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Become an IDOL 83: Hack Your Brain with Matt Gjertsen

#become an idol podcast #becomeaninstructionaldesigner #behaviorchange #corporatetrainer #instructionaldesign #learninganddevelopment Jun 30, 2023

Guest: Matt Gjertsen

Unleash the power of your brain for training transformation with Matt Gjersten! Join me as I chat with the visionary founder of Better Everyday Studios, an instructional design consulting company. Get ready to be inspired as we delve into how Matt empowers learning teams to create a monumental impact. Don't miss out! Tune in now and discover the ultimate brain hacks for mastering behavior change in your training.

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Enjoy the Episode Transcript below:   

Robin Sargent  I have here with me today, Matt Gjertsen, and he is the founder and owner of Better Every Day Studios. And today we are going to talk about how to hack your brain to create behavior change in your training. And of course, Matt will explain more what that means. But first, Matt, will you please do a better job of introducing yourself?

Matt Gjertsen  Yes, absolutely. So my name is Matt Gjertsen, I'm the founder of like you said Better Every Day Studios, which is an instructional design consulting company that is focused on helping small learning teams at medium sized companies have a big impact. So what we do is we basically come in and use the process, that's exactly what you mentioned, of we think about springing from a very behavioral point of view and use that to design more impactful courses. This kind of comes from my background, I was an instructor pilot in the Air Force for a long time. So that's how I started training people. So it was literally teaching people how to not like fly into the ground. So it was very behavioral based, and left the Air Force because I really wanted to work at SpaceX. So that's what got me and then I had no idea that learning development existed, right. I didn't know that was a field that you could get into. But through networking, I found somebody at SpaceX who said they were looking for help with training, can you do that? And I said, Sure, I can do training. I was an instructor pilot, and I'm sure I can figure that out. And that was kind of how the door opened into what I call the Learning and Development rabbit hole. And I just kind of fell down it and have been loving it ever since. So I worked at SpaceX for several years then worked at another startup helped them scale a learning team and then found a better video studios when I went on my own.

Robin Sargent  So were you actually a pilot? Did I miss that?

Matt Gjertsen  Yes, yeah, I was a pilot. So you start you always start off as a pilot in the military. And then kind of as you work your way up instructor is just one of the rungs on the ladder as you as you become more proficient.

Robin Sargent  Were you in which branch of the military were you in?

Matt Gjertsen  I was in the Air Force.

Robin Sargent  Oh you were in the Air Force. Okay, I actually come from an Air Force family. So yeah, what did you fly? I know, right?

Matt Gjertsen  Yeah, I started off in the in the T-1, which is a trainer. So after pilot training, I was what they call I got faked. Which stands for first assignment instructor pilot. So right after I finished pilot training, I came back as an instructor. So I taught other people how to fly the T-1 for three years. And then I transitioned over into the KC-10 for my major weapon system, which is a giant refueling plane. So had a lot of fun, weighs over half a million pounds when you when you take off. And the neat thing about the KC-10, is that you can both you refuel other planes, and you can also be refueled yourself. So when it comes to instructing others, you know, sometimes I think, especially if you're a facilitator or a coach, there's a lot of nerves that can come into play, when you're trying to train somebody how to do something for the first time. And I can tell you, I never have that problem today. Because, you know, as an instructor pilot in the KC-10, there were a couple of times where I was the instructor for a student when they made their first contact with another plane, right? So like, they're flying this half a million pound plane, there's another half a million pound plane in front of you, you're all flying through the air at 500 miles per hour, and you touch. And so that's nerve racking, being the instructor in that situation where you're just kind of like, I hope you know what you're doing. I hope I taught you well.

Robin Sargent  Yeah, I mean, then it becomes very serious as far as like whether your instruction landed or not, right?

Matt Gjertsen  Yes, yes, it's very, you get very good and immediate feedback. There is no, you know, in the instructional design world, it's all about how are we judging the value of our content and the impact of our content? There's no problem with that in in flying,

Robin Sargent  Which also kind of led you to what you're passionate about today, which is creating behavior change through training by using some of those things that we know about, I'm guessing neuroscience.

Matt Gjertsen  Yeah.

Robin Sargent  And about our brain. And so do you want to just unpack that a little bit about like, I mean, what got you interested in it? And what are some of the things that you've learned along the way?

Matt Gjertsen  Yeah, so I got into it really through my own insecurities. Right? When I went to SpaceX. I mean, it was SpaceX like this was a company that I had been looking up to for years. When I joined it was probably still at a time where a lot of people unless you were a space nerd, hadn't heard of them. They hadn't landed a rocket yet. They're still getting into their own cadence. But I was terrified. You know, there's all these like really smart people there. So major impostor syndrome. And so I did a lot of work on self improvement reading, Tim Ferriss and I went to a Tony Robbins seminar, walked across hot coals did the whole thing. And that world of personal improvement, at least the part of the world that I saw, was very focused on the brain, right? It is very focused on how do you develop new habits? How do you create new emotional triggers in your life? And so it was, it was very specific of you are trying to rewire your brain so that you think and behave differently. And while I'm going through that, personally, professionally, I'm becoming a learning development professional. And I'm teaching people I'm making environmental health and safety courses, or I'm making leadership courses. And when both of those things are in your life at the same time, you can't help but kind of like, just want to connect the two of them. Because, and again, you know, there's different ways that people come into learning and development. But because of the pathway that I came into learning development, it was much more from the point of view of like a subject matter expert, or like a technical trainer, I would say. And so I always saw it as actions and behaviors instead of knowledge, which I think is where a lot of courses, especially when you think about compliance courses, they're all knowledge focused. And I'll never forget some of the first environmental health and safety courses that I helped to remake when I was at SpaceX, where you're going through these things. And I'm sure many listeners have have seen these kinds of courses, where it's a course on slips, trips, and falls, right? Super basic, just how do you keep people safe in a, you know, industrial environment? And you're clicking through slides that are telling you inside, when you have a walkway that's more than four feet off the ground, it has to have a railing that's at least 36 inches high. And if it's more than 36 inches higher than it has to have a kickplate, that's four inches high. And I'm just kind of thinking like that. That's all neat. But what does that have to do with what anybody is going to need in the workplace like it to actually stay safe? And so how do we how do we deconstruct all this? And so that's how I started thinking about design is like by, just sitting people down and saying, what behavior are you trying to change? Right? And starting there. And so with all that behavior stuff, then obviously as I'm trying to figure out how to merge these two worlds, of this personal development where you're rewriting rewiring your brain and learning and development. How do you bring those two things together so that you can actually impact people? So I had to spend a lot of time reading about the brain. One of the best books I ever read, is How Emotions Are Made by Lisa Feldman Barrett, highly recommend it. Especially the first half, it just really gets into kind of what your brain is doing, and what things in the environment are cueing different emotional responses inside of you. And so after reading all this, I came down to this idea that if you want to change behavior, the things that you need to do based on how the brain changes. Because we're literally talking about rewiring the brain, the three things that you have to do are you have to get specific, you have to build connections, and then you have to create context. So those three things get specific, build connections, create context. And then that's kind of like the three pillars of what it means to hack the brain for behavior change, where when you're getting specific. Getting specific means building the specific mental model that you want people to use in order to behave a certain way. So there's no ambiguity, you just talk about that one thing, rather than, you know, the example that I always used is rather than a course on leadership development, right? Like that, what are you teaching people? Slightly better than that would be we're gonna have a course on giving feedback. But even giving feedback is still really broad. And so we're going to have a course on giving feedback using the SBI's model, the situation behavior impact model of giving feedback, right? So you just get super specific. Or another example would say, DENI we want to train people how to be, we want to train people about unconscious bias. I don't. Again, I don't know what that means. I don't know how to train people to not be unconsciously bias, but I do know how to train a manager how to read resumes. Focusing on the actual, and like comparing the actual actions and outcomes that people have had in their past jobs. Versus where they went to school or what their name is, right? So it's again, it's like starting to get really specific. So the more specific you can get, the better I'll stop there before I move on because I know I've been talking for a long time.

Robin Sargent  Oh gosh, don't stop now. We love a three part list. So like number one get specific, narrow it down to the actual behavior that you want to change. Which is kind of what this whole thing is about. And you're right, I mean, how many times do you see leadership development or these broad topics? And even breaking them down further? Okay, and so the next one, is it connection?

Matt Gjertsen  Yeah, it's creating connection. And this is referring to the fact that like, you're literally creating neural connections, right?

Those are really the two ways you form stronger connections in the brain. And so repetition is pretty simple. Even using the old technique of training delivery of tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them, right? Like that's repetition. Like, that's why you do that, or spaced repetition with training where you have like a drip campaign. Where you follow up once a week and ask questions again, and again. Or you do, this is something that we do with a lot of our clients right now, I never think of like eLearning and live training as an either or. I think they're very much well used together. And so you have a pre learning course, that's just like five minutes long that preps them with the terms and the basic knowledge that they're going to need. Then they go in and do the live training, and actually put that knowledge to use. And then a week later, they have kind of like a review course that comes it's again, it's just like 10 minutes. So that's that repetition piece, and that's really common. But emotion is another really impactful one. And obviously, since I started in Tony Robbins like that is emotion personified. Like, that's kind of what he is. And the idea is that you can use things like this is why gamification works, right? If you create competition inside of a space, it just gets people more excited. And it lays down those neural pathways a little bit stronger. So after you figure out exactly what you want people to learn, you know, what's the behavior you want them to do? And then getting specific. That getting connection is asking the question, how can I use either emotion or repetition to really reinforce this behavior? Whether it's in this one learning environment, or ideally over a longer span of time. So that we can really drive change.

Robin Sargent  Yeah. Do you also think about in connection? The thing I thought I had to Matt was about connecting to prior learning too, right? Like things that they are already familiar with? Is that part of it?

Matt Gjertsen  Well, that's actually what I think of as the third step of contexts.

Robin Sargent  Oh. Okay.

Matt Gjertsen  Yeah, so that's an excellent segue. That's perfect. Where context is all about cueing people to remember this new behavior, right? Because I think we've all seen the situations where you send somebody off, you send a group of managers off to like a hotel conference room, and they spend a day learning about feedback, or leadership, or whatever it is. And then they come back to the factory floor, and you're like, why can't they do any of that stuff? And it's because our brains are designed to remember things contextually, like there's tons of information locked up in our brain. And it'd be impossible for us to just instantly be able to access any of it. Our brain is making predictions about what kind of information we will need, based on what it sees around us. And so that means you need to build in whether it's past learnings, or the current situation of the room of the company of things that are going on. I think, you know, a perfect example of this is something as simple as like say, with a course on goal setting. Like, does your company use goals? Or KPIs? Or do you talk about ROI? Do you have smart goals? You know, even the terms that you use, and the examples that you use in a training need to be specific to the company so that the person's brain connects them. Like I think with all of this, the analogy that I love that I think is a really great analogy for the brain is, you know, a wagon going down the road, right? And most people have probably kind of like heard of this before in relation to the brain, where learning is like digging deep ruts in the road as the wagon goes down it, right? So when the first thing that you're doing is identifying the clearest and simplest route towards the destination that you want to have. And that's the first time the wagon kind of goes down the road. And that's great, then you do it a whole bunch of times. You use that repetition to build in a lot of connections so that you have very deep ruts in the road, because the first time you know the roads kind of slippery, and the wagon is going all around. So the driver has to really pay attention to make sure they get to their destination. And your goal is to make it as unconscious as possible. So you want to build those deep ruts so that the wagon just goes in that direction without any problem and the driver doesn't really have to pay attention as much. And so now you've got this really great well traveled road, but it's not yet connected to any other roads, right? Because all the other behaviors that people have are all these well worn paths. And so what you need to do is connect this new road back to the old road so that it's easy for people to turn onto. It doesn't involve this big, oh yeah, we're supposed to do this other thing, right? This new way of doing things. And so those are kind of the three steps is like, first you get as specific as possible. And then you build those strong connections so that it can be done unconsciously. And then you build in context, so that the environment is what cues the person to do that new behavior. And it doesn't seem like this whole big change to them.

Robin Sargent  And did you just repeat what you just said? So that we can remember.

Matt Gjertsen  Yeah. A little bit, a little bit, yeah.

Robin Sargent  Also, about the thought I had too Matt when you're talking about making the context and behavior change. It made me remember, James Clears book Atomic Habits.

Robin Sargent  When he talks about connecting one habit to another habit, just like you got to connect your wagon rails to another rails. Like, if you're gonna make that change. Well like when you have your coffee, then you do XYZ. And so some kind of things. And also, like, it's very interesting what you said about how they're in this training room. And if none of it is connected to the context of what they actually have to do on the job. I mean, I know that if I leave my office, and I have to go get something out of my closet. By the time I get to my closet, I forgot what I went into my office for. The same reasons. And so.

Matt Gjertsen  That's exactly right. And it all makes sense, this all comes back. So the brain is designed to be lazy, right? Like, our whole body is designed to be lazy. And so the brain is designed to help you make decisions as fast as possible, using as little energy as possible. And there's a great TED Talk by Anil Seth. That's about how your brain hallucinates reality. And so this, I found really interesting. This came out of the How Emotions Are Made book where I learned that if you look at the connections to your visual cortex. Like, you would assume that your visual cortex is processing, like the photons that are hitting your eye, right? It's building the world around you based on the photons that are hitting your eye. But the connections coming into your visual cortex, only 10% of them are coming from your eyes. 90% of them are coming from the rest of your brain and like memories and things like that. So what you perceive as the world around you, 90% of that is just predicted, and it's only 10. And your brain is using that thin sliver of 10% of information to just kind of make up everything else. And so it's always predicting what you are going to need. And so that's why going from one context to the other. There's no way your brain is going to remember that that old context, right? It's using the new situation in order to figure out what you're going to need to survive in that situation.

Robin Sargent  I mean, there's even an example of what you're talking about how we just make up 90% of what we see. They even say that whenever Christopher Columbus was landing on the islands, right? They didn't even see the ships because they had no frame of reference, no expectation.

Matt Gjertsen  Yeah, exactly. It's exactly, and many of us have probably had like, micro examples of this too. Where you're driving, and you're like listening to music, and you're thinking about where you're going, and you're going down the road. And then all of a sudden, somebody just like, pops into like a car, a person just pops into the middle of the road. It's like, oh, I didn't even see them, you have to slam on your brakes. And to your brain, they did just suddenly appear like because your brain was filtering them out. Because it didn't think there was a person on the road until that last moment where it was like, this is now relevant for my survival. It like pops it into existence into your conscious reality.

Robin Sargent  So what are some of the ways that you have applied these three principles and just found success? Just give us some more. I mean, now that we've got the three principles, let's hear about some of the ways you put it in action.

Matt Gjertsen  So specificity is always a huge one. And that's just putting a massive filter on every piece of content you create, and just trimming out as much as you possibly can. I'm working on a lot of projects right now where I'm taking, like lunch and learns that companies have and trimming them down into like bite sized videos. And totally honest, like, even I'm kind of amazed how this is being very consistently done. Is that if you have an hour video an hour of just like recorded presentation, you can without a lot of work, trim it down to under 10 minutes, maybe 8 minutes of like the real true kernels of information that people need. And all the rest of it is just kind of like conversation and filler and all that kind of stuff. So you can dramatically pare down the amount of information in any given course If you just always go back to what's the behavior you're trying to change, and what is the absolute minimum amount of information people need in order to drive towards that change. And just get rid of everything else, because it's just distracting people. Right? So that's definitely the first thing that I use a lot. The connections piece, always looking for fun ways to build in some kind of competition or evoke some emotion. Now that you've shortened things a lot, it's a lot easier to like, have a lot of repetition now, because you're not covering as much. So always try to do that. And then the context piece is like my whole thesis for content creation, and that, I think it's really important to make custom content. I had the luck of at the two companies I worked at before, I think it was lucky. We didn't have any L&D budget to like, go buy stuff. So we bought nothing. I take that back, we bought one course off the shelf, it was the sexual harassment training. Because that's like a big deal. Every other course I've ever implemented inside an organization was custom made by us. Right? And so that got me used to that. And I don't think, it doesn't have to take as much time as most people think. But yeah, so I think that context piece is where customization really comes into play. Because you really want to make sure that it is as relevant and specific to the individuals taking the course as you possibly can.

Robin Sargent  I mean, just after having this conversation. It actually seems more important than it ever did before for me, for this custom content that you're talking about. Because of even just thinking about the different words that companies use.

Robin Sargent  And the triggers for them to do certain things in their applications, in their software. They all have different names. And if they learn it in another way from just like this off the shelf training.

 Matt Gjertsen  Yes.

Robin Sargent It's not gonna, you know, ignite them whenever they get into the job. Just like all these examples that you've already given.

Matt Gjertsen  Yeah, I think I've made off the shelf courses for four organizations, you know, for publishing places. And I see there is a place for it. And there's a need for it. But I will say like big picture, I'm kind of long term bearish on those big course libraries. Because when it comes to the skill economy, and skill, true skill development and the skills that are going to drive business. Yeah, custom. Custom is the only thing that's going to really make a big difference. And yeah, that's where all your students are going to be in higher and higher demand as we go forward.

Robin Sargent  Oh, yeah. And then just everything that you said, Matt has definitely reminded me of my favorite quote by David Merrill. Which is, "Information Is Not Instruction." And I think, in some way, that's a lot of what you're saying, too, right? It's just because you're giving information or knowledge, that is not how you build instruction. And instead, there are three simple things that we can do and think about in our designs that can hack the brain. So what is your best and final advice, for those that want to become an idol?

Matt Gjertsen  If you want to become an idol, the biggest thing I would say, is to focus on you know. I think a lot of times in instructional design, we focus a lot of time on what I would call like the design side of instructional design, right? Of how to make things we think of the look and feel of it a lot more. And I think of everything on the first half of it as on the instructional side, the true like spend time in your life, taking any skill, any action, anything, and just try to make an outline of how you would explain it to someone. Right? There's a great YouTube video of a dad and a son a five year old kid or something where he had the kid write instructions for how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Robin Sargent  Yeah.

Matt Gjertsen  And there's steps where he's like, the kids, like the early instructions, say, take the peanut butter and rub it on the piece of bread. And so the dad takes the peanut butter jar and like rubs it on top of the piece of bread, right? Because that's what it said. Right? And so I think all the other stuff is really important. Like learning the tools, learning the design, making it look good, having good audio, video quality. All of that stuff is really important. But I think it's really important and can help you a lot if you just spend a little bit of time taking random things and try to write an outline of how would I describe how would I teach this to someone? Because that I think is the true concrete skill of our profession, of being able to look. Because we get brought into really random situations. Right? It's is always some new situation, it's a new tool, it's a new company. And the way to be more valuable is the speed at which you can look at a situation and deconstruct it into like those those basic steps. And so I think there's a lot of ways you can simply do that in your everyday life.

Robin Sargent  I have just so enjoyed this Matt, I just really enjoyed just these very simple three principles that are just so powerful for how we can create behavior change in our instruction. And so Matt, where can people find you and follow you and learn more about you and what you do?

Matt Gjertsen  Absolutely. LinkedIn is where I'm always at. I'm on LinkedIn, quite a bit. Pretty easy to find there. So definitely check me out. I'd love to connect with anybody. And then is our website.

Robin Sargent  And you have your own podcast, too, right?

Matt Gjertsen  Yes. Yes, we have the Making Better podcast, I post about it a lot. I post about everything on LinkedIn. So I always say follow me on LinkedIn, and you'll find out everything else. But yeah, we have a Making Better podcast that is focused specifically on smaller companies on smaller learning teams and kind of getting into the nitty gritty of their lives. And then if you want access to the podcast early, you can subscribe to the Making Better newsletter, where you get access to the podcast early, and then we dive a little bit deeper into whatever subject we talked about.

Robin Sargent  Fantastic. Thanks again, Matt. I really appreciate your time.

Matt Gjertsen  Absolutely. Thank you so much. This was amazing.


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