The Science of Workplace Happiness with Scott Crabtree – Episode #37
Evan speaks with Scott Crabtree, CEO and Chief Happiness Officer at Happy Brain Science, about ways to ensure workplace satisfaction and productivity. Scott is CEO and Chief Happiness Officer at Happy Brain Science, and specializes in positive psychology, neuroscience, cognitive science, game design and development. Connect with Scott on LinkedIn here or at HappyBrainScience.com.
Announcer: Welcome to “Training Unleashed,” the show that will help you design and deliver training that’s off the chain, and will make a difference. Now, here’s your host, Evan Hackel.
Evan: Hello, everyone, and welcome to another exciting episode of “Training Unleashed.” We have really, I think, an amazing episode because, from my point of view, understanding how the brain works and how people learn is one of the most important topics for all of us in the wonderful world of training. My guest today is Scott Crabtree. He is the Chief Happiness Officer of Happy Brain Science. Scott, why don’t we start off and give us that quick update of who you are, and then maybe tell us about Happy Brain Science?
Scott: Okay. Basically, I had a couple of decades leading the design and development of video games, ultimately ended up at Intel when I discovered there was a solid peer-reviewed science of happiness. I thought, “This is the most amazing thing I’ve come across in my life, I wanna learn this and do this and be this and enjoy all the benefits that come with happiness according to science, including increased creativity and productivity.” And I thought, “What’s the best way to learn something? It’s to teach it.”
I happen to be the kid of two teachers. So I started teaching programs called things like “The Science of Happiness and Software Development,” or” The Science of Happiness and Video Game Development.” And a long story short, that experience went viral, and I ended up founding Happy Brain Science, and I now teach the science of wellbeing at work full time.
Evan: That’s fantastic. So, I’m gonna ask the question that the skeptics ask.
Evan: Does it really matter if people are happy at work? Isn’t productivity all that really matters?
Scott: Well, the good news is that happiness brings productivity, and the skepticism that you just voiced is really the environment that my work was honed in. So, again, I was at Intel, former CEO of Intel, Andy Grove, had a quote that we often repeated in meetings and hallways at Intel. The quote is, “Everyone has an opinion, some people have data.” So, I honed this workshop in an environment that was extremely skeptical, data-driven, engineering-driven, “prove it to me.”
And so I developed a training style and content that is, “Look, don’t trust me. This is not my opinion. Here’s the solid data. Here’s the methodology behind it. Here are the results that the studies found.” And what studies find is that if you take a random group of people and randomly divide them in two, and make half of them miserable, usually done with short miserable film clips, and make half of them happy with short happy film clips, the happier people will outperform the unhappy people by 12% to 25% or more depending on who they are and what they’re doing. So, happiness at work is not just about feeling good, it’s about better results.
Evan: Yeah, real ROI.
Evan: Well, I’ve…you know, when I ask the question, and I think I did a good job asking it, but I believed you [inaudible 00:03:14] had to.
Scott: I believed your skepticism, so you did ask [inaudible 0:03:17].
Evan: All right, I think I’m sharing the empathy of our listeners who fight every day for every dollar of budget to get within companies. You know, I’m a huge believer in attitude, in hiring for attitude and that, you know, I… Peter Drucker says that culture eats strategy for lunch. And so, you know, maybe I have more of an opinion, and you have more data on this subject. But, you know, one of the things, when we had a pre-talk, that really kinda interested me is how you could apply some of your knowledge to the training profession. So, maybe I’ll just leave it that wide open and let you talk.
Scott: Okay. Yeah, I mean, I got into this work I’m doing to make a difference, right? And you’re a speaker as well, you know that too often somebody can get up, give a great talk, and then a week later you ask somebody in the audience what they learned and they go, “I don’t know, it was a great talk, but I…,” you know. So, I don’t wanna be a flash in the pan entertainment for an hour or four and not make a difference, I wanna make a lasting difference for people.
And therefore we need to understand how the science of learning and memory work, and how the science of behavior change work. So, let me start with learning and memory. First of all, as the famous book says, telling ain’t training, right? People need to experience things in order to really learn things. So, I’ll give you an example of one of my favorite things to do in a workshop, and I even do this in a keynote if it’s feasible, and it’s not always feasible. But any time it is feasible, I will deliver a section content, and then I will do several things. First I’ll say something like, “Now, I’m gonna something highly unusual for a speaker trainer, and that is say nothing for the next minute.”
Why am I gonna be silent and ask you to be silent for the next minute? Because I want you to test yourself on this question. What have you heard, and how can you apply this? Why do I want you to test yourself? Because although testing gets a bad rap, evidence is clear, solid peer-reviewed evidence is clear, testing causes learning. For at least some kinds of learning the active testing causes learning. Scientists theorize that when you say, “What did I just hear about the state of flow at work and how to apply that in this happiness workshop? What did I hear about that?”
When you trigger that thought, it signals your brain, “Oh, that information that just went in is gonna get used and come back out, so therefore we need to commit this to long-term memory.” So, testing is part of what I do. I have people casually self-test after each section. After a minute of that, or so, I’d say, “Now, science also suggests you learn better when you’re talking about what you’re learning. When you’re physically active, brains in motion have…bodies in motion have brains that produce more BDNF, brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which as your audience may know, a long nerdy scientific story short, you can think of PDNF as learning aid.”
And again, I want my audience not just to hear things, but to learn and remember them. So, I tell them, “Physical activity is gonna help you remember this stuff.” And finally, in the trifecta of this upcoming activity that I’m about to tell you about, we learn better when we learn in more than one physical space. So, I love my job because I get to read these studies, some of which are downright hysterical. So, there’s a study where a bunch of people are dressed in wetsuits and put on a beach, and everyone is taught the same material.
And then half of them, randomly divided, go into the water up to their belly buttons or whatever and they’re taught some more, while the other half stay on the beach and they are all taught some more in the same way on the same material, and then afterwards they’re all tested. And people who are learning on the beach and in the water learn better than those that stay on the beach. And other studies have found the same factor. We learn things…memories are attached to physical locations, and so if we learn something in more than one physical location, we learn it better.
So, I tell my audience that, and then I say, “That’s why I want you to very quickly find a partner. It’s okay if you form a group of three, I don’t want left out here, but ideally, you’re paired up because talking about what you’re learning helps you learn. And I want you to walk outside this room for the next four minutes and talk about what you’re learning and how you can apply it, and then come back and we’ll do some Q&A.” I’ll pause there. That’s an example of some of the techniques that I use based on science of learning and memory.
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Evan: I’m gonna ask you the question I’m sure everyone here is thinking. Do you really get them back in four minutes?
Scott: It’s challenging. First of all, I intentionally said four minutes, not five because when you say five minutes people think about five minutes. When you say four minutes they think, “Oh, he’s been really precise about this.” So, whether it’s four or seven, I get very specific and then I hold up my phone, and I say,” According to Verizon it is now 11:31, that means I need you back here at 11:35 sharp.” And then I say, “Because in the past a very small percentage of people struggle to come back on time, I’ve adapted the following system.”
Let me just pause here. Me saying, “Very few people,” is a nod towards behavioral economics and behavior changes. What behavioral economics shows is that we’re heavily influenced by each other’s behavior. So, if I tell people, “Boy, everybody stays out too long when I do this,” then I give them the cue, “Stay out too long because everyone else is doing it.”
If I say, “Very few people struggle to come back on time,” I cue them that the normal behavior is to be back on time, and you’re a weird exception if you’re late. So, it’s…I don’t explain all of that, but this is, again, understanding how behavior changes and behavior works, and how people make decision is very important to our work because we want people to change through our work, right? We want them to learn something or do something differently. I often ask clients before they hire me, “In your ideal world when I’m finished, what will people think, feel, or do differently?” And that really drives everything I’m trying to do here.
So, back to your original question, “Do I really get them back in four minutes?” I say, “So, that’s 11:35 sharp.” Now, because a very small percentage of people sometimes struggle to come back on time, I’ve developed the following system. “Coming up we have a break. That’s your time, you can do whatever you want with it.” I do this when I have a half day workshop or something where I actually have a break. I’ve developed the following system, “If you’re late coming back, if you’re later than 11:35, you’re eating into your own break, not my presentation time. Fair enough deal?”
Everybody laughs and I say, “Okay, back by 11:35.” And then the doorway effect that science has found. Again, this is part of why it’s important to get people learning in more than one space. When we walk through a doorway, real or virtual on a video game, by the way, it triggers us to forget whatever we were thinking of. So, often people walk out the door, and again, this is attached to connections, right?
Our great, great, great, great, great, great grandparents, what they learned was location specific. Our great, great, great, great, great, great grandparents needed to know that there were blueberries in the field in August, and deer in the spring by the stream. And when you’re by the stream, it doesn’t matter what’s going on by the blueberries. When you’re in the meadow, it doesn’t matter what’s going on with the deer by the stream. So, when we change locations by walking through a doorway, it’s a signal to our brains, “Just forget whatever you’ve been thinking about or learning,” which I hope is terrifying to your whole audience.
Evan: It’s terrifying to me.
Scott: I mean, and it’s terrifying to me too, right? We don’t want to waste our time. We’re in the business of learning and change. So, again, I get them talking on both sides of the doorway to try to retain information through the doorway, and while I’m standing there holding the door for people to go out for the four minutes, I’m holding out my phone saying, “Back by 11:35. What have you heard? How can you apply it? Back by 11:35. What’s the most important thing you’ve heard? How can you apply it?”
And so I still have people struggle a minute or two to be on time, but when they come back and they realized most people are back, and I’m already doing Q&A with those that are back, they’re like, “Oh crap, he really means that I need to be on time next time.” And if I may jump in and answer a question that I’m guessing that some of your listeners may be thinking, I’m guessing some of your listeners may be wondering, “What, let them out of the room? What if you don’t get them back?”
If you don’t get them back, then work on being a better trainer. You should not have to physically trap them in the room in order to keep them engaged. So, I love feedback, and if you aren’t confident that you’ll get your entire audience back, sending them out of the room for a five-minute discussion and coming back, then work on more engaging, entertaining, valuable training.
Evan: That’s very interesting, and that’s a good point. How often will you do that exercise? Is it, like, once an hour or is it…it’s certainly not every 10 minutes?
Scott: It’s typically about every 20 minutes. Maybe half hour…
Evan: So you get them trained. They get trained to come back.
Scott: What’s that?
Evan: You get them trained to do this?
Scott: Yes, I do. So, let’s take my workshop just as an example, “The Science of Being Happy and Productive at Work.” Again, I put “and productive” in the title to help win over people who have the skepticism that you expressed with your earlier question. So, that workshop has four sections, “Subdue Stress,” “Practice Positivity,” “Flow to Goals,” and “Revitalized Relationships.” So, I have an intro, together with those four other sections, that makes five sections total basically. I do the intro, then I do “Subdue Stress,” and then I do test yourself, walk outside this room, come back, Q&A. Then I do “Practice Positivity.”
Again, test yourself, walk outside this room, Q&A. Then I do “Flow to Goals.” Flow, for those who don’t know, is the zone where everything is clicking, according to scientists, valuable for happiness and productivity. Then I’ll do “Flow to Goals,” and because I don’t want to be predictable, and because I don’t want it to start to feel like a drill, I will often mix it up the third time. I’ll say, “Let’s start with questions here,” instead of minute of silence or the walk. And by the way, a technique I learned from colleagues in the National Speakers Association, again, the language you use can prime people.
So, if you have a very quiet audience, if you say, “Please tell me what questions you have,” you get more questions than, “Any questions?” “Any questions,” is a sort of gentle, “Anyone wanna ask me a question?” “Please tell me the questions you have,” is a little push for that shy person to say, “Okay, I’ve got a question.” So, if you got an introverted group, or you’re not getting enough Q&A, I always say, “Please tell me what questions you have.”
Evan: So, Scott, I’m gonna stop you for a second here.
Evan: I’m gonna encourage everyone listening to hit the pause button of this thing, walk out of whatever space they’re in right now, find a random person and share with them one or two things you just learned from this, come back and unpause the recording.
Scott: I love it, Evan. Awesome.
Evan: Okay, pause now. Okay, welcome back. See this is easy for us, we don’t even have to wait the five minutes.
Scott: That’s true. And the thing is I know when you read books, when you listen to podcasts, you sometimes don’t do the exercises, right? But the exercises are often where the learning actually happens. We learn through experience. We learn…we hear the content from a compelling amazing speaker like you, Evan, or me, I hope, but we learn by telling somebody, “Oh, I learned this great thing from Evan. Oh, I learned this great thing in ‘The Science of Happiness’ workshop,” that’s where the learning happens.
Or the learning happens where you’re, like, “But wait, how can I…” you know, you ask some interesting question, you get engaged, or you do an exercise with someone. So, anyway, I’m encouraging for those people who are still listening but didn’t, pause and go talk to somebody, really do it and you’ll remember more, therefore, I’ll be a better trainer, therefore, I’ll make a bigger difference in the world.
Evan: And it’s interesting. In my book “Ingaging Leadership” I actually have 21 exercises for people to do while reading the book.
Evan: So I, you know, I say, you know, “It’s important for people in the company to understand the vision, go talk to people in the organization, and ask them what the vision of the company is in their own words, and see what that response is.” And then I have other things, and I encourage people to actually read the book quickly, and then go back and read the book slowly, and then do all the exercises.
Scott: Excellent. This keys us in on another well-known technique for memory, but as I say in my workshops, repetition causes learning, repetition causes learning, repetition cause learning. So, at the end of each of one of those 20-minute sections, I’ll have them test themselves, go on a walk, come back, do Q&A, then I summarize that section again quickly before going on. And I know that can feel sort of condescending or something, so I try to complement the audience because science shows people are more likely to buy something from you if you compliment them even if they think it’s total garbage.
Even if I’m like, “Evan, you’re the best podcast host I have ever experienced in my whole life. You’re amazing.” You know that’s BS. That’s actually true. But if you thought that’s totally BS, you’d still be more likely to buy something from me. So, I’ll say to my audience something like, “I know I have an audience of super intelligent people. I’m not gonna repeat to you because I think you’re not intelligent, I’m repeating to you because science says repetition causes learning, repetition cause learning.” So, I’m telling you again the key points of “Subdue Stress” before we move on to “Practice Positivity.”
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Evan: When we talked in the pre-thing, you talked about not ending with questions.
Evan: And if you could share that, I think that would be very terrific.
Scott: Absolutely. So, this comes from a bit of behavioral economics. Again, some science about how we learn and how we change. It’s called the peak-end rule of memory. That’s peak-end, and what that’s a reference to is that memories are not created equally. In any unit, this podcast, a workshop that you and I are giving, a training that one of your listeners is doing, memories are not created equally. People will remember an emotionally intense moment, that’s peak, and they’ll remember the ending more than anything else.
So, I actually have a workshop on learning and memory, and when I do this workshop on learning and memory, I tell a quick story about going on vacation in Hawaii. Have a lovely vacation in Hawaii, on the way back to the airport to fly back, I run out of gas. So, now when I look back at that vacation, what do I remember? Is it sipping Mai Tais on the beach or snorkeling with turtles? No, it’s running out of gas on the highway and been really stressed out I’m gonna miss my flight. We remember endings more than other things on average.
The beginning we remember a bit more, but especially the ending. So, how we end a training is critical, and way too many of us waste our best learning opportunity with Q&A. Now, I love Q&A. I love doing it multiple times, as you’ve heard, after every major section of my workshop, but I don’t end with Q&A. I never end with Q&A, if possible, because it gives my best learning opportunity, the end, up to the randomness of the question I get. So, I don’t wanna do that. I wanna take the best learning opportunity I have and use it to repeat a summary of the most important information.
So, the end of my two-hour “Science of Happiness” workshop typically goes something like this, “Sixty seconds of your attention and I’ll get you on the way. The problem is that unhappiness doesn’t just feel bad, it lowers performance. Solid science suggests it’s possible to choose more happiness at work, and that it if you do you’ll not only feel better, you’ll perform better. So, my new friends, please choose happiness, subdue stress, practice positivity, flow the goals, and revitalize relationships. Thank you.”
It’s like a short quick summary of…if I could only have them remember three things, four things, what would they be? End with that even if it’s stuff, I hope it’s stuff, you’ve said earlier in the training.
Evan: That’s excellent. I think that’s really, really good advice, something I honestly have never, never thought off.
Scott: Cool, I’m glad that’s useful.
Evan: I have a problem with speakers, I always go about as long as I can go and then never have time for Q&A.
Scott: It’s…that’s a challenge for you and me both. I’ll quickly plug a product that is not mine, since you brought that up. There’s an iPhone and an iPad app called Timer with Sections by Christian Fries. Again, I don’t make a dime from this, so I’m not being self-promotional here. What that app does is it lets you plan out your time, whether it’s an hour or four hours with sections. And so, you know, I, like you, I love the content, I love the ideas, and if I’m left to my own devices, I’ll fill the whole time with me talking, which is not the best way for people to learn, right?
I want them playing a game or doing an exercise or whatever. So, I schedule out, “I’m gonna do an intro for this, 20 minutes, then I’m gonna take 2 minutes of questions, then I’m gonna do “Subdue Stress” for 20 minutes, then minute of science, 5-minute walk, 5 minutes of Q&A, summary, next section.” So, the reason I’m bringing this up is that it shows me whether I am early or late at the end of every section.
So, when I get a minute late, it doesn’t just grow into being no time for Q&A at the end, I know, “Oh, shoot, I’m behind. I gotta speed up and get back to this next section.” So, Timer with Sections by Christian Fries, recommended app if other listeners, like you and I, have struggled to stay on time and don’t have time for Q&A.
Evan: Well, I don’t know the app, I’m gonna definitely get it. But what I love about the app is when you practice, and I hope people here practice, it will be a great thing to practice your timing on sections. Because I practice the timing in my whole thing, not the sections.
Scott: Yeah, yeah, very cool. Yep.
Evan: So, we’re gonna run out of time and I’ve got a bunch more to cover, but I wanna hit this one thing kind of important point. Training is a department, and I’ve said this on numerous podcasts, I think should be the model of what great culture is, what great organizations are because when people look at the training department, if they’re gonna ask the training department to help teach happiness or help teach anything, they need to see the training department resembles that effect, right?
So, if the training department is made up of people that are miserably unhappy, and then they go to somebody [inaudible 00:24:43], “Who would want to teach ‘Happiness at Work Doesn’t Improve Productivity,'” because [inaudible 00:24:48], “Really.” So, what advise could you give for a training department within their own department to create more happiness within that department?
Scott: Oh, boy. That is really a two-hour answer we don’t have time for, so I’ll hit a highlight or two briefly. And at the risk of being self-promotional, I’ll mention my site happybrainscience.com. It has lots of resources, many of which are free, including a blog, and a recommended reading list. So, there’s lots of great…
Evan: Scott, I forgot to mention something. We have a particularly bright audience that would appreciate your website.
Scott: Oh, yes, yes. My incredibly intelligent, effective, you are the best audience I have ever had. I’m sure you will definitely see the value and the wisdom in happybrainscience.com. So, thank you, Evan, for the nudge, behavioral economics nudge there. So yeah, lots of resources there, many of which are free. And then I’ve actually got, at the risk of being self-promotional here, I’ve got an e-course and I’ve got a card game that teach happiness and engagement at work. And I wanna be candid with you and your audience, my prices are somewhat high because I have big corporate clients like DreamWorks and NBC and Nike and Boeing.
And not all your listeners are with giant companies, so I’ve created a coupon if anyone wants to buy anything from my site, the card game, the e-course or anything else, it’s “Training Unleashed 33” will get you a 33% discount off any of the products on happybrainscience.com. So, self-promotion over. Key points if people wanna boost happiness at work. Really, more than anything else, Evan, it boils down to relationships. All of us are different. I stress this, right, in my workshops. Science produces averages from large groups of people.
You listening to this are not an average of a large group of people, you’re a unique individual. So, if what I’m about to say doesn’t work for you, find something else that does. Again, there’s hours of answers I could give to ways to boost happiness at work. But for most of us most of the time the best place to start is relationships, quality of relationships at work.
So, what do you do to invest in the quality of your relationships? Invest time, attention, celebration, savoring, gratitude, compassion, humor, doing favors, anything you can think to invest in the quality of your relationships is an investment in your own happiness and your colleagues’ happiness, and therefore an investment in all of your creativity, productivity, resilience and more.
Evan: So, I’m gonna ask the question everybody wants to know. What is this game and how does it actually work? I, like everyone who is listening, can actually see a block that the game is?
Scott: So, this is a card game and it’s not exactly the same, but to give you some sense of it, if you or anybody listening has ever played “Apples to Apples,” or dare I bring up “Cards Against Humanity…”
Evan: [crosstalk 00:28:12]
Scott: …the tagline of which is, “A party game for horrible people,” then you have some idea how this works. So, the game comes with a whole bunch of cards. Over 50 problematic scenarios. These are things that tend to negatively impact happiness or engagement at work. So, a couple of random examples I have at the top of the deck here. I am constantly checking my email, I’m afraid of changes that might be coming at work, I am angry at work, I’m anxious about my upcoming employee performance review. And the cards explain why those might be problems, and then I have a deck with over 150 science-based solutions.
So, an executive turns up two problem cards and picks one. Let’s say the executive picks “I’m afraid of changes that might be coming at work,” everyone else is holding a hand of seven science-based solutions. So…
Evan: What a cool idea this is.
Scott: Thank you very much. So, the solutions I happen to randomly have in my hand are batch your emails, celebrate, be a sweetheart, 4-6-8 breath, be here now, choose from three, and collaboration and delegation. And again, each card has an explanation and an indication about the science behind it. And again, everything I do is based on science, so on my site is a detailed list of scientific sources for every card in the game. So, everyone besides the executive picks a solution.
And then a couple of differences from those other games, here solutions are played face up with lobbying. So, if you are the executive, Evan, and I am trying to help you with being afraid of changes that may be coming at work, I might play the “Be here now” card and I might read it to you. “Now is all you have. Focus your awareness and thinking on this moment right here right now because those who focus more in the present are happier than those who spend more time in the past and future,” and then I might keep lobbying you.
Now, you might think this sounds hard, but if you practice mindfulness, it gets easier. Even this moment is fun for us right here right now, so I lobby you. And then someone else gives you a solution, so you hear how each other thinks and then you, when we’re done, you pick the best solution that’s two points, and most creative or humorous that’s one point. Every solution in the game is a real solution, but in some context, some solutions can be funny, so we try to keep it light-hearted and point for humor and creativity.
Evan: What a cool idea. I do wanna point out that that code “Training Unleashed 33” is a limited time code. You may be listening to this, but it’s good through the end…I got Scott to extend it because I know some people listen late. So, it’s good until the end of 2019, but that doesn’t…we know, we all know as a fact that if you don’t do something now, even though you plan on doing it, your likelihood of doing it later diminishes greatly with every moment that goes by.
Scott: Yes. And that’s actually, if I may, Evan, that’s a good segue back to how do you get to change out of people, right? Science says we are more likely follow through if we say when and where we’re gonna do something. So, in my workshops, I try to get people not only to make an action plan but say specifically when and where they’re gonna do it. So, thank you for that reminder.
Evan: Yeah, that’s a good point because when I do workshops, I always have action items and [inaudible 00:31:35] item forms. So, they put the item, and then they put, you know, what are the things they need to do to accomplish it? Who are the people they need to help them do it with? What time do they think they need to do it? They rank importance. They rank the amount of difficulty. And it’s one-page forms, but they leave and I always say to people, “Look, I just want you to pick six things to do, three super easy, it can be done within half an hour, two mediumly difficult things that maybe take you not a whole week, but over a week to do, and then just pick one thing that maybe taking a month to do, not [inaudible 00:32:09] the whole month”.
And they leave, we’re in. And I know that that greatly increases the productivity that people get out of the program. We are definitely, if not out of time, over time. This has been fantastic, but I have to ask the last question, which I always ask is if you had one tip for a trainer, what would that one tip be?
Scott: I will practice what I preach. End strong. Because of the peak-end rule, the end of your workshop, the end of your program, the end of this podcast is the most important moment. So, I wanna end strong by reminding everyone out there, end strong. Repeat your most important information because it’s most likely to last.
Evan: And on that note, it’d be great, after we’re done, for you to go and find someone and share what you just learned on this podcast, or maybe share this podcast with a few friends. That’d be even cooler. Anyhow, thanks everyone for listening and, Scott, this has been fantastic. I’ve learned a lot, and really appreciate you being on the show.
Scott: It’s been my pleasure, Evan. Thanks so much for having me, and thanks everyone for listening.
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