People Insights Podcast

Welcome to our series of “People Insights” podcasts. In this series we explore a wide range of people focused issues and areas, and invite contributors from a cross section of industry, academia, technology, psychology and consulting.

People Insights, Episode 2

Welcome to Episode 2 of our People Insights series: Sarah Schwab

About our guest

In this episode, we meet Sarah Schwab, founder and CEO of The Experience Accelerator, a start-up that improves learning outcomes for corporations and individuals by using persuasive technology – they offer a highly personalised, interactive service with a cutting-edge feel. The business was chosen as one of Europe’s ten leading Edtech startups for the 2017 Venturelab Edtech

A graduate of Aston University and Thunderbird School of Global Management, Sarah has had leadership roles in global organisations, consultancy firms and entrepreneurial development organisations: roles that gave her a very clear insight into leadership development and how to accelerate it.

What’s in it for you?

The workplace is changing faster than we might imagine.

In 2012 the global rate of change accelerated, moving from an average of 1.5 “significant changes” in our work life that year to an average of over three in 2015.  We all know someone that has had their job restructured, taken over or removed completely.

Also, the balance of power is shifting from the employer to the employee for highly skilled knowledge workers. Many are bringing different motivations to the workplace,   and sixty-two percent of millennials have thought about starting their own business.

And then, our lifestyles are changing too. In their book, “The 100 year Life”, Gratton and Scott look at how we are moving from three major phases of life; education, work and retirement, to one where people can expect to work to eighty using a range of old and new skills across many different industries.

This podcast looks at how we might all prepare for these societal upheavals, and lead the change that needs to happen not only in our organisations but also across society as a whole.

Sarah has some answers to these challenges.  She examines the role of executive leadership in setting the development tone in an organisation, the need for broad learning and leadership development for younger leaders, and the role of technology in assessing softer skills, which she contends are now core skills for many organisations.

Moreover, she worries about those that may not have access to such development and the growing gap between those that are ready for these changes and those that are not.  Finally, she looks at transhuman technologies and the role that AI, wearables and implants may have on our working life.

The big take-aways

In a 100 Year Life, we can expect to work for longer – and those roles will change over time.  Organisations and individuals will need to work on their learning and development needs, both inside and outside work.We know that the Social Contract between the employer and the employee is changing. It’s likely that learning and development beyond that of just the organisation’s needs will be a way of supporting individuals’ whole life learning.  This may be seen by employees as an important part of that contract.

Some technologies are going to enhance our skills beyond what is currently thought possible. These Transhuman technologies may give individuals new and highly prized skills that traditionally would have required years of study.  For example, language education could be replaced by an implant or wearable device.

Employees are coming to the workplace with different expectations of autonomy, motivation and engagement.  The gig economy for skilled knowledge workers means that we may have some workers on output-based contracts, and not working in a traditional place-based way.

New methods supporting the measurement of soft skills will make them easier to assess and develop.  Those soft skills will become core business skills.

New learning environments will deliver executive style training at scale but without the cost.

The Role of executive leaders is not going to change.  They will still have to lead their organisations in this increasingly uncertain future.  If they don’t engage with the effective delivery of learning then the organisation will be less successful. Executives that fail to learn with their organisation are failing to lead their organisations.

 

 Five Top Quotes from Sarah

“If we think about our children and our children’s children, they may well work into their eighties, and across the period of their career they could have seven, eight, nine different career stages, which, when you think about it, requires people to have a dramatically different learning mindset to cope with all of that change.”

“Large corporates in particularly more traditional industries are struggling to attract young talent. I see some progressive companies taking this shift on: I was actually lucky enough to work with a company here in Switzerland, they’re focussed on developing not just employees for what the company needs, but developing employees in a more rounded sense, and making them more employable, whether it’s for them or other organisations in the future.”

“Transhumanism is the theory that we, as humans, can evolve beyond our current physical and mental limitations.”

“We should all be focussing on the things that computers can’t do.”

“Great managers help inspire employees, and visualise the behaviours they want to adopt. They allow them to practice in a safe environment, and they give them frequent feedback. So, in some ways, I’m merely taking that dramatically important need in terms of driving behaviour change, and bringing it in a very affordable virtual way to learners all around the world.”

References and further reading

The Skills Accelerator in one minute

The Science behind The Experience Accelerator

Transcription

The People’s Insights podcast from Cognisco with Owen Ashby.

Hello, in this episode I’m going to be speaking with Sarah Schwab of the Experience Accelerator. Sarah is founder and CEO of the Experience Accelerator, a company providing high-impact for leaders and their organisations, through leadership devotement, with a cutting-edge feel. Sarah thrives on partnering with organisations, including Cognisco of course, to increase the time to value of their learning strategy, and developing the leaders they need to execute their future strategies flawlessly.

We think what Sarah does goes a great deal further than that, and we’re excited to tell you more. Sarah has extensive experience and significant qualifications in the area of leadership and development, and you’ll be able to pick up her full bio via the website on the podcast page. As I’ve just been explaining to Sarah, it’s such a full and comprehensive bio, that it deserves to be seen. But we need to crack on, so I’ll put the full details on the website there.

Cognisco partners with, and is interested in Sarah’s work, at the Experience Accelerator because we believe they bring something new and dynamic to the leadership and development world, a new more engaging, almost democratic model that enables us to combine forces and deliver a fantastic new approach to leadership development programmes to a much wider and geographically more disparate audience, much more inclusive proposition.

Welcome Sarah.

Thanks, so much Owen.

Sarah’s in a very beautiful part of Switzerland.  Lovely to hear and be with you today Sarah, I’ve given you a broad introduction there, and I don’t want to steal your thunder, I want to give you the opportunity to position this, and I think this for us at least is in the context of a new dynamic in the way the world is moving differently. So, perhaps if you could tell us what you think some of the shifts are that you see in the world of business and society in general, that make us think differently about learning in the future?

Yes, I’d be happy to do that Owen, and to start with thanks for having me, it’s such a pleasure to chat with you today.

The future; there’s probably three big things come to mind when I think about learning in the future. The first is longevity, there’s a great book called ‘The 100-year life’, Lynda Gratton & Andrew Scott, they talk about how our parents and our grandparents had the traditional three-stage life; the one where you go to school, you go to work, and then you retire. I think even for people of our generation, that is increasingly becoming an obsolete model. But if we think about our children, and our children’s children, they may well work into their eighties, and across the period of their career they could have seven, eight, nine different career stages, which when you think about it requires people to have a dramatically different learning mindset to cope with all of that change. Gratton & Scott talk about this idea of a portfolio life where you have a portfolio of activities or work options for yourself, that you pick up and put down as you go through this extended working period our children will be experiencing. So, I think longevity is changing how we think about traditional corporate careers.

The second shift is somewhat linked to the first, I think about this as the changing social contract between employers and employees; to pick up on my former employer CEB, they had this interesting stat which is that in 2015 employees worldwide on average had three major changes in their worklife, whether that was an acquisition, or perhaps a restructure, and that was compared to nearly half that number just three years prior. So, between 2012 and 2015 there’s this massive change in frequency of shifting in our worklife, and I think we probably all know someone that got restructured recently, myself included! … about a year and a half ago. And, from my perspective, the best thing that ever happened to me, opportunity and change is wonderful.

But I think here its not really surprising that employees are taking matters into their own hands in some respects, whether that’s the explosion of the gig economy, 62 percent of millennials have considered starting their own business, or on the more negative side the fact that large corporates in particularly more traditional industries are struggling to attract young talent. I see some progressive companies taking this shift on, I was actually lucky enough to work with a company here in Switzerland, they’re focussed on developing not just employees for what the company needs, but developing employees in a sort of more rounded sense, and making employees be more employable, whether it’s for them or for other organisations in the future. That’s a really important mindset that large corporates need to take on, less about us as the large corporate, and more about how do we help prepare employees for this changing future.

The third one is, ‘Transhumanism’, what is transhumanism? Well, this is the theory that we as humans can evolve beyond our current physical and mental limitations, and it’s got a particular science and technology vent to it. It’s things like wearables and implantables, in its simplest form my Fit-bit has completely changed how I think about walking over the past couple of years! Unfortunately, that’s not necessarily delivering the results I was hoping, but yes, I walk a lot more than I used to. But I don’t think we’re that far away in all seriousness from much more dramatic changes in capabilities, and one of the things here is, what if our thought processes were so much faster and more transferable than they are today. Just as an example, here am I talking about transhumanism, my ability to communicate what I want to say is somewhat limited by how fast I can speak, and how quickly I can form the words in a logical fashion. But in actual fact, and you’ll have to trust me on this, my brain is moving so much faster, and what if I could send all my thoughts to you directly via technology, whether you’d want that or not would be a different question.

I guess the receiving of those thoughts would be similarly enabled, so somehow, I’d be able to triage that messaging in a way that enables me to respond to it, or act on it. You wouldn’t be a one-way transmission presumably?

Exactly, and those concepts of filtering I think is an important point as we think about learning in the future as well, but yes, absolutely. What I see in the press is a lot of negativity around these types of dramatic changes, and I probably fall in the camp who don’t see this so much with a fearful approach, notwithstanding the ethical and the security concerns need to be properly addressed, but rather if we think about this as our next evolutionary step, so, I can increase my human potential so much more dramatically than where I am today. I think it’s a really interesting phase of our development and has obviously huge implications for learning.

It does, absolutely, and it’s interesting that you’re already managing to see stuff that relatively speaking is still some way out for organisations but put it in context for today’s audience and I’m seeing a very almost pedestrian level, I’m seeing large scale organisations are starting to recognise a shift in not necessarily the balance of power, but maybe there’s almost an equilibrium in terms of the relationship between the employer, and the would-be employee, one way or another. The whole dynamic of that relationship is changing, and I think it’s in line with what you  were suggesting earlier about the idea of the portfolio career is no longer the preserve of the professions, per say. It’s almost just commonplace, it starts from potentially people selling stuff from their loft on eBay at the weekends, as well as doing their day job, to realise actually there are multiple revenue streams for one individual, there are multiple ways of being able to make money from their talents and capabilities one way or another. And now of course, technology facilitates that so much more readily.

It does feel we’re at the birth of that, I often think in terms of 20th Century and 21st Century businesses. 20th Century businesses are just not structured in a way that enables them to embrace and capitalise on some of that dynamic, although really cumbersome and slow in being able to respond to it. Whereas we know fast-cycle business that started just yesterday, the unicorns of this world could be outstripping some of the 20th Century businesses because they’re not incumbent by the operating models of the past, by the human capital kind of models of the past. They’re the people who are embracing the millennial approach to work and work life, and this whole idea of results only work enterprise, are you familiar with that model? Where we’re shifting away from bums on seats during the day, and saying, lets have an employment contract based around what you can deliver in a given period.

That in its own right opens up an enormous potential for parents who have got young children, who are eminently capable and intelligent people, but can’t and don’t want to go to the office 9 to 5. They’ve seen it I think a lot on the West Coast of America where really good developers would prefer to code at night, and surf during the day, they get the best out of those, they get the best people and they get the best out of them. It is interesting to how businesses move towards that. Those things are fascinating. For me, we’re starting to see stuff around… I guess again it’s slightly pedestrian, you’re moving away from the technical skills and assessing around technical skills, and the most businesses can bring themselves to talk about are soft skills and EQ.  I think you’re talking even further than that, aren’t you?

Absolutely, yes. And just back to the last point you made, I think it’s about choice and autonomy; when we’re talking about a much more extended working life, these two things whilst always important even in our current lives become increasingly more so, and I think businesses that get that and get the motivation and engagement factors that come along with given choice and autonomy, will ultimately be able as you said to attract the right talent.

Fascinating. I guess that’s why you’re saying that organisation now is looking at the humanity and the human, rather than being able to put people in job roles and functions, necessarily; being able to see how can we grow and develop a more rounded ethical human being, both for ourselves but also for other employers and for the future, so they just become more generally useful I guess to society as a whole.

Yes, that’s right.

The transhuman thing is fascinating and quite scary. I think there’s something about the fact you might be able to bring to life the concept of the Babelfish, which would just be marvellous wouldn’t it, how we all wanted that. There’s a step in-between we’re seeing here at Cognisco which is people are fascinated by AI, automation, robotics and the sort of things that would change the workplace, but they’re starting to move towards a realisation that humans bring a different dynamic and a capability, and what we need to be aware of is the ability for people to do critical thinking, to work with dilemmas, to work in peer groups, to work as parts of teams, and there seems to be a shift towards a better understanding of how do we get people to think more intelligently, yes, having the skills is one thing; to be able to lead, to be able to make decisions in difficult times and under pressure, to be able to think around complex problems and dilemmas, are they the sorts of things you’re seeing as sort of a new focus for the market in the industry?

Yes, absolutely. I saw a great post on LinkedIn today which was focussed around we should all be focussing on the things that computers can’t do, and I’ll share a little bit about some cool new AI developments I’ve seen. But I think the reality is we need to realise we are a long-long way away in AI terms, from being able to simulate some of these more complex behaviours you’ve just described. So, I absolutely see that as a place to focus. I think there’s also interesting scientific discoveries about how the brain works, with respect to some of those complex behaviours that are really interesting to me. As you know I’m fascinated with Avatars and how we can accelerate learning by using them, there’s a couple of pieces of seminal research, and I had a bit of a starry moment last week, I was at the World VR Forum, in Crans-Montana and I met Mar Gonzalez-Franco who is one of the seminal researchers in the field, and I got to shake her hand!

Was it really her hand!?

It really was her hand, not an avatar! She’s now with Microsoft Research Group, but she’s published research that says, if your avatar looks 70 percent or more like you, your brain processes that in the same way as if you’re looking at yourself in the mirror, which if you think about it, it has some interesting implications from a visualisation perspective. I pair that with another great piece of research out of Stanford University, Nicky and Jeremy Bailenson, they’ve coined this term called the proteus effect, and what they’ve been able to show is that using avatars can cause your behaviour to change, so a couple of key experiments they were able to demonstrate, but even just after a short exposure to avatars they were able to see that the avatars could help the human confirm to the behaviour the avatar was doing.

A couple of experiments, the first one was, participants who had avatars that were slightly more attractive than themselves were much more confident in approaching members of the opposite sex. So if you believe in your better self you’re more likely to adopt behaviour that will be more socially aware, and the second study they did was in the field of negotiations where people’s who’s avatars were slightly taller, slightly more attractive to them, actually had better negotiating outcomes than people whose avatars were shorter, and the shorter and the less attractive they were, more willing to accept lesser attractive offers in the negotiation, than the slightly better looking avatars.

I think those two pieces together allow us to create this concept of a digital visualisation process, so we can see our future self as we would like to be or, doing a behaviour we would like to master. I think that’s particularly intriguing from a learning perspective.

Does the data show that by people practicing, or going through the motions with an avatar that represents themselves, and obviously working with other avatars, it enables them to embody that sense of confidence or capability in their real world? Is that effectively what you’re saying, they would translate that…?

That’s correct. I think there’s still work to be done on how long, so I don’t think this is a shortcut for deliberate practice and other well-researched methods we know for adopting behaviour change more permanently. But, there’s some interesting cognitive activity that happens when you see your avatar performing in skills or behaviour that you don’t have yet, and yes indeed the research backs-up the fact that you’re more likely to adopt those behaviours after the avatar emersion, as it were.

That’s totally awesome. Some of the deep practice work you mention there is an area we’ve been fascinated by for some time, and a lot of that research goes to evidence that it speeds up the process of assimilation, and people being able to learn and apply new knowledge, simply by purposeful practice if you like. Do you think the avatar experience contributes to an acceleration in learning and understanding the application of the new skill? Or, does it just deepen it do you think?

The research in the lab suggests that it does. One of my next research projects is to actually bring that into the field and measure more precisely things like acceleration, or deepening, but the science and research suggested it does accelerate, yes.

So, if you take that right back to your earlier point that it’s a sort of multiplicity of opportunity for people, and the portfolio career is going to be ubiquitous in the way we work, I guess that means we’re going to have to learn and apply new skills much more quickly than we have done previously. The whole idea of again a learning culture, a lifelong learning idea, again, almost sounds pedestrian to what’s really required. So, what have you seen out there, or what are you working with at the moment that’s new and fresh about helping people learn faster?

Perhaps before I go there, one of the things I feel very passionately about is the urgency with which we need to confront this new future, is that we’ve already got significant divides between the haves and the have nots, I think some of the technology that’s out there can expand that divide in ways we can’t imagine today, because some people are going to be willing to take on the new, and some of these things we’re talking about with AI and transhumanism, and the acceleration that they’re going to have versus those that don’t will be dramatic. So, I think there’s an imperative, an urgent imperative for us to raise awareness on this ‘how to learn more quickly topic’, because otherwise I think we’re going to see some big divides between the haves and the have nots.

So, what I just said about the avatars and thinking about ways of using digital technologies to help accelerate is definitely new, interesting, and fresh. There’s a couple of pretty cool AI things that I’ve seen recently, there’s a company called learningpool, all one word, have developed a bot they call Otto, Otto uses dialogue flow which is an AI tool developed by Google to help search and find content from big companies’ learning resources, so whether that’s database, whether that’s SharePoint etc. But the bot provides this interesting interface for a learner to quickly find the material, but when the learner asks for the material in a particular way… the used case I saw with these guys, it’s early but it’s potentially fascinating, the used case they were using it for was for employee onboarding. You remember when you start your new job, the first week is just like death by PowerPoint, materials, people giving you advice, and then probably in week two you’ve forgotten all of that because, guess what, the first week is one of the most stressful times for employees.

So, what this bot interface Otto does is, it helps the employee find the information at the time they need it, so for example on my first business trip, I’m a sales person in a new role, I need to understand, ‘Hey Otto, what are the expense limits for hotels in Bahrain?’ Otto goes off, digs through all the expense policies, comes back with the answer, ‘It’s 150 US’ let’s say. So, it’s a much more just in time practical approach to helping new employees onboard, rather than ram in everything  you need to know in your first week down you throat.

The second thing, and this is pretty advanced technically, but Swisscom has just open sourced the code which they call embed rank. This is what in AI terms we call an unsupervised learning approach, and essentially what the solution does, it will read through huge realms of free text and create a small set of phrases that best describe what’s in that free text document. This technology exists today, but its hampered by a couple of key issues that the Swisscom solution sells, so either it’s what we call supervised learning, where you have to label everything in that big stack of data before you can make the algorithms work on your behalf. Or, it’s unsupervised and has traditionally been very inaccurate. So, the way I think about this technology its huge implications, if you’ve got jobs that require analysis of large amounts of free-text data, this is the stuff you need and is going to really make a difference in terms of your productivity and effectiveness. Or, even more simply, just think about it as an amazing filter function, you can think about taking speed reading to a whole new level, you load up the 10 best business books on what it means to be an expediential organisation, and all of a sudden, you’ve got maybe half a page of key insights. Whereas previously that would have taken you weeks to wade through the books and so on. So, I think there’s something about the speed and efficacy of knowledge acquisition that is truly going to be unleashed with AI along the lines of Swisscom doing it.

That’s really interesting. I have seen a few examples of people moving in that direction, in fact just recently in our own world, we were at the Learning Tech Summer School, at Olympia just yesterday and met a few organisations, I know Microsoft have got some models for that too. I think that’s an obvious first step for organisations to take in terms of AI isn’t it? It’s like intelligent aggregation of data, intelligent summarisation if you like.  And I guess the who Alexa principle of people being able to just filter through data and get the answer on command is a really good place to start for organisations. That’s about presenting data in a digestible format. What about the onboarding of that data, the application of that knowledge, the assimilation of that data… so we can now filter it using AI intelligently and in real term, how do we impact the way in which people onboard and use that knowledge, and take it into the workplace?

I think this is a place where AI still has a long way to go. I’m working with a wonderful professor here in Switzerland called Dr Gatica-Perez, he focussed on this concept of human computer interface, and we’ve had some great discussions around will humans be willing to accept advice, coaching, feedback from a machine?  I think the answer is still very much in the, ‘We don’t know’. I think one of the things that’s challenging for AI is, let’s say I hire an executive coach, I can research their credentials, their expertise, I can talk to someone else that’s been coached by them etc. etc, so, I have my own ways of independently validating the advice or coaching I’m going to get from this coach. The trouble with the machine learning approach is, unless you have advanced degrees in mathematics, it’s going to be very-very hard for you to understand why the machine is telling you what it’s telling you, and I think that is a fundamental question that we in the learning space, as we think about taking AI more broadly into teachers, or coach-bots, or cheater-bots for example, need to really understand better.

Now, one thing I’ve seen recently and I’m pretty excited about, is using machine learning to analyse soft skills and conversations in ways that are dramatically different from how they’re analysed today by coaches. For example, on this conversation, I would guess I’ve probably spoken for maybe 75 to 80 percent of the time, versus your 20 percent, which may be okay in this environment; but let’s say I’m trying to sell you something, that would be disastrous, I would be just preaching and telling, and not letting you get a word in edgeways. I think there’s concepts of analysing soft-skills, using hard measures like percentage of time you speak, like the words that you use, is going to give us a brand-new insight into how we might coach for soft-skills moving forward.

Yeah, I think that’s a fascinating dynamic isn’t it, because you can be so much more accurate and precise, so much more finite in the coaching and tweaking, or the review of a conversation, because otherwise we’re so reliant on memory and perception of a conversation, obviously everybody will see the conversation from a different perspective. That in its own right is fascinating isn’t it, and here at Cognisco we talk about listening on a number of different levels, so let’s listen for the emotion, let’s listen for the technical content etc., breaking down the conversation, and getting people to reflect on the conversations from different perspectives. But the whole AI principle gives us a much faster and more accurate perhaps way of being able to bring it to life.

So, beyond sales, which of course in its own right is a wonderful profession, absolutely, in how humans engage generally, if you’re thinking about coaching, if you’re thinking about counselling in the medical environment, the healthcare environment, those kinds of places where communication is critical. We’ve seen also in high pressure, high resilience environments where the ability to communicate effectively, the ability to be understood, and the ability to understand and enact, seems at the moment to be almost impossible for organisations to get their hands around. You look at the command and control environments, or you look at health and safety, so in a hospital theatre for example, the ability to communicate in a succinct concise way, that everybody understands and responds to, they practice it and they’ve become expert at that.

I guess it takes that kind of discipline to a much higher level, so we can start to look at areas of negotiation potentially, areas of counselling and coaching, where we can be much more sophisticated about the dialogue, the learning, the training etc. I think your insight and expertise is phenomenal and fantastic and drives me to the point that we need to talk another time about some of this stuff, but I think you’re also being a little bit coy about how brilliant your solution at the Experience Accelerator is, the things you’ve forged together. Because you’re doing something really great aren’t you, where you’re combining this stuff together to deliver a fantastic solution to some of the challenges you’ve outlined. Would that be fair to say Sarah?

Well I’m sitting here blushing as you’re talking!

I think it’s time to bring it to a point where you now tell people what you’re doing about that, because I think it’s fascinating.  Over to you.

I’m very humble. We’re an ed-text start-up which is early in its journey, but yes, as you know I’m passionate about helping leaders and managers change behaviour for the better. Everyone wins if managers are better, employees get more productivity, companies are more profitable, families are happier, I could go on.  So, one of the things I care a great deal about is behaviour, and I think behaviour matters. I really enjoyed the podcast you ran with Lahar from ForMetris where he said exactly the same thing, which is when he’s looking at ROI it’s about the behaviour change that he observes, where companies get the highest ROI out of their learning initiatives. I don’t think we focus enough on it. So, in my solution I wanted to break the trade off between a couple of things, so if you think about traditional e-learning, it delivers really well at scale, it’s pretty affordable but it doesn’t necessarily deliver the best impact in terms of behavioural change.

And then conversely on the other axis, if you think about one-on-one coaching, or classroom training, I think if it’s delivered well it can be very effective in driving behaviour change, but its costly and it doesn’t scale. So, my solution is about trying to have both; we’ve developed a virtual platform that allows leaders to visualise the leadership behaviour they’re trying to master. They then get to practice it in a couple of different ways; they can practice on their own, using the platform, and using their webcam to video-tape themselves, but that’s a little bit of a walnut exercise to the main event, which is when we put them on zoon on a video platform with our live tutors, and get them to roleplay so that they demonstrate they’ve been able to master the behaviours they’ve learnt about in stage one.

So, the video is the input that the coaches then review in terms of how well the learner has been able to master the behaviours they’ve learnt at the frontend of the learning journey, and we give them feedback on what they’ve done well, and where they need to improve. So, it’s quite a structured personalised way of giving feedback. And to be honest, if managers were doing their jobs in companies there wouldn’t be a need for this type of solution, because great managers help employees to get inspired, and visualise the behaviours they want to adopt, they allow them to practice in a safe environment, and they give them frequent feedback. So, in some ways I’m merely taking that dramatically important need in terms of driving behaviour change, and bringing it in a very affordable virtual way to learners all around the world.

I was thinking about my own journey, and part of the story is also timing. I was in my early 40’s before I got an executive coach, I was on of the very lucky few who got an executive coach, and she really did help me out, but it took her way longer than it needed to, to undo some of these bad habits that I’d got, because it was too late in my journey. So, I really want to give young leaders who are making the transition from individual contributor to first time manager the support they need to change behaviour in a much more deliberate, focussed and affordable way, so that’s a little bit of the vision I have.

I think that comes back to what I was saying in the intro, and why we’re so excited at Cognisco about what you’re doing, it’s about being able to provide that facility, that capability to a much wider audience. They can be based anywhere, so geographically disparate, you’ve constructed the model which means the learner to some extent can go at their own pace, they can be working from anywhere, it’s cost-effective and affordable to get people onboard with this, and this place for me into the dynamic of people becoming almost like hyper-autodidactic. We get to the stage where people are educating themselves and keen to educate themselves, so much more than ever before that the tools and capabilities and concepts are out there. But it seems to me that through the Experience Accelerator, you’re taking that one step further, it’s not just what I can read, and what I can learn from YouTube or Udemy or any of the other great facilities, but I can be coached and guided by a coach or a mentor too.

For us, what we’re seeing is some of the organisations we work with struggle to bring that deliverable to a wide and disparate geographical audience, and potentially to younger or newer managers, it’s just cost-prohibitive to have one-to-one coaching, and you’ve broken the back of that I think. Would you agree?

Yes, and we have really connected because we’ve shared those common beliefs, ‘Help me service what I do, and don’t know’, and then ‘Help me improve the confidence with which I know it’. I think age shouldn’t be a pre-determinant of experience, and in today’s reality it kind of is, because you simply have to practice these challenging complex situations you face, laying someone off for the first time, these are very-very difficult situations to deal with, and I think what you guys do at Cognisco in terms of those very rich scenarios, that you help people essentially practice and go through, as they go through your on-line platform. Then when you realise you’re not quite as good as you thought you were, that’s probably where a solution like mine comes in, where you can practice in a safe environment so that now your confidence level and your knowledge set are equally matched, and your accelerating that because you can practice much more frequently, and you don’t have to wait for the circumstance to arise in your normal business life in order to get the experience you need.

So yes, I’m super-excited about the partnership we have, and some of the things we can do, as you say to democratise access to some of these skill-building areas.

So, of course it goes beyond leadership and management too, doesn’t it? We talked about how the logical sort of platform that you put together of the ability to practice something with an avatar, to do the learning, to then have that appraised, and to get the coaching, could actually be applied to a multitude of skills, capabilities and competences to use potentially what could be a 20th century word. Leadership is a great way to start but, this is about being able to bring coaching in any kind of situation to a much broader audience; not only can they be anywhere in the world, but it gets the price point down to something that means we can now start to deliver what were really high value learning interventions, coaching interventions, down to a much broader audience.

I think that’s where it gets really exciting, we’re starting to facilitate younger people, more junior people in the organisation, because at the moment as you say, you were 40 years old when you got your first executive coach, but maybe we can bring some of that down to you being 17, 18, 19. Are you looking at how potentially you could take this to universities, to education establishments. Going back to the idea of the Swiss Company looking to develop humans if you like with broader skills, do you see an opportunity for what you are doing, for people as they’re going through the education process before they join the workforce perhaps?

Yes, absolutely, and it’s interesting because when I started, as you say, I was focussed on managers and leaders, but this is about where behaviour is judged positively or negatively in any environment that you’re in. We’ve just completed a pilot with the Business School of Lausanne, where we put some of their masters students through the platform and focussed on the topic of delivering feedback effectively. It was a roaring success I have to say, both in terms of the improvement that we say pre and post, but also deepening the understanding of why feedback is important as a critical lever to high-performing teams. So, it’s sort of placing it in context for our younger people who are entering the workforce, about why these types of behaviours or skills are really important. So, I definitely see this as something in terms of employability for people entering the workforce.

What we hear from the universities I’ve spoken to, the employers having articulated, they need their graduates to be able to work well in a team, and to be collaborative, which is obviously super-vague! What does that mean? But when we break it down it’s things like being able to see a problem from multiple perspectives, it is about being able to deliver feedback to someone in a way that doesn’t fracture the relationship between you.

I’m really excited about what we might be able to do to accelerate everything around that and bringing as you say experience to people much earlier; it’s not just what can you learn in the classroom, but how much more quickly can you experience it, can you apply it; hence the name I guess, the name Experience Accelerator.

You’ve got it in one!

I see what you did there Sarah, absolutely.

Thanks for that, there’s so much more to talk about, and as I say, you’ve scared me with the transhumanism and all that kind of good stuff which is brilliant, so doubtless we’re gonna get some questions about that, and we’ll follow-up with that and have a look at some of the other areas of technology which are coming into our world.

As you know, I ask everybody the same question at the end of the podcasts, so we can get a global view and different perspectives on the same question. So, based on your experience and expertise what one piece of advice or recommendation would you give an organisation about to embark on any kind of people change, or learning programme?

If your management and the direct supervisors are the people that you’re going to be training, are not involved in the programme, don’t do the programme.

My heart sinks when I engage with the head of learning and they tell me, ‘Oh, no-no-no, we can’t bother the management team with this one-hour masterclass,’ walk through the programme that you’re serving to thousands of new leaders, and this has happened a lot. So, there’s two things that really matter to help learning stick, firstly, what we’ve been talking about today, the speed and the level of deliberateness with which you practice a new skill, and secondly how much interest and engagement your direct manager has in your development. So that would be my piece of advice. If the managers aren’t interested, don’t do the programme until they are.

Absolutely, engagement, engagement all the way isn’t it, otherwise it just falls into a black-hole. And again, that comes back to the whole ROI piece, you’re expecting to measure something that you’ve not supported properly in the first place.

That’s brilliant, thank you very much. It’s always a pleasure Sarah, and we look forward to bringing our combined expertise to our existing customer base, and of course we’re expecting lots of new enquiries based on this conversation, to both organisations. Well what can I say Sarah, we exist to serve, that’s all I can say.

You’ve given us some additional resources, and some opinion pieces alike, which we’ll be putting on the end of the Podcast show notes, I think there’s a one minute summary around the Experience Accelerator and some of the science behind it, which I think is fascinating, and I hope people take the trouble to go and have a look at that, and get involved, it’s a fascinating area that you’re involved in there, so thank you so much for that.

All of your contact details will of course be on the podcast website, but perhaps for those people who never get to do that and just do the listening bit, can you tell everybody the best way to get hold of you should they need to learn more?

Yes please, contact me at sarah@theexperienceaccelarator.com.

Thanks Sarah, I look forward to speaking to you next time, enjoy the rest of your day in sunny Switzerland.

Bye now.

End.

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