A Brave New World of Work: Troy CampbellPodcast March 2nd, 2021
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In this episode of the Decision Corner, Brooke speaks with Troy Campbell, Chief Scientist at On Your Feet – an innovative consultancy that offers strategic guidance and behaviorally-informed training to some of the world’s most successful companies. Troy holds a PhD in behavioral science from Duke University, and was previously a marketing professor at the University of Oregon. In their discussion, Brooke and Troy discuss how our shift to a mostly virtual work environment has disrupted the world of corporate knowledge acquisition and application. Troy gives an optimistic view of the many opportunities presented by virtual tools, and offers some practical advice to help improve our virtual interactions, as well as a compelling case for greater knowledge sharing within and between organisations. Some of the topics covered include:
- How remote working has accelerated the ‘flipped classroom model’ – and why knowledge acquisition is no longer confined to the classroom.
- Ways we can improve our virtual interactions, and optimize the time we do spend face-to-face.
- Why the shift to virtual delivery has made a lot of things more accessible and affordable for businesses – like cross-functionality and hiring skilled trainers.
- Inspirational versus educational content – seeing the difference between the two and knowing when they’re needed.
- Why engaging with outside experts is one of the best things a business can do, and the need for a carefully managed marketplace or ecosystem that businesses can go to for such specialised knowledge.
Acquiring knowledge in the ‘flipped classroom’ model, and using in-person time to focus on application.
“This is the way that you use knowledge. Every single piece of knowledge that I learn is like a color on an artist’s palette. And I need to learn how to paint with that color, and I need to learn all the different shades of it. And the only way you do that is through these experiential classes.”
‘Inspirational’ versus ‘educational’ content – knowing the time and place for both.
“I think when we are at a conference, where we are at a workshop, where we do these things infrequently, we want something different. And we want something like the Amazon VP, or me as the super fun, nerdy behavioral scientist who’s going to tell stories from Disney, dazzling on stage with a couple of key insights. But when you’re checking in on Zoom, in the middle of a workday, that’s not what you want. You don’t want inspirational, you want educational.”
The ACE framework – Acknowledging, Connecting, and Exploring.
“That means you’re celebrating, you’re thanking, and you’re seeing each other’s reality. There are lots of things you can do; compliment game, award show, shoutout decks, radical conversations. Connecting those shared experiences, shared stories about what you’re doing, and then constantly exploring better ways to work as a team.”
Embracing specialization within behavioral science
“I love the art analogy. It’s like we’re all different types of painters, and we just need to really, really embrace that and really, really embrace how each of us is better at using behavioral science in certain spaces. If we can embrace that idea rather than the homogeneity that often occurs… we can see that we all deserve different gigs and we can create a network.”
Why businesses should seek expert advice from outside the organisation
“If you want a knowledge object, just think of something you want to know, Google it, find somebody who’s smart, send them an email and say, “Hey, can we pay you $300 to talk to you.” And do it. If you’re a big company, $300 is nothing, it’s most likely less than the amount you pay hourly for a group of people to meet. So just do it, do it once or twice, start feeling out what it means.”
Brooke: Hello everyone and welcome to the podcast of The Decision Lab, a socially conscious applied research firm using behavioral science to improve outcomes for all of society. My name is Brooke Struck, research director at TDL, and I’ll be your host for the discussion. My guest today is Troy Campbell, chief scientist at On Your Feet. He’s got a PhD in behavioral science from Duke and was a professor at the University of Oregon. Previously, he’s combined research and design, and has worked with Netflix, Disney and United Health, among others. In today’s episode, we’ll be talking about training and collaborating remotely and how to deliver and receive value in this brave new world of suddenly online work. Troy, thanks for joining us.
Troy: Hi Brooke, thanks for having me on, I love this podcast so I’m glad to finally be a guest.
Brooke: Thanks man. Before we dive in, tell us a bit about On Your Feet and what you’re doing there.
Troy: So On Your Feet is a small boutique consulting and training firm, and we are, proudly, a true collision of business, art and science. So what we do is, we work with companies to train them on whatever they need to do, or the many things we are experts at, whether that’s behavioral science, story, inclusion, communication, and of course right now, working in the world. We also help them with ideation. And what we do is we work with these companies on multiple levels. One, we are facilitating what they’re already doing. Another thing is we are training, delivering them new value. And one of the things we’re doing right now, something we’ll probably talk about, highly interactive virtual experience training. And additionally, we deliver that true, consulting, auditing vibes, which can be really, really effective, as we’ll talk about through the virtual. And as a company that does all of these things, and as a small boutique firm where every single facilitator, every single designer, every single scientist is top-notch, we sort of created this little space that we just literally love working at.
Education & Knowledge Acquisition
Brooke: It sounds interesting, and I’m looking forward to hearing a bit more how behavioral science in particular finds its home in that space. Let’s get into education a little bit. Once upon a time, probably not that long ago, still in lots of places now, students are going into a classroom and they’re sitting through a lecture that’s not all that interactive, they’re being assigned homework, they go home, they do their homework, and they come back for a lecture again the next day. The homework is probably corrected by the teacher outside of the classroom time. That’s a model that’s been in place for centuries. And then a few decades ago, I guess now, the flipped classroom model started to emerge, where rather than having the lecture in the classroom time and having the homework at home, you can listen to the lecture at home, and then you come into the classroom to do all of the stuff that’s the most collaborative and interactive because that really optimizes the time that you have in physical proximity with other people.
Troy: So I think one of the simplest ways to see the evolving way in both education, and then how it should work in training, is that it used to be that knowledge was only in classrooms. Professors had the ,and in the university libraries. And those chains of the past really had a systemic effect on how we’ve done education, and we should’ve switched earlier.ow you can put all of that education, or most of that knowledge,outside of the classroom.
With businesses, we do these toolkits. Then they come into the class; so say my students have read a bunch of things about a story or they’ve read a bunch of things about identity. Then, we can take one of their goals, either telling a story for their personal brand, or a company they’re working for. And for two hours, we can use one single tool, with a bunch of knowledge that we’ve learned from the reading, and a bunch of knowledge that we do in the moment, and create a truly spectacular experience. And I think it’s crazy to think, but most people have never focused for two hours on one powerful piece of knowledge in their entire educational experience. Now, maybe some have a little bit, but it does not happen enough. And this is the way that you use knowledge, and really seeing, “oh, every single piece of knowledge that I learn is like a color on an artist’s palette. And I need to learn how to paint with that color, and I need to learn all the different shades of it.” And the only way you do that is through experiential classes or these experiential training.
And the other thing about it is, especially if you have two hours, you can combine a good 30 minutes solid lecture inside of the experiential, and that’s what we do a lot with companies, and I even do in classrooms. So there’s not just the idea of flipping the classroom, there’s also the idea that lectures should be minimized, and application encouraged. And that’s how we work in these highly interactive live or virtual classrooms and experiences and trainings.
Corporate education and using behavioral science to inform training delivery.
Brooke: So can you tell us a bit more about the inroads that the flipped model has made outside of education? I’m thinking especially in organizational contexts, industry contexts. How is it, that the idea that kind of that scarce resource to optimize for in the classroom setting or the group setting is not just the professor’s brain, but actually the opportunity to work with each other, to collaborate in the session. How has that informed changes in the way that businesses are thinking about training? And I’m interested also, if you can unpack a bit about how behavioral science is woven in there. How is behavioral science informing the design of those sessions to really lean into these collaborative features?
Troy: Yeah. So let’s not talk about behavioral science as the thing we’re delivering. Let’s say we’re delivering any type of knowledge in this. And then we’ll talk about how behavioral science, or the idea of is used in the design. So the idea is, when you’re doing these sessions with experts,you’re creating a workshop experience where you have a goal, and you’re applying the knowledge to that goal. Now in a business, that goal is always real, if it’s an actual workshop. If it’s a training, sometimes you’re creating a hypothetical for the business or sometimes a hypothetical for the students , But usually you can work on something real. And what you’re doing is, you’re using the behavioral science ideas around constrained creativity, attention, and cognitive capacity. And one of the things we know about cognitive capacity is that people can’t keep that many ideas in their head, especially if they’re not connected.
So one of the wonderful ways in which this is done is you teach people just a couple of tools and they focus on those things and they learn the nuances, and they can learn a lot of ideas about one thing, such as a story form that uses both identity, coherence, arcs, and engagement, because it’s about one thing. The other thing that we sometimes do with people, especially if we have a lot of time, is we’ll teach them five or six things and they will then find the thing that they feel is most useful to them, and then we’ll spend time developing that idea. And we’re using the idea that people need constraint. They need to focus on something that they already understand, and a goal, to be able to apply this unfamiliar thing. And that idea that we’re going to take you something real and you know about it, a rich, real business context, or with my students sometimes it’s writing an advertisement for their favorite brand, or a song for their favorite artists. It’s someplace you know. You care about, and it’s constrained, and we’re going to give you one thing, and we’re going to scaffold the information we know about attention, memory and constrained creativity.
And we’re going to make it incredibly enjoyable. I think the thing that On Your Feet does, that we bring to these experiences, the expertise to get you at the nuances, so you iterate, and we create expansive emotional warmup experiences, ‘portals’ we’re going to use physicality. Almost all things, especially behavioral science things, are about causality. So we’ll have people live, we’ll have people physically stand in different spaces to talk about how one thing, such as an intervention, causes an emotion, which then has a downstream consequence. And people will stand on different squares. In the virtual world it’s really cool, because people can just turn off their cameras, and people can come in as one part of the story, or one effect, or one outcome, or one downstream consequence. That fluidity is just unbelievable, and it scaffolds into how your mind processes things, the narrative, and cause and effect. You’re going to get such an amazing outcome from that.
Brooke: Yeah, for sure. Incoherence is something that, cognitively, is extremely expensive. So creating that coherence is something that allows you to really pack a lot in there, because it fits together and therefore it’s easier to retain, and to apply, and to understand. I think that’s a nice segue to the next point that I want to talk about, and in the way that training is evolving, and that’s cross-functionality. So there’s no end to the headaches of functional silos within organizations. And in the old school model, this cropped up in training as well. Most sessions were functionally focused, and the physical co-location of teams also made it such that you are more likely to get an over-representation of one function. So you’d be training in a silo and that can create cognitive challenges, especially you mentioned for workshops, right? If the workshop is about a real business problem, the business problems that are juiciest and worth going after, are exactly those ones that cut across the functional silos. So it sounds like this kind of approach is really going to leverage cross-functionality because that’s what you need in order to create a coherent interpretation of a big problem.
Troy: Yeah. So let’s talk about cross-functionality, and then I’m going to talk about how it’s so much more affordable now. What we like to say with our trainings, or ideation sessions, or whatever we’re doing in these highly virtual interactive experiences, is they are triple-built. That means they solve the key business thing that you need to learn or accomplish, the business goal. But the second thing they’re built for is connection. So we are literally connecting people across parts of the different world. And in the way that we interact, and have people tell stories, and go into breakouts, and have high moments, and personal moments and just ridiculousness – including physicality, having people go up, having people walk around with their cameras when they’re comfortable; it is truly an experience where they are connecting both as a team, uniting the world, but they’re also connecting because they are focused on the same idea.
So we are giving them a tool that they now have as a common language. And with large groups, we’ll do three trainings in a ‘power week’ with 120 people across the world. Subgroups will then do specific things, but they all now have the same common language. “This is the goal insight action story that we will use.” “This is the Disney destiny narrative we will use.” “This is how we will think of the habit loop together.” And then the third thing that’s really useful that we say is we are teaching you the tools to engage in the virtual. So while you are engaging with us, not only are you connecting and not only are you accomplishing the business goal, you are learning these incredible ways just to interact with each other in this new way, and to see how fun and wonderful and productive it is. Google documents shared live is unbelievable. If you have not done this with your team, put a concept in the middle that you want to learn, and have everybody write five examples of it on your team of 10. If you have a team of 50, one example. And in 30 to 60 seconds, you will literally understand a concept at your business in a way that has been quicker and more interactive and more focused than it’s ever been done. It is unbelievable. And that Google document is far more effective, and far more playable live on the Zoom, or whatever platform you’re using, than post-it notes or whiteboards ever were. I think the true in-person stuff will always have a place, but highly interactive virtual experiences are a frontier for so many things that we never thought possible, or at least lots of people never thought possible. People 10 years ago, who knew all this stuff about flipped classrooms knew it before all of us.
Brooke: Do you have any particular examples that come to mind of instances where you were able to bring together a cross-functional team to arrive at a solution that just wouldn’t have been possible before?
Troy: Yeah. So I can’t say the name of this company, but one of the big 10 tech companies in the world, we created a model for them based upon a model we already had called ACE, which is Acknowledge, Connect and Explore. And it’s a model for how all teams need to work best together, especially when they’re apart. And by teaching this to everyone, and having people experience them, then go into breakouts with each other, talk about how the way that they acknowledge, connect and explore is different, but it’s the same psychological construct underlying everything that they need. Then providing them toolkits that have different examples. If your team is outgoing, if your team needs to integrate this with ideation; showing some of those examples, and then hitting up those teams every two or three months through something else, a new toolkit part of…I don’t want to say the name of their conference… so we’ll call it a ‘festivus of intellectualness’…We are continually bringing them together around this singular concept, which because they’ve experienced it, because they’ve talked about it, they can see this uniting concept that they all need to be working on even if it looks different. In other words, here are the three colors we need to look at, the shades are different, and we can be like Van Gogh and paint with every shade of every color, and create something amazing.
Cadence and Structure
Brooke: So you mentioned checking in, having this cadence of re-upping the discussion to keep the momentum there. Obviously with the COVID disruption to working in person, a lot of stuff that we used to be able to do just kind of accidentally, we had the luxury of stumbling backwards into something awesome. We now need to be much more intentional about the ways that we interact with colleagues, even people who live actually down the road from us, maybe not that far. Have you had any insights about kind of good cadence for interaction, or maybe different kinds of cadence that are well aligned to different kinds of problems?
Troy: So the cadence in which we deal with different things. One of the things that we say is, don’t have long email threads. I know this is a super, super basic thing, but the idea is letting a leader take a moment to say “this needs to be a quick meeting”, and creating that. So that’s one of the very simple, most basic things that any team can do. Did you want to know more about cadence when you’re working with the outside person like me, or more within?
Brooke: I’m thinking more within. You’re working as a team, you’re working on a certain kind of project….
Troy: Since we’ve talked about ACE, let’s just use ACE as the framework. So ACE again is Acknowledge, Connect and Explore. So what we say with companies is they need to, as a group, spend at least 60 seconds on each of those letters every week. And then every month, or quarter, have an ACE session, either ran by us or just yourself, where you take time to Acknowledge. So that means you’re celebrating, you’re thanking, and you’re seeing each other’s reality. And there’s lots of things you can do, compliment game, award show, shoutout decks, radical conversations. Connect that shared experiences, shared stories about what you’re doing, and then constantly exploring better ways to work as a team. So one of the things we have teams do is they’ll just spend 60 seconds saying, “What if we did more of this?” “What if we stopped doing this?” “What if we did this?” And they just throw ideas out there. And then the leader can think about whether those actually will work, and come back with the teams in the future.
So it’s a constant cadence of acknowledging, connecting and exploring. And if you do that, you’re going to find what is right for your team, which is going to be really, really different. And we really celebrate ACE and the many shades of every color, because if you read any of these blogs online about how your team should work together, 90% of people are like, “Not my team.” And some of you should be like, “Yeah, actually your team could do it.” But most of it, not. It’s just you aren’t that cadence. Some people really need to check email all the time because literally it has to happen, and some people can do email blackout days, and you need to figure out if that’s right for your team.
The value of external insights, and how they’re more accessible and affordable in the virtual world
Brooke: You hinted already when you were kind of reformulating one of my previous questions, what about external resources? Now this is something that we haven’t really broached yet in this conversation, but it’s an important one because the way that we interact with external resources is really changing with technology as well. So for instance, in the old days, we might’ve had this external expert, this guru who you really needed to have participate in your company’s event and you might pay them to sit through an entire day or two-day event, to stand up at some point and speak for 10 minutes. And you weren’t really optimizing their time or the value that you were deriving. How is technology changing the way that we engage with external experts and making the boundaries between inside the organization and outside the organization a bit more permeable?
Troy: Yeah. So let’s talk about this in three separate things. One, it’s affordable. Two, how it’s happening. Three, why this is the magic that we’ve always wanted to exist. So one, it’s incredibly affordable. Imagine you have a team and your team is of 30 people and you all make $30 an hour, let’s just throw that example out. If you meet for one hour, paying an expert $100, and you can get a really good expert for $100 who’s a PhD at some company, or an expert. You’re not going to get On Your Feet, but you can get somebody really good, and that person can optimize that experience either by being a live knowledge object in the room to say two or three things with their 30 years of expertise which will be worth that $100, or facilitating as a facilitator to have that.So it’s incredibly, incredibly affordable. We can do a power week with a company, three training sessions over three different days with office hours in the middle, for less than it would cost for one fly-out day at a company. And it’s so amazing for people. For me it’s amazing because I can actually deliver the way that I wanted to.
The other thing is it’s changing how people expect different things. I think when we are at a conference, where we are at a workshop, where we do these things infrequently, we want something different. And we want something like the Amazon VP, or me as the super fun, nerdy behavioral scientist who’s going to tell stories from Disney, dazzling on stage with a couple of key insights. But when you’re checking in on Zoom, in the middle of a workday, that’s not what you want. You don’t want inspirational, you want educational. And I mean, we wasted so much money on keynotes, if we ever thought those keynotes were being educational. They were inspirational and there’s a function, but they’re not educational. So, the context has changed and literally your brain, not to get super nerdy, but your brain is in a different construal and a different social expectation when you are doing something on Zoom, than when you are going to a city to do a conference. And then lastly, this is just the way that experts are best at involving with you. So if you have never spent an hour talking to an expert about one of your work problems, then you’ve never experienced how amazing someone can be for that. I was at a university and I experienced this all the time. Whenever I needed to know about finance, I went to a world expert on finance downstairs. That hour was insane. Luckily, I didn’t have to pay for it, but if you’re a business, that’d be worth it to pay for it. Every time I needed to redesign my website, I went to a graphic designer. One time I had an argument with my brother about Superman, I just called up my friend who is the world expert in researching Superman, yes, and I got that advice. And in an hour, they can do so much. You can get a world expert for $500 in an hour right now. And that is going to be amazing for your team, for your audits, whatever. And they’re going to truly be able to deliver you expertise applied to your situation.
I know I’m talking a lot, but I think this is the perfect time to say – what I’m obsessed with is delivering and applying knowledge in the best way. And what we have created is a situation where I can come into your company, I can talk to you guys a little bit, and then I can deliver you a highly interactive virtual experience with examples actually based upon your work, rather than a generic theatrical keynote, which I’m proud of and is awesome, but it’s not what you usually need. And then I can just talk to you one-on-one in an office hours thing, or I can do an audit and it’s amazing. And I can do the same thing. I can go to somebody else and pay them $500 to do something that would take me and my colleagues at On Your Feet, who don’t have expertise in that part of graphic design, or that part of infrastructure on the backend, and just make something amazing. Since we are now in this new world where that potentially can be part of our habit, it is great. It’s an affordable habit changed, wonderful place to be right now.
Hi, and welcome back to The Decision Corner. Today I’m speaking with Troy Campbell, Chief Scientist at On Your Feet. So far, we’ve discussed how the recent shift towards remote work has disrupted the way corporations learn. One major benefit for organisations has been the accessibility and affordability of outside expertise, since we’ve gotten more comfortable engaging with trainers and experts virtually, instead of flying them out for expensive conferences or face-to-face meetings. We’re about to dive into this in a bit more detail, discussing how we can create an ecosystem of expertise that supports this kind of interaction. Stay tuned till the end, when Troy shares some uplifting ideas around digital transformation, and 3 practical things that you can do immediately to create value in your business, and in your work life.
Building an ecosystem of expert partners
Brooke: How is that putting pressure on business models to evolve? So for instance, if I think about top consulting firms, I don’t immediately know where it is that I would go for the Upwork equivalent of senior partners, the top consulting firms, or top design agencies. Where does that kind of ecosystem play itself out that there is the kind of flexibility that you’re talking about?
Troy: Yeah. So I think that the flexibility that we’re talking about does mean that some of these larger corporations, hopefully, will not be going to companies and charging them $2 million contracts to do stuff that other companies could do. And as a person who’s worked for many boutique consulting firms, I have came in and cleaned up $2 million projects that were awful, because they weren’t made in the right sort of cadence that where you have this small boutique firm who really understood the issue and gave the right amount of info or developed a stage program, where we’d say, “We’re going to work with you for 10 weeks, and we’re going to kill it for 10 weeks. And if after that 10 weeks we don’t need to work together, we’ll stop.And we’re a boutique firm that has really strong morals and a really strong desire to do great work. So we are never going to pressure you because we don’t have investors that need to have 15 $2 million contracts every year.”
I guess I didn’t describe the ecosystem rather than I raged in a way that is both good for my company, but I think also good for the world of behavioral science and academics to get out there…. I think it’s also interesting to think that an academic now can be accessed, I mean they always could, but now we can see, and we can access them wonderfully. You can go to an academic and talk to them and pay them for an hour and get a lot out of them. Maybe that academic could never design something for you because they’re not part of a design firm, or something like that. And they’re not the best designer (most behavioral scientists are researchers, not designers). There are very few people like your organization, or like On Your Feet, but they’re still amazingly useful for that one hour, and it might inspire your designers enough. So that was a little ramble. But yeah, I’m not a huge fan of the big boys in the world. And I think smaller firms, or some of the more ethical big firms, are the best ones.
Brooke: So how can we move towards creating a kind of ecosystem where that kind of diversity of expertise is actually accessible? So for instance, if I wanted to reach out to a leading researcher working in an academic institution on X, Y, or Z topic. I’ve lived in the academic world long enough that I’d know how to find them, and I’d know how to contact them, and this kind of thing. There’s a decent chance that even being the people that they are, they don’t really have much infrastructure set up to do external contracting. It might be much easier, and less painful for them to just take an hour and talk to me on the phone for free, than to sign a contract to provide some kind of structured insight over a period of time. You were talking about office hours for instance, and making that kind of resource available to members of a team. What kind of ecosystem do you think is required in order to set up that kind of accessibility to, in fact, bring to life this kind of permeable boundary that we were talking about?
Troy: Yeah, so I do think it is going to be quite difficult. So let’s think of three different types of groups and what they would individually do. Premise-based. So if you’re On Your Feet like us, we’re a small group. We are having this conversation right now – do we want to expand, so we can reach out and get to everybody, or are we really happy just working with 20 different clients for the next 10 years and just being really happy? And I think we’re probably actually that latter. Now if you’re an individual, remember you don’t need to access that many people. So just talking to a couple of different people can be useful. And if you’re a business, remember that if you’re talking to individuals, you can sign really short term affordable contracts, where you can quickly decide if that office hours is worth it to you or not.
So I guess I said three, but I really mean four. Really what we’re looking for in this is some group, like the person who runs the Decision Lab, to create a network of easily accessible experts and teams, and put that out there for people. I could also see a really large agency creating more of these models and things like that, where you take a company as big as McKinsey, and they could do these smaller ‘hit’ things. But I think one of the real issues about this, is that this has existed. We know that there are these networks of experts, but they’re never, or rarely, done with a lot of care. So people are like, “Sometimes the person I worked with was there, and some people overcharge, and they get enough contracts and their rates are high.”And it’s just problematic.Or they give you a market, “this person costs $1000 an hour, and this person costs $100 an hour.” And you’re like, “How could that person be 10 times better?” But actually they are, or actually they’re not.
So I’m not answering your question other than saying, I think that I would love somebody out there to create this network, but it’s going to have to be someone with a really strong vision. Maybe somebody who can put together a really good podcast, which always has arcs and stuff. It’s something like that. I think it’s going to take that type of person who wants to do that. And I also do think that there are a lot of things happening with behavioral science firms, because a lot of them are small. And so they’re able to take smaller contracts, so it’s allowing that to exist.
Leveraging Specialised Expertise
Brooke: Yeah. That’s something that we’ve discussed here at The Decision Lab .If we see we’re doing a lot of projects in a X, Y or Z area, and we’re typically reaching for partners with certain skills that fit well with that area, what’s our next play? Do we say, “Okay, well, we should expand and try to hire for that kind of skill internally”, or should we just be building up a Rolodex of partners that we love working with externally? And so we always have someone on speed dial to bring in so that we can be really fast and frictionless, jumping onto those exciting projects. And as you phrased it as not having so much care put into it. The flip side of that is it’s very much determined by the initial state of the ecosystem. The people that you knew, and the people that you worked with early on, have a disproportionate chance of being the people that you continue to work with moving forward. The thing that you need to get over that, and for example, good two-sided marketplaces think through this extremely well, is how do you create the ecosystem where you are qualifying both the suppliers and the buyers such that everyone’s really, really happy to be engaging with each other in that ecosystem. Now, in the case of a large company that just internalizes all of this and becomes one massive juggernaut, they have entire divisions whose sole responsibilities are to undertake those internal administrative concierge functions to make sure that everything’s going nicely, underneath the umbrella of this one large company that actually has multiple units that are sometimes quite distinct from each other.
So in our discussions at The Decision Lab, that’s one of the things we’ve been asking ourselves. f we want to explore this idea of creating a network of actors who are somewhat loosely affiliated, where does that concierge function live? Because that’s a really hard thing to place with any one of the members, right? It’s got to be everybody who pays in to enjoy that communal benefit.
Troy: Yeah. So there are two analogies of this. t’s sort of like being professors at a business school, or a podcast network, where you have all these similar people that are around it. So let me give one analogy for how this works at a business school for just individual consulting gigs, and then talk about how I think it’s already happening in behavioral science firms, but we can be a little more intentional about it. People will go to a business school, because the business school is in the location and they want to talk. There are big businesses that have lots of money, and they want to talk. So they’ll just find a professor and email them. And then that professor in the business school will know one person at that business school who’s actually more right for it.
So my chair, Bettina, would get called about story and motivation. And I would be the one that she would call, they would say, “She’d forward the email to me.” I get contacted about sponsorship and be like, “I like this, I’m good at this, but Bettina is better at it.” And we just have this lovely thing. I think that is happening already in what we’re doing. So if you think about you guys as sort of more a ‘save the worldly’ behavioral science firm, my On Your Feet as this very creative training, and sort of the softest or coolest side of behavioral science. We actually work on the science of cool type stuff and Disney-esque things. So we’re in that lane. And then there’s Next Step, which is very much marketing, behavioral science. I often get people contacting me for On Your Feet, and I will send them to Next Step, or I will send them to you guys. So I think that there is at least an informal version of this that is happening right now. But we could be more intentional about it. I also really, really think, and it’s sort of my story in behavioral science, to get personal. We need to realize that behavioral science is not just one thing, it’s not. Everybody, because they read Green’s paper on narrative transportation theory is not good at the behavioral science of stories. Just because I took a behavioral science finance class with John Payne, doesn’t mean I’m good at behavioral finance – as good as the center for advanced hindsight is, or the decision lab. Weall try to act like we’re these things. I love the art analogy. It’s like we’re all different types of painters, and we just need to really, really embrace that and really, really embrace how each of us is better at using behavioral science in certain spaces.
If we can embrace that idea rather than the homogeneity that often occurs, even on something like all our favorite co-blogs, “We’re all one thing. SPSP, blah, blah, blah.” No, we’re all very different. Let’s embrace this. And then we can see that we all deserve different gigs and we can create a network. I don’t know. I don’t know if that works. But I do know that if three to six groups got together and did it, they might not change the world, but they would create a lot of value for companies and have a really enjoyable work life. So you can do things that are good, but maybe that don’t change the world. It just depends what your goals are.
Digital transformation and its impact on knowledge sharing within, and between, organisations
Brooke: So we’ve talked a lot about spanning internal boundaries within organizations, spanning the external boundary between the people who technically are employed directly within an organization versus external resources. And we’ve talked about how knowledge kind of flows across those boundaries. We’ve gotten way beyond, like you and I speak with video now instead of face-to-face, or on the phone. In terms of a technological transformation, this is actually quite a profound change. We’re talking about a whole new ecosystem of tools, and video and audio over long distances is just the tip of the iceberg. What are the major changes that you’re seeing in the digital ecosystem of tools here? And I have a couple of specific sub-questions to that. The first is, which old tools have found new analogs? And the second is, what tools are emerging that actually had no predecessors? And what kind of functional roles are they playing?
Troy: So what has an analog that used to not have it? Conferences or mini conferences, they have an analog now with these highly interactive virtual experiences that we do, or something like Mozilla Hubs. And if you’ve never been on Mozilla Hubs, just mess around with it tonight. It’s a very simple walk around, it sort of looks like you’re in a video game. You can share PDFs,you can set up conferences, and it’s wonderful. Lots of times when my friends hang out, we’ll go to Mozilla Hubs because we know what each other’s faces look like. You can share information in ways that are more real in that.
The thing that exists that there was no analog for, I’m going to say are the things where you can get a lot of information, and scaffold it differently. So I’ve talked about one already, which is live crowdsourcing in Google Documents in meetings. You could not get 50 ideas, literally physically drag words around, and write narratives or stories or plots or ideas that quickly. And while that technically does have an analog in the whiteboards of the past, it is something entirely, entirely different. The second thing that I would say never had an analog, is video-based toolkits. I know that doesn’t sound like the most exciting thing, but it is. Because what you can express on video is unbelievably more effective than what you can express in text. You have emotion, you have multiple forms of information at the same time. So I have my actual words, my actual tone of voice. I have visuals. I can have multiple visuals. I can have music and I can talk over things. And the speed at which you can get information across in those things is amazing. People can watch things and scan through them to find their version of the tool that will work quicker. People learn better from the right video than they do from text, because they can literally see pieces of information that could never be apart in text. “Oh, when I deliver this type of activity, I sit like this and I stand like this, and that’s why it works.” So I think video-based toolkits are the absolute future, and they seem ridiculous to pay for, but they aren’t. They’re amazing. And it’s why YouTube is the greatest thing ever in case you didn’t know. It’s just unbelievable how well you can learn from a box video in three minutes.And I love it. I absolutely love it.
Brooke: That reminded me of a remark that I heard Matt Mullenweg make, he was talking about knowledge consolidation. So there are certain kinds of objects that compress knowledge at a really efficient rate. So if I spend my entire life writing a book, and you can sit down and read it in a few hours, then you’re able to kind of digest my entire life’s worth of knowledge within a few hours, that’s a really good compression rate. Then there’s other stuff that’s maybe more one-to-one. And then he brings up the example of social media, where in fact, consuming it takes way more time than producing it does. So you have a very, very lousy system. But we build new technological tools that help us to overcome that.So the analogy I want to draw here is around photography. Back in the days of analog photography, especially when film was extremely expensive and hard to develop, people were very, very particular about the photographs that they took. And once you had a portfolio of photographs, putting those together into an album or a collection was relatively easy, because there wasn’t a massive selection to choose from. But now you’ve got a situation where basically everyone has this ridiculously powerful camera in their pocket at all times, and they’re just these content production machines. The idea of sitting down and building a photo album is impossible. You need a piece of technology like Facebook’s storylines, or whatever it is that they had, that kind of automatically pulls together kind of this curation of your last year of life or whatever it is. That technology evolves because actually the content production mechanism actually isn’t designed for human consumption anymore, or at least not in the way that it was consumed previously.
So the production technology necessitates the development of a new kind of churning technology to actually produce a valuable output of that. And I’m thinking about that in the context of Twitter, and microblogging in any way that it’s captured. And then you have these natural language processing programs and algorithms that are developed to kind of synthesize and extract meaning from that, so you can have people sitting around a table, even sitting around a virtual table, and basically just live tweeting their way through an event. And no human being needs to read those tweets. The tweets don’t need to be written for a person, as long as you’ve got this algorithm that’s there just churning through the material and extracting the insights. Now that kind of live insights extraction,it’s not just a record of conversation, it’s actually a record of reflections and responses that you could never have through a real-time conversation. That’s a completely new kind of knowledge object that’s facilitated through technology.
Troy: Yeah. Let me say, one of my favorite sort of lessons to people is the idea of multi-narrative storytelling. And this is the idea that you learn about something from multiple narratives about it. So you learn about what something means by reading 10 different people’s tweets. And those 10 tweets is this chaos to clarity about what it means. When Nike does advertising, they put 15 different people doing the same thing, because those 15 stories together create something. Multi-narrative storytelling is the one of the most overlooked things by novices in almost all categories. And I can’t believe that Nike keeps winning awards for these advertisements, they’re literally the most basic thing in the world. But it’s just because people don’t understand how powerful multi-narrative storytelling is, it also relates to things like inclusion, which is unbelievably great. But from a learning perspective, you can, on the internet, have all these multi-narratives so easily, as simply as just typing into Google Image search, shocking ads, underdog stories, and immediately a concept can just fill you, and your brain can have this chaos to clarity. And that tool is just amazing.
As just a side note, because I love this concept, we do this training called value stories with companies.Companies have these words like ‘integrity’, ‘win as a team’, ‘creative together’, and they have four bullet points, and nobody knows what they mean. So what we do is, we go into companies and we find 50 stories and they generate them in 10 minutes or something, about what does this mean? What is a time we’ve done this well? A story of fact, a value story of fact. What’s a time we failed? Astory of value contradiction. Avalue story of possibility that we could do? And now in two hours, there’s 150 stories that show all the different shades of what this means. When you see all the shades, you actually understand what the color of that value really is, and then what it means differently. This idea of multi-narrative storytelling or multi-narrative learning is facilitated by all these sort of crowdsourcing and digital habits that we have.
Brooke: So what kind of live objects are at the forefront of your mind in how to do this? I think you’ve articulated quite nicely what the processes look like. And I don’t want to use a boring word like documentation, because this is so much more than just documentation, but where does that actually live? What system do you use to make that happen, and for that to be a continual process that accrues over time, as opposed to just this one-and-done. You say, “All right, we’re going to write all these things down. We’re going to synthesize them. And now we’re going to put a fifth concept up on the board”?
Troy: Yeah. So you’re talking about one of the most difficult things for companies to deal with right now. So I think that this is something that we’re all working on, and I’m going to have an answer for this, but I’m just going to reiterate the problem. So again, we do a lot of stories with companies. If you go to anybody at a company, you can ask them for a story and they will tell you an amazing story about the company, and you can say; “how many people know that story and where does that story live?”. Almost 9 times out of 10, they will say, “It’s in my head, and most people don’t know it”,If you think of a brand as having a value that exists from its stories, and/or expressed through its stories to convince people that that’s what you actually need to have the product, because it will do this thing like this service. That is not being used and not being facilitated in most companies. And most companies do not have a sophisticated way to just build the architecture to capture all those insights.
One way is just creating really good file systems. But for some companies right now, it’s literally just starting. It’s literally having everyone know 10 stories because it’s that basic. And then you can find your own way. The other thing to do is, there’s many different platforms, so I’m not promoting this one, but this is one lots of people know about – degree.com. Degree.com allows outside people or companies to create these sort of repositories of information that they can keep updating. So this is the place where we have the science of story, and here’s the different stories, and here’s what we added. The spring is coming out, here’s the new spring stories, but then you can go back and you can be like, “Here’s the basic psychology. Here’s how we did it in fall. Here’s how we did it last summer.” And that space can be there.
Now, it can get a little bit too out of hand, such that it can get overwhelming. But most of the time the people designing, they don’t need a hundred examples of something. So you don’t need this completely overwhelming amount of information online. You can do quite a bit with 50 documents that are put into a table of contents that people can get through. That can serve well.
Brooke: Great. I think that’s been a really rich overview of how technology, and especially now accelerated by the kind of massive shift towards remote work, how it’s changing the way that we think about knowledge and knowledge-sharing within organizations, between organizations and their external partners, and this kind of thing. For someone who’s just been listening to this and jazzing out like crazy for all the time that we’ve been talking, someone who feels that their organization has basically just limped from one kind of lukewarm physical model to a now even worse digital model. What’s something that they can start doing on Monday morning to get a lot of bang for their buck? It’s not too hard, and they can start to see the benefits quickly.
Troy: Okay. So I’ll do three things. One you can do for free, one you can do to increase your training, and one you can do to increase your access to knowledge objects. So one is you could go to our website – www.oyf.com, and we have a bunch of different tools about how you can create your own highly interactive virtual experiences. Also ways that you can use the ACE framework to acknowledge, connect, and explore, and really do different things to use information and play in the space. So if you want to just immediately make your team better at interacting with knowledge and each other over, go to our website.
The other thing is go get yourself some training, and just don’t pay that much for the first one. Just say, “We’re going to get one shot of it, and we’re going to play with it, and we’re going to see what this is like.” I imagine that you could get an amazing amount of training from some people for $10,000 or less. And that could be four, six hours of training. You could put as many people as you want in there, though 60 or fewer people per Zoom is always best, especially under 40.
And then lastly, if you want a knowledge object, just think of something you want to know, Google it, find somebody who’s smart, send them an email and say, “Hey, can we pay you $300 to talk to you.” And do it. If you’re a big company, $300 is nothing, it’s most likely less than the amount you pay hourly for a group of people to meet. So just do it, do it once or twice, start feeling out what it means. If you want to be more intentional, go to an organization like The Decision Lab or On Your Feet and work with us, have conversations, design big things. But you can start being better in the virtual by creating highly virtual interactive experiences that acknowledge, connect, and explore together. You can get training immediately and you can talk to an expert just by emailing them.
Brooke: Great. Thanks a lot, Troy.
Troy: Awesome. Thank you, Brooke.
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