It starts with research and story to build insight to get action to build habit.

When you pull it back from that way, actually now you can use all sorts of things; videos, podcasts, writing, just tools that you give people, that you can really deconstruct the learning experience in all sorts of interesting ways.

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[00:24:42] DR: We’ve been talking about radically improving all of learning. Anything you want to dig into?

[00:24:46] KM: Yeah. I’ve seen a couple questions come up about BCP and self-reporting. I’d like to just address that by saying that BCP is self-reporting, as well as a outside perspective. We do have a survey that we send to participants that happens about two weeks after a training wraps. Two weeks following that, we send out a survey to their direct reports, or colleagues, folks who are interacting with them on a daily basis and we ask them, how many times in the last week has your manager spoken to you about bias? How many times in the last week have you heard this language? Have you seen them shift the way that they make decisions? Have you seen them become more inclusive?

Yes, we do self-recording. That’s really important. What we found is that when you’re asking about specific targeted actions, the specific habits we’re trying to drive, you get much more accurate results, than again, asking types of questions like, are you an inclusive person? Well, everyone’s going to say they’re an inclusive person. People tend to be much more honest and much more self-reflective if you’re asking things like, how many times in the last week have you used a strategy to mitigate bias? How many times in the last week have you talked to a colleague about bias?

Then that additional report, the direct report, or colleague report that we send out, we’re really happy that I would say, probably 98% of the time, we see very similar results from what we’re asking co-workers and direct reports as we do in the self-reports.

[00:26:20] DR: Yeah. No, that’s great. Glad you brought that up. Self-report, you’ve always got to take it with a little bit of a grain of salt. The way we do it is not, are you inclusive or something? It’s literally, how many times in the last week did you do this? There’s research showing that measurement is much more effective, but it’s really the other people around them, their view that matters and we’re really looking at that as well.

A member is asking a question, is DNI training not more effective in-person? Honestly, this may sound shocking. I don’t know any soft skills training that’s better in-person. The reason for that, if you don’t need some technical thing there. The reason for that is virtual learning done well is actually even more social. If you have 20 people on a platform and everyone manages their light and sound, you can see everyone, hear everyone, you’re literally seeing 20 faces. When someone says something meaningful, you can see 20 heads nodding at once. You can see 20 people drifting off when you start talking rubbish.

It’s so rich socially. It’s actually more social than other ways. In terms of can you create really deep emotional experiences, absolutely, you can. It doesn’t mean it will happen. You’ve got to manage some things. You’ve got to work harder, be more intentional with creating a safe environment and all sorts of things and making sure people are mostly on camera, be really kind.

My daughter, my 17-year-old started virtual learning some months back. When it started, she was like, “Oh, my gosh. I’m not going to be able to deal with this. It’s going to be awful.” Then after the first couple of sessions, she said to me; she said, “Dad, I can’t believe it. Actually, it’s really nice. My teachers are actually being like, almost like humans. We’re seeing their pets and they’re treating us as humans and they’re being really human and being really nice to us and asking us lots of questions.” I’m like, “Yeah, of course. The teachers are just freaked out about them just switching off and doing something else.” They’re actually working hard to really engage them. That’s what the facilitator has to do in a virtual world. Really work hard, to really engage people and not just talk at them.

It does put pressure on facilitators to do things better for sure, but there’s a whole way to do that. There’s a lot of practices you can do. Using visuals, having everyone on camera and constantly using visuals. Give me a thumbs up if you’re with me. Thumbs sideways if you have a question. Thumbs down if we’ve lost you completely. All sorts of things you can do.

Anyway, so a couple of other things to comment on. Focusing on habits rather than content. It’s a big conversation. If you’re from an organization and small, medium, large, whatever, but a few people will – not a tiny consulting, but if you’re from an organization, we’re happy to do what we call a free learning audit with you.

A learning audit is basically, we’ll review – Our consultants will review and researchers, what you’re doing in learning and basically give you a ton of feedback for free, about how to do it better. A free learning audit is something that we’re doing. There’s a lot to say and certainly a lot to say about that. We’ve talked a lot about general learning and let’s talk a little bit more about leadership development and just digging a little bit more into habits and thinking about this, because leadership development, we think is really a set of habits that leaders are applying.

General soft skills learning, learning to communicate better, learning to actually have feedback conversations better, all of these can be built into a leadership program. Often, leadership programs are very specific sets of habits you want leaders to activate in your organization. We think in terms of priorities, habits and systems. We’re a behavior change company, not a training company. We work across all three areas here. Maybe a normal consulting company works primarily in systems, a marketing company works in priorities, almost no one, except us, works in habits and we really put all three together.

How do you message things, so they stick? How do you actually build skills and habits one at a time and then how do you have these systems that support them? That’s the way that we think. Priorities are just the beginning. You’ve really got to work on the habits. We have a strong hypothesis for how to build habits. You want to build the strongest possible insight for people. Insight changes the brain. You want to do that in social situations.

Katherine was mentioning our distributed learning solution is three weeks of self-pace. It’s not completely true. It’s self-paced, but the team, it’s ideally in a team. The team discusses in real-time each week, what they’re learning, what they’re applying, what they’re doing. It’s actually social learning. Sometimes, the team will actually watch the videos together. It’s three weeks of content that’s given to people about ideally the team is actually working through that content at the same time. Then in the end, there’s a synchronous hour that they come together.

We worked out how to do social in a scaled way. Then, the big factor is one habit at a time over time and that’s really, really important. We think of these as the minimum viable product. I was talking to a literally, rocket scientist recently at the folks, the government folks who do all that. I was saying, if any of these are missing, the rocket doesn’t leave the launch pad, you can’t miss any of these three things. You have to have strong insight for learning to work. It has to be social and it has to be one habit at a time.

The social, I’ll dig into more. The reason for social and we published on this in the last couple of years, it literally changes the memory network that’s tapped in. You encode more strongly, much more strongly, because you have all this social information that encodes automatically. As a result, you recall more easily. Then the big one is you act more often. When you’re learning with your team, for example, you think your whole team is watching everything you’re doing now. It’s called the panopticon effect. Or if you learn with a cohort, you feel you’ve got this responsibility to do the right thing. It’s a strong motivation. Also, thinking other people are doing something is the strongest motivation of all the different motivations they can find from social science.

It’s such a powerful thing to be actually learning socially, ideally with an intact team, or with a cohort that’s going to be consistent for some time. When you add that element, you’re dramatically increasing and you’re literally achieving one of these three minimum viable products. One of the fears we have with the digital revolution is people are leaving out the social. They’re also leaving out the one habit at a time.

The digital can be intoxicating. It can be enticing. Like, “Wow. I can train 10,000 people for $1,000 immediately. Anyone can access any time.” Are you actually building habits? If you have some learning solutions and you want to actually test them, we’re doing that now and then it’s not core business, but now and then we’re coming in and actually researching and testing, has your solution actually built habits?

We did this a couple of years back for a consulting firm, tax and audit and all that. They had this program, they’d rolled out, so a 1,000 people and they wanted to go to another 5,000. It wasn’t something we built. I looked at it and just shook my head and said, “Look, people might like this. I bet they love it, but it’s not actually going to do anything.” They said, “What do you mean?” I dug in and they said, “Can you actually collect data? We’re an accounting firm. Show us the data.”

We did this study and we collected data from quite a few people. I’m not going to give you totally accurate numbers. This is roughly. About two or three people remembered anything at all, no one had any habits a few months later. There was nothing sticking. The net promoter score was really high. People loved it and they thought other people should do it, because they felt smarter. They had a great time, but it didn’t actually create new habits.

That’s one of the dangers with NPS and all that. We do collect NPS as well, because we think it’s a piece of the pie, but we think you’ve got to really activate habits. If you miss any of those three elements, it doesn’t happen. I’m going to show you some crazy data and then we’ll take questions again. This is ridiculous. Basically, this is one of the world’s only control group studies. It’s just three data points from a study that’s got many, many, many more data points. They’re all consistent with this.

HP Inc., we helped them reimagine what leaders should do. Basically, we came down to leaders imagine the future, inspire the team and make it happen. We simplified and radically crystallized their whole approach to leadership. It’s more than just those nine words, but that’s the basic framework. Imagine the future, inspire the team, make it happen. We then helped them roll out a solution that impacted all 50,000 people, building one habit at a time.

The first data point is literally people whose boss, so this is not participants feedback. This is the employees, the direct reports of participants who went through a learning experience. That was all virtual, by the way. The first data point is people whose boss had not gone through this fully virtual learning experience. The second data point is people whose boss had gone through this experience. Look at the middle one, does your manager make everyone feel valued? 52%, half versus basically everyone.

We were able to impact all 50,000 people in a pretty short time in a way that follows the science and have a radical impact on their leadership skills. This is something that we do a lot of. Again, virtual. Who would have thought? We could give you a three-hour lecture on the biases that are having us misread virtual learning, but the important thing is anchor on attention, generation, emotion and spacing. When you study something, like your own learning experience, you need all four conditions to be really high, to be high, to very high for learning to stick. Any one of them isn’t, you’re not going to get easy recall under pressure.

Remember, we’re not looking at can people remember this vaguely? We’re looking at easy recall under pressure. It requires all four conditions of ages to be high. You can actually assess your learning strategies against that, which is a really interesting thing to do. Katherine, anything you want to add? You’re involved in over a 100 of these. What do you want to add here on a behavioral case?

[00:35:35] KM: Just to add on to this particular case study, I think one of the components that made this really interesting was these were leaders taking their teams through this training. It was that nice blend, David, that you mentioned before of it’s virtual, there are pieces of it that you can weave into your schedule easily, but it does allow for an interactive component. One thing that we’ve seen a lot of is companies who have retail employees, who have manufacturing employees, public utilities who have employees out there fixing the power lines.

It’s great to be able to have their manager in a – I’ve seen it in as short as 15-minute meeting, deliver some of this content that still leads to that strong behavior change. To your earlier point as well, it’s tech agnostic and you can make it as high-tech, or as low-tech as you need based on your audience. Of course, with that focus on virtual, we’re seeing lots of interesting ways now that we’re getting virtual training out to those employees who used to be solely in-person, and I’m really excited to be sharing more of that data at the summit as well.

[00:36:40] DR: The key is don’t think about content. Think about insight generation. Think about insights that create habits. As you’re looking at any human skills experience, you’re trying to think about the habits and then think about the insights that will create those habits. I’m going to give you an example. If you wanted a company to be healthier, if you wanted your whole company to be healthier, think about what are the habits that really have the biggest return. If you just ask 20 people, you’ll get 20 different things. If you follow the science, you’ll be able to work out the three things that have the biggest return.

The question is – it’s an interesting question. How do you choose the ones that really matter and should be things that are really generalized, impact everyone and really have a big, big return? Everyone tries to throw everything in and oh, we need nutrition and we need breathing and we need – all those things are great, but if you only had three things, because humans have short attention spans, only had three things about what are the best three. How do you be essential, not exhaustive?

We think that way. From the health perspective, it’s like, one of them’s going to be getting your sleep number, which is individual. Everyone has a different sleep number. If you’re getting your sleep number, your self-regulation is good, your digestion is good, your cortisol is good, your immune system is good, all these things good and then particularly in a difficult time, if you’re not getting a sleep number, it really trips you into a downward spiral. It’s such an important thing. That’s one. That’s the habit. Get your sleep number. Not get seven hours of sleep, but get your sleep number most nights. That’s an example of a habit.

Then the question is, what’s the insight that will get people there? We’ve played with a few and this is not something we directly teach, but an example is even an hour, or two less sleep is like driving over the limit. There’s actually research on that, that you get an hour or two less sleep than your number and the cognitive impairment is like, you shouldn’t be driving. It’s literally at the level of cognitive mistakes.

When you really sit with that and think about that, it’s like, “Wow, I really need to not just manage mine, but my teams and even my organization.” That enter, how do you get people to that insight? You actually want to show them the data, but you also want to tell them story. It might be a story of the train driver in New York who accidentally killed a bunch of people and why and how and how he hadn’t been sleeping and no one cared about that. It’s story and science and they’re like, “Wow. Sleep really matters.” It’s as bad as being drunk really and not drunk, but over the limit.

You get that and then it’s like, what’s the action that people are going to take? Then that’s going to build the habit. It’s just thinking really differently, not about content, but about habits and insights and then how you create that. You start hiring script writers and storytellers and folks like that, because you need to think about the emotional experience, not just the science as well. Anything you want to add there, Katherine?

[00:39:32] KM: Yeah. I want to just take the opportunity to address one question, which is around how to leverage folks’ networks in between sessions and keep things really social. I know we’re going to be getting into a bit of a conversation on large events. One thing that we’ve seen be really helpful is leaving Zoom links open, or scheduling additional time in between sessions and offering things, like guided meditation, offering things like coffee chats with discussion prompts provided, things like that. There are lots of great ways to continue to leverage people’s networks to help them build more connections.

We’ve gotten a lot of really positive feedback from clients who’ve said, “I really enjoy doing this training with my team, because it’s given us something to focus on and do together that isn’t related to COVID, that isn’t related just to the meat and potatoes of our jobs, that help us become better employees and better people.” It’s been really exciting to see all of that come up recently.

[00:40:36] DR: Yeah. I know it’s interesting. I’ll spend a couple of minutes on the final one. We don’t have as much science to share here, but I’ll just share anecdotally some points in the last couple of minutes, but just a couple of quick questions to answer there. Firstly, don’t do mandatory training. We published a whole piece of strategy in business, a big piece on this. We should put that in the chat, particularly around diversity and inclusion. Literally, a compulsory diversity and inclusion training can make your company more biased. Don’t do it. Create something super compelling and really working on the compelling part and there’s a whole way to think about that. That’s really, really important to think about.

The other thing is someone’s mentioning manufacturing plans, other things and computers, there’s ways around all of that and we’ve found we can scale the work infinitely different ways, because it’s really about just getting insights to people. We’ve been able to work with serious manufacturers and people, mining companies, all sorts of things to work out the right way to actually get these insights to people.

We’ve been in the large event business for a long time. We’ve run, I think, 15 summits in the early days. There are 400 or 500 now, about a 1,000 people. We’ve been running large in-personal events for a long time and also large virtual events for a long, long time. Because we have this theory and this way of delivering learning, we jumped on to large events really early on and started working with clients to reimagine, basically their large leadership retreat. The first thing to say is it won’t be the same. If you normally gather 200 leaders for three days and they drink and socialize and play golf and all this stuff, it’s going to look completely differently. Actually, they can be net better.

The way they can be net better, similar to what we’ve talked about is take two weeks and do Tuesday, Thursday, morning for an hour and a half, afternoon for an hour and a half, Tuesday, Thursday as an example. With the digestion time in between and with people networking in between and connecting in small groups and all this stuff, you can have a vastly better experience. An architect would say over two weeks than you would ever do in three days, where the whole experience could be much more impactful, obviously radically cheaper, much more inclusive and actually much more innovative and particularly on the inclusive and innovative.

There’s ways to think about large events, where actually, if you used to spend 2 million dollars, you’re actually now going to spend a $100,000 and it’d be radically more effective and more inclusive. You don’t even need to spend that, but encourage you to think really differently. If you’re interested in that, we’re doing a lot of this work mostly with large companies, but we’ve designed some amazing large events in the last six months and they’ve been incredibly effective. Katherine, I think you’re involved in a couple. Any comments do you want to make there?

[00:43:01] KM: Yeah. I look forward to doing more and just want to say that for all of these large events, we’ve done them on many different topics with many different industries, levels of employees. This isn’t just something that will work only with top-level leaders, or only with frontline managers. You can really create compelling large events that would spit a variety of audiences.

[00:43:20] DR: Very, very senior ones. Yeah. One more quick comment, actually. We’ve actually tested our unconscious bias solution. We have an unconscious bias solution that is completely different in the market, because it actually gives people a language to mitigate biases every single week. We actually did some data collection about a year ago. We’ll do it again for our summit. There’s about nine and a half thousand different people across many, many, many different sites. We looked at on average, how often are people mitigating bias each week and it was 78%. 78% of nine and a half thousand people were now each week actually addressing bias in a way that was reducing bias.

That’s what it’s going to take to address bias. Most of the work around bias is just about raising awareness. It does nothing. You actually need a common language in teams to call it out on each other in a safe way. If you’re new to our work in that space, dig in. Actually, just put unconscious bias in the chat now and someone will follow up with you. If you’re new to our work there, I encourage you to have a look at that. It’s a really, really important body of work at the moment. It is actually possible to get a really, really, really big impact really quickly across your entire company and we’re doing a huge amount of that.

The free learning order I mentioned, that’s where we actually walk with your learning team and our consultants’ researchers, walk through what you’re doing and we give you free feedback and help you think about learning, because this world’s going to be here for a while.

The NLI challenge is a big idea. You actually tell us your whole budget for soft skills learning, we show you how to do it for 25% less at least. It’s a bold idea. If you’re willing to dig into that with us, we literally show you how to do all of learning that’s radically better and a lot cheaper. That’s the NLI challenge, if you’re interested in that.

If you’re from an organization we work with, please block your ears right now, but we’re hiring we’re growing. We’ve actually had our biggest six months ever. We were already in the virtual business. We’re already in the business of behavior change around being better for humans and more diverse, all that stuff. We have been growing like mad and definitely hiring at all levels and in many, many, many locations. We’re super flexible on autonomy and where you work and all that stuff. Always have been.

The summit, we’ve mentioned it a lot. The summit is live. It’s gone live about a week ago. It’s a three-day global hackathon, ideathon to make organizations better for humans. Build a better normal is the theme. I’ll give you a quick look at it, but summit.neuroleadership.com is the summary. Day one is a science day from the lab, but we’re actually going to take you really deep into the science, things like perspective taking, which we all need to be better at, equity, equality and fairness, learning obviously.

Day two is key priorities here, starting with build a better normal. Day three is all about from the field. It’s a bit more of a users’ conference flavor to day three. If you’re only going to come to one, come to day two. If you don’t want to spend a cent, come to the opening keynote over each day. We’re giving away for free the opening session of each day. There’s a big session that’s literally the science of culture change day one. Day two, it’s built a better normal. Day three, it’s strategic diversity inclusion. The first thing in the morning, US Eastern Time is a free keynote each day that will be super powerful

The tickets are normally $2,000 or $3,000. It’s under $500 now to get this. Have a look at that. Some of our people, I mean, it’s Netflix and Zoom and Microsoft and some amazing scientists. We’ve got Soledad O’Brien, some amazing CHROS and CEOs, all sorts of people. That’s quite a roll out. Katherine, you’ve been involved in the summit. Anything you want to say about the summit before we wrap-up, or any final insights today?

[00:46:43] KM: Yeah. I’m really excited. I think that this summit is going to be our best ever and especially if you’re interested in how do you make large events really work, I think that this is a great way to see some of that in action.

[00:46:56] DR: Yeah, that’s great. We actually challenged ourselves to make this our best ever. So far, fingers crossed, we never know until we do it each year, but so far we’ve innovated in some amazing ways. The team’s been incredible and it’s going to be quite a connected and global experience. You’re going to hear case studies from around the world and experiences around the world as well.

Hopefully, we’ve given you some insights. If you’re animated and excited about something, you’ve probably had a level four insight. Hopefully, we’ve given you some insights about thinking differently. Please, let us help you anyway we can. Gabe, thanks so much for you and everyone else on the team, the hard work behind scenes. Katherine, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to be here with us. I’m glad to have you in front of the scene, rather than just always behind the scene. Great to have you with us and your fantastic insights.

Take care of yourselves. Look after each other and keep delivering what matters. Thanks, everyone. Take care. Bye-bye.


[00:47:51] GB: Your Brain At Work is produced by the NeuroLeadership Institute. You can help us in making organizations more human by rating, reviewing and subscribing wherever you get your podcasts. Our producer is Danielle Kirshenblat and Cliff David is our production manager. Original music is by Grant Zubritsky and logo design is by Ketch Wehr. We’ll see you next time.


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