Author: Sarah Tencher

You’ve Thought Enough, Now do the Work

Do-the-work

In his most recent weekly newsletter our friend James Clear posed a question to readers: Do you really need to think more, or is it simply a matter of doing the work? It’s a simple yet thought-provoking question. With endless information at our fingertips, our goals may be obscured by all the noise.

In the spirit of continuous improvement in life and business, there is simply no substitute for doing the actual work. This doesn’t mean one should work aimlessly without purpose, knowing when to pause the thinking and start doing is incredibly important.

With respect to video-based practice and coaching, one might be tempted to consternate over the perfect, all-encompassing program to overcome all organizational skills-gaps but this is a recipe for disaster. A better approach with a much higher likelihood for success is to start with one specific topic or skill. Put in the work, the results may surprise you.

You’ve thought enough, now do the work.

Why Collaborative Video-Based Practice Effectively Trains People Skills: A Brain Science Analysis

Written by Todd Maddox, Ph.D.

Rehearsal’s Collaborative Video-Based Practice platform was born out of a growing business need for more effective tools to train the people skills (e.g., communication, collaboration and feedback) that are lacking in many businesses. According to the 2018 Gallup Report, 67% of US workers are “not engaged” and this is often due to a lack of meaningful and effective communication, collaboration and feedback between employees and management. Whether a manager is looking to increase employee engagement and performance or a sales professional is looking to improve their pitch, the need for better tools to develop people skills is clear.

People skills are about behavior. It is one thing to know “what” to do and to have a cognitive understanding of methods for communication, collaboration and feedback. It is a completely different thing (and mediated by a different system in the brain; see below) to know “how” to behave in a way that demonstrates effective communication, collaboration, and feedback. The sales professional with strong people skills shows the correct body language, says the right things, and says them in the right way. The manager or executive with strong people skills can “read” a room, knows what to say to engage employees or to calm fears, and knows how to behave in a way that shows strength but also empathy. Both the sales professional and the executive with strong people skills look effortless in their behavior. It is as if their body is so well trained that they don’t even have to think.

Learning science—the marriage of psychology and brain science—makes clear that a cognitive understanding of people skills and a behavioral understanding of people skills are distinct, and their learning is mediated by different systems in the brain, each of which has unique processing characteristics. The figure below provides an overview of the two main learning systems in the brain, along with the relevant psychological processes, and a schematic of the relevant brain regions.

The cognitive skills learning system in the brain has evolved to learn information and facts (the “what”). Cognitive skill learning relies on working memory and attention and is mediated by the prefrontal cortex in the brain. Processing in this system is optimized when information comes in brief chunks. The behavioral skills learning system in the brain has evolved to learn behaviors (the “how”). Behavioral skill learning does not rely on working memory and attention, in fact, it is known that “overthinking it” hinders behavioral skills learning. Behaviors are learned through gradual, incremental, dopamine-mediated feedback learning in the basal ganglia of the brain. Processing in this system is optimized when behavior is interactive.

Rehearsal’s Collaborative Video-Based Practice Platform Effectively Trains People Skills

People skills are about behavior and thus behavior change is the litmus test. Although many Learning Management Systems (LMS) promise behavior change, the traditional LMS approach to learning is through the cognitive skills learning system. Learners study written content or video that impart information about communication and leadership skills, or demonstrate them with video, but what is lacking is a mechanism for practice, coaching, and collaboration. It is deliberate behavioral practice, coaching and collaboration that engage and train the behavioral learning system in the brain and ultimately lead to behavior change.

Rehearsal’s Collaborative Video-Based Practice platform was built with these considerations in mind. Rehearsal is all about practice, coaching and collaboration. A typical training session in Rehearsal starts by presenting the learner with a contextualized scenario. This could involve a manager needing to address the consistent lateness of an employee, or a sales professional making the case for why a potential client should purchase their product. This sets the stage and provides the important situational context within which behavior is learned. The learner is allowed to videotape themselves practicing as many times as they like. Critically, the practice takes place in a safe and private environment free from evaluation, thus allowing behavioral learning to proceed without cognitive interference. [As an aside, Rehearsal does include “hotseat” scenarios that provide the learner with opportunities to learn under pressure.]. Once satisfied the learner can submit the video for feedback and coaching from peers and managers. The feedback can come in the form of written text, audio or video, as well as ratings of tone, demeanor and confidence. Although the feedback is asynchronous, and does not occur in real-time, it primes the learner for behavior change that can be gained through further video-based practice. In addition, the range of feedback from peers and managers offers a rich broad-based learning context.

The learning platform has many other advantageous features. For example, video training content is organized into channels to provide a flexile space for conversation and collaboration, as well as ease of access. In addition, videos that best represent specific aspects of people skills (e.g., handling on objection, or showing empathy) are curated into best practice categories so that learners can incorporate some of these behaviors into their own behavioral repertoire. Finally, the platform includes audio-only scenarios that allow employees who provide customer service over the phone to practice people skills in an audio-only environment.

Rehearsal’s Collaborative Video-Based Practice platform represents a strong people skills training product that takes advantage of what is known about the brain science of people skills learning. While the learning science makes clear that there is room for improvement, Rehearsal’s Collaborative Video-Based Practice platform effectively engages behavior change systems in the brain and is far superior to the more traditional LMS approach.

I look forward to following Rehearsal as it refines its offering and iterates toward an optimized behavioral training solution. In the meantime, companies looking to improve their employees’ people skills should take a close look at Rehearsal’s Collaborative Video-Based Practice platform. You won’t be disappointed.

About the Author

W. Todd Maddox, Ph.D. is the Research Fellow for Learning Science at Amalgam Insights and the CEO and Founder of Cognitive Design and Statistical Consulting, LLC. His passion is to apply his 25 years of scientific and neuroscientific expertise, gained by managing a large human learning and performance laboratory, to help businesses build better training products.

Ability to Communicate: Enabler, Inhibitor, or Both?

The Endless Art of Communication, by Alana Karen, a 17-year Google employee (yes that’s right, 17 years!) is a candid reflection of feedback received early in her career and the dedication to develop her communication skills ever since. She states three truths when it comes to the importance of communication skills:

    1. Career opportunities are determined by your ability to communicate
    2. Your ability to communicate can also be a career limiter
    3. Improving your communication skills never ends

She points out that a strength can also be a weakness. We may hold a wealth of information but lack the ability to articulate it in a clear and compelling way. There were three things that made a difference in her ability to communicate:

    1. Choosing the most important information to share
    2. Questions from the audience should be taken as feedback to strengthen your message
    3. Prioritize and practice communication skills over and over again

What does this mean to those of us here at Rehearsal where practice is paramount? Everything! A consistent effort spread over time ignites notable change. Alana’s post (and career) illustrate Deliberate Practice, self awareness, and the drive to improve. Congratulations on a stellar career Alana, we will continue to watch and admire you as a power of practice role model.

Coaching Enablement

According to the ATD 2017 State of the Industry report, 45.7% of organizations use on-the-job coaching by managers, which leads us to question the nature of that coaching: is it spontaneous or rehearsed? What is the delivery method? Are they subject matter experts, or simply part of the organizational hierarchy?

Managers are not only imparting knowledge while coaching, but receiving knowledge and developing skills as well. Do they anticipate business situations and preemptively practice coaching skills accordingly? Athletes don’t wait until game time, they break down skills and practice each one in advance, repeatedly. Managers shouldn’t be any different.

When it comes to successful sales enablement initiatives, coaching enablement must be a foundational component. Businesses reach new levels of success when the development trajectory of coaches matches that of players.

Remember, whether a customer service rep, sales manager, or CEO, we are all players in the game of business.

100% Organic, Non-GMO, Free-Range Video Content

No actors, no backdrops, no scripts. This informal approach to video-for-training is deeply engaging and relatable; why? Because it’s natural, it’s real, and it’s human.

For attendees of the DevLearn 2018 Conference and Expo, it was clear that Rehearsal does not create formal video content for the demonstration of its platform; Rehearsal’s content is real. Attendees could relate to the prospect of recording scenarios from their home, office, or anywhere they may be with their smartphones: no actors, no backdrops, no scripts.

Although there is a time and place for formal video content, when your intent is to foster engaging training experiences and to drive behavioral change, it’s necessary to make real content. Despite the convenience and growing reliance on technology, we will always desire a human connection. We FaceTime our family and friends, and we encourage you to develop your skills using the same organic approach.

Are You Stuck in Motion?

James Clear recently wrote on smart people mistaking motion for action. He describes the two as: “Motion is when you’re busy doing something, but that task will never produce an outcome by itself. Action, on the other hand, is the type of behavior that will get you a result.”

Although it produces no outcome, motion plays an important part in mastering a skill. For example: preparation by studying or reading about a sales pitch is motion. Delivering that pitch is action.

He goes on to discuss the idea that motion gives us the impression of progress without the risk of failure. This is the reason Rehearsal was meticulously created, to invoke action while providing a safe space to practice your skills without the risk of failure.

Practice is the difference between the motion of traditional training and action.

Take action. Become great.

 

The Littlest Thing You Can Do to Make the Biggest Difference

Start. That’s it. Seems too easy, right?

In this article by habit and practice expert, James Clear, we learn that the process of pursuing excellence results in a set of rewards that may actually be more valuable than those received once you’ve achieved it. The article describes an exchange that James Clear had with tennis pro, Lindsay Davenport. James had the opportunity to ask her a question at an event and he focused his opportunity on how she’s learned or changed from rising the ranks of professional athleticism. She responded first with the concept that fame makes you grow up faster than you may otherwise; but then she described how the path to achieve greatness taught her how to be the best she could be at her craft. James goes on to talk about why simply starting something new — as she did at a young age of 15 years old — can be the best and biggest decision you may ever make toward your pursuit of happiness and betterment because without trying you’ll never know if you have the skills and talent required to be great. Once you are in the game, you can make the decision whether or not to persist and practice and ultimately find yourself achieving things you never thought possible. As James closes the article, he quips “Life is not a dress rehearsal” and we agree. Today, start something new and tomorrow practice it again and — in this life —- you may become something more than you ever imagined. Thanks, James.

A Deliberate Practice Manifesto

Written by Robert Pool, Ph.D.

Everyone has heard of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule: You need 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at anything. It’s pretty intimidating if you stop to think about it. That’s 4 hours a day, 20 hours a week, 1,000 hours a year—for 10 years. Who has that sort of time? I don’t. You probably don’t either.

On the other hand, best-selling author Josh Kaufman published a book a few years back that promises you can “learn anything” in just 20 hours. Not 20 hours a week for 10 years, or even 20 hours a week for 1 year. Just 20 hours total. You’ve got 20 hours, right?

And what’s really interesting is that both of these claims—Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule and Kaufman’s 20 hours—are talking about exactly the same thing: deliberate practice. We’ll talk more about that in a minute.

But first: Which claim is right? Is it 10,000 hours or 20 hours? Strangely enough, as long as you interpret the two claims correctly, they are both right. What’s more, once you understand what is going on, you are left with a blueprint for how you, or anyone, can excel in most areas of business and life—without devoting your entire life to it.

Here’s how to understand the two very different claims: The 10,000-hour rule is true for the top performers in a field where there is intense competition and training. Think of concert pianists, chess grandmasters, and prima ballerinas. These people truly do put in thousands—or tens of thousands—of hours of practice to get to the top because that’s what their competition is doing. Every world-class concert pianist has practiced for 10,000 hours or more— usually much more. If you want to excel in one of these areas, to be among the best in the world, you have to start young and devote much of your life to becoming great.

Kaufman is talking about something else altogether. Say that you’ve always wanted to ride a unicycle (or speak French or play the ukulele), but you’ve never tried. His point is that with the right sort of practice, 20 hours is enough to get you to a point where you at least won’t embarrass yourself. You won’t be great, but you’ll be doing well enough to get some satisfaction out of it and maybe even impress your friends.

What these two theories have in common is both involve a very powerful approach to training called “deliberate practice.” It is the single best way to get better at something—anything, really—as proven by many years of scientific research. Briefly, deliberate practice involves picking out specific aspects of the skill you wish to improve, doing exercises designed specifically to improve those aspects, getting feedback on your performance, using that feedback to guide further practice, then repeating.

Kaufman’s big idea is to take this powerful training method that classical musicians, chess masters, Olympic gymnasts, and the like use to hone their world-class skills and use it instead when you are first getting started learning something—in the “first 20 hours,” as the title of his book says. Of course, it is not as easy as it sounds. The classical musicians and Olympic athletes who use it in their training have spent years perfecting their deliberate practice techniques, and there is no way a beginner in a field can match their training proficiency. Still, even if it is carried out imperfectly, deliberate practice is so much more effective than the unstructured way most people go about learning something new that the results can seem like magic. For a beginner, 20 hours of deliberate practice is enough to make a huge difference.

So Kaufman is on to something. If you want to learn to play the ukulele or take up wind surfing, try deliberate practice for 20 hours. You’ll be surprised by how quickly you pick it up.

There is a much more powerful message here, and it is aimed at the rest of us—not the rank beginners or those at the very top of their field, but the ones who are just doing okay. Most of us settle into comfortable ruts in our jobs, our leisure activities, and our lives in general. We get to a point where we’re “good enough,” and we coast. We’re not like classical violinists or grandmasters, devoting hours a day to deliberate practice, working hard to get better. Quite frankly, we don’t have to because our peers—the people we’re competing against for jobs and promotions and bonuses—aren’t practicing for several hours a day either. For the most part, they’re just like us—they’ve learned just enough to do the job reasonably well and are coasting, not really getting much better as time goes on.

So imagine what would happen if we got out of our comfortable ruts and applied Kaufman’s “20 hours” to our daily jobs. If 20 hours of deliberate practice can take you from never having wind-surfed to skimming handily over the waves or from not knowing the difference between your sombrero and your cabeza to carrying on a conversation in Spanish, what might it do for your job performance?

It can make a huge difference. Think of it in tennis terms. Suppose you’re a weekend tennis player. You learned enough to serve and return balls, and you and your friends enjoy your friendly games even though none of you are more than just okay. After 10 years of playing weekly, you’re not much better than you were when you started because, let’s face it, you’ve never really tried very hard to get better, and just playing the same way every week does nothing to improve your game.

Now let’s suppose you got inspired by watching Serena Williams in a Grand Slam finals, and you decide you want to get serious. You hire a tennis instructor who says ‘let’s work on your crosscourt forehand’ and for the next ten weeks you spend a couple of hours each weekend focused on just that. Instruction, practice, feedback, repeat.

At the end of those 20 hours, you’re not ready to take on Roger Federer, but you have a new, improved skill that lifts you above the people you’ve been playing with. Your cross-court forehand is a weapon that wins you an extra point or two each game, and now suddenly you’re the best player in your group of friends. It feels good, and now, invigorated, you decide you’re going to spend another 20 hours of deliberate practice on your backhand. And then your serve. And so on . . . .

Now suppose instead of tennis you decide to spend 20 hours of deliberate practice on getting better at your job. You pick out one aspect that could use improvement that will make a difference in your overall performance, and you work on it. You get ideas for practice techniques from a mentor or a more accomplished peer, or maybe you figure out some exercises yourself. The key is to have a clear idea of the skill you’re trying to develop, specific exercises aimed at improving that skill, regular feedback on how you’re doing, and the ability to shape your training in response to the feedback. At the end of the 20 hours, you will see a big improvement. In particular, you will now have an advantage over anyone who has not made this effort.

You see, people’s performance in the business world is much closer to how you and your friends play tennis on the weekend than it is to how Serena Williams and Roger Federer play tennis—people in the business world are not spending hours deliberately practicing, working to improve their skills. In fact, most people in the business world spend almost no time on improving specific skills. They get to a level of acceptable performance and coast, often with the vague assumption that they’ll get better with experience. But they don’t. Research shows that just going in and doing your job every day does very little to help you improve. The only way to see serious improvement is through deliberate practice.

So here is the takeaway message: You can see a surprisingly large improvement in your performance—in your job, in your sports activities, in pretty much anything you do—with a relatively small investment in time. It won’t work if you’re in a highly competitive field where people are spending hours a day on practice—classical music, pro sports, and so on—but those are the exceptions rather than the rule. In most areas of life people just don’t work that hard to get better, and you can set yourself apart by being one of the few who do. I’m not saying it’s easy. Deliberate practice requires thought, focus, and effort, but you’ll be surprised at what you can do with a commitment of just a few hours a week.

There is a young man in California named Max Deutsch who in successive months taught himself to draw a realistic self portrait, solve a Rubik’s cube in under 20 seconds, land a standing back flip, play an improvised blues guitar solo, and hold a conversation in Hebrew. Now, he wasn’t starting from scratch on every one of these skills, nonetheless over the course of a month he was able to develop a striking new skill—month after month.

Deliberate practice opens the door. All you have to do is walk through.

About the Author

Robert Pool, Ph.D., is a writer, speaker, and consultant specializing in deliberate practice and it application. His most recent book, co-written with Anders Ericsson, is Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise.