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Transcript of Lia DiBello on the Mental Model of Business Expertise

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This is the full transcript of Commonplace Expertise #1: Lia DiBello on the Mental Model of Business Expertise. It was produced with the help of Guan Jie Fung.

Cedric Chin: Welcome to Commonplace Expertise. I'm here with Dr. Lia DiBello. Dr. Lia DiBello is the CEO, President, and Director of Research of WTRI, which stands for Workplace Technology Research Inc. She is a cognitive scientist as well as a businessperson. In the late 2000s, Dr. DiBello discovered in an NSF funded study that all great businesspeople share a common mental model of business. And that mental model can be used for all sorts of interesting things, including the assessment of business expertise, which she did. She was the principal inventor of something called the "future view profiler."

In more recent years, Dr. DiBello is more well-known for her work on accelerated expertise. She published a book with a few other researchers in 2016 with that very title. She and her team have created something they call the strategic rehearsal. And this actually stemmed from some work she did during her PhD, where it was called the OpSim. What the strategic rehearsal allows WTRI to do is to accelerate the acquisition of expertise, particularly business expertise in the businesses that they consult for.

And her training interventions have been used in industries as diverse as biotech, pharma, manufacturing, financial services, mining, and others. I hope to talk about many of these ideas during this podcast, if we have the time, but first let's welcome Dr. Lia DiBello to the podcast. Lia, it's so good to have you.

Lia DiBello: Thank you.

Lia's Story

Cedric Chin: I think a good place to start is to start with your story. Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you come to do what you do?

Lia DiBello: Well I think I've actually always done what I do. I mean, I've never really had another kind of job. And I think I've always been pretty obsessed with cognition and cognitive reorganization. And how people construct meaning, and particularly with expertise. I think that the reason that I study expertise in business is because I come from a business family of a fourth generation entrepreneur. So I understand business pretty well.

And, I also believe that business is a really good place to look at cognition and action. It's what makes the world work. It's people solving complex problems. And then particularly in the 1980s and 90s, with the influx of complex technology, it really challenged our notions of mental models.

It used to be believed that people would develop to a certain point. After they graduated from school, they would get to a certain point mentally, you know, they mature. And they become professional or expert in a particular field. And then it was kind of downhill from there.

We learned when enterprise technology entered the workplace that people actually had to reinvent their mental models at least 12 times before they retired. And now I think it's even more than that. I think that it's really pushed the limits of cognitive agility. Maybe highlighted that cognitive agility is the new basic skill and showed us that human beings actually never stop changing and learning. And then there was some recent research in the late 90s that even our brains— it was assumed that our brains lose cells at a certain point in our teens, and basically shrink from there, that we now know that's not true.

If you continue to learn and do complex tasks, you keep those cells and you renew. You actually grow new neurons all your life. So the adaptability, the flexibility, the neuro profile has changed quite a bit. It's very interesting and it shows up probably more in business than anywhere else. So it's fun to look at.

The other reason I like to look at business is because you can tell whether you're successful or not. No, I'm serious. When you do research on 18 undergraduates, that happened to be in your class, you don't really know if the experiment worked. But if you double the stock price and market cap of a multi-billion dollar company, it's kind of hard to say that that would have happened by chance. And when you do it 53 times, it's pretty clear that it wouldn't happen by chance. So it's a good way to test and validate your science.

The Triad Mental Model of Business

Cedric Chin: So this is a good segue into the mental model that you extracted. As far as I can tell — and I've dug into quite a bit of your work — you've never told the story behind the study of how you extracted the mental model. This was what, 2008, 2009? It was a four year NSF funded study. Could you say a bit about the story about how, you know, what was that like? How did you do it?

Lia DiBello: Well, when you work with a lot of companies you start to realize that there there's a lot of similarity and that business, sort of like chess or any other system, is a closed system. And that, the reason that people can become experts in any system is because it's a closed system of rules, even though it's very complicated.

Like for example, chess masters. They can be extremely different from each other, but they all recognize each other and they all play on the same board with the same pieces. Business experts, we realized when we did a study for IBM on what made their superstars superstars — a lot of that is confidential, but the scientific findings are not — which is that regardless of what industry they worked in — because these were IBM business consultants that worked in all the industries that IBM serves —what they had in common was that they understood the businesses that they were serving. And they all were very similar to each other, even though they worked in different industries.

So then we started looking at our other customers who were very high performers, leaders in business. And we started basically sorting them, like who are the one-trick ponies? Who got lucky basically. And who are the ones that even in the down markets, like the Dot-com bubble and the various crashes, like in 2008, who rebounded or saw what was coming and were immune to it in the way that they ran their business. What do they all have in common? And we knew from other work we've done with businesses that businesses in general only have about three or four, what we call organizing forces. And that people who are talented in a particular business are very good at managing the three or four organizing forces.

Now that's lower down. And you know, it could be an artifact of us. You know, human beings can only manage so much in their working memory. Business may have evolved to be only so complex, where it can only be managed by three or four organizing forces with a lot of detail attached to each of the forces. But we kind of simplify it into principles.

At the very highest level, we realized that world leaders in business simplify it along that triangle. Each leg of the stool can be very complicated. But they always look at all three of those legs. What's the capital market doing? What's the market doing, which is basically demand. And what's the supply environment like?

So let's take an example. Sometimes after a particularly dramatic economic event, the price of capital changes and access to capital changes. Well, this creates very different opportunities in the supply side. And a very talented world leader in business will see that right away and start changing the strategy for the business, sometimes to take advantage of this.

The market, when goods are scarce, people who still have money will pay almost anything. So they understand not just the three legs separately, but how they affect each other dynamically. And they also understand it in the way that it can play out globally, like when there's government issues.

So when there are upheavals or when countries emerge as wanting to play on the big stage, capital can get very available, for example. And talented business leaders will take advantage of that to grow their businesses. So they're always playing all three legs and a one-trick pony tends to be somebody who's good at one of them, usually good at sales. And we have a little joke around the office that they sell everything for more than it costs to make it. And they make it up in volume or something like that. I mean, sometimes they sell everything short. I mean, it's funny what people do and they think it makes sense and they don't understand why they're growing broke at the speed of light the more they sell. But they're really good at sales. So they do that and they have no idea what it's doing to their operation.

Transfer of the Triad Between Business Domains

Cedric Chin: Oh, interesting. Have you ever seen examples of transfer? So if good businesspeople understand all three legs of the stool of the triad — and how that triad is expressed is very different depending on the industry — have you ever seen in your work with so many businesses, examples of transfer where maybe they're a conglomerate and they had a start in some subsidiary and then they move into a different, but adjacent industry. Is it easier for them to become masters or...

Lia DiBello: It depends. I think that the most transferable skill is capital. People who are very good at capital, understanding how capital markets work, and availability of cash. That's pretty transferable.

But I would say the hardest leg is supply, or the operations part. And most really talented guys or women have a very talented operations person as a partner, because that can be hard. For a multinational company, it can vary a lot depending on which country you're getting your labour and goods from.

Cedric Chin: Oh, this makes a ton of sense. There's this book called The Outsiders by William Thorndike and he basically profiles CEOs who are very good capital allocators.

So capital, like of the triad. But every single one of them had good operators on the side. Like a very strong second in command, so they could focus on capital allocation and somebody else will keep the clock. You know, the wheels turning.

Lia DiBello: Right. Exactly.

Cedric Chin: So you've mentioned in the past that in your chapter in the Oxford Handbook, which is actually how I found you. I saw in the table of contents, I was like, oh, expertise in business. And then I turn to that chapter.

Lia DiBello: Very nice of you to read it.

Cedric Chin: It was like in the middle of expertise in STEM, expertise in transportation, and cyber security and it was like, oh, expertise in business. And then I opened the chapter and I think my jaw fell open as I was reading the chapter. For anyone who's listening to this if you can get your hands on the Oxford Handbook of Expertise and it's a very expensive, very heavy book.

Lia DiBello: It's a doorstop.

Cedric Chin: Yeah I have it behind me. Lia's chapter is pretty much like a summation of everything she's found in her career. And in that chapter, you mentioned that business expertise in an executive team is a form of distributed cognition.

So I'm curious, have you seen instances where no one person in the management team is an expert at all three legs of the stool, but the company still does well anyway.

Lia DiBello: Yep, right, yes. In fact, usually that's the case. One of the good things about the profile or the instrument that we developed is that it collects data on the individuals and the teams. So you can put all the data together and develop the heat maps, and then you can map out how blind spots are distributed among the teams. And then you can change the roles around.

We had a case with a biotech company where the only person that understood the real problem was in the wrong job. And when we presented that data to them, they saw it instantly that the reason that they were selling everything at a discount and making more and more of it and losing money on every sale, is because the only one who had the acumen to see that was in the wrong job.

And he literally wouldn't have had the visibility into that problem. So we basically gave him different information and yet some of the other executives had the relationships with the customers that were needed. You know, the customers trusted them, et cetera. So you need that as well. But you need needed somebody counting the beans back home to see that you could actually afford to make these deals. So we reshuffled the deck there too.

And then another customer in Europe was very similar. We had a CEO that was extremely brilliant, who saw everything coming with the subprime mortgage crisis. Tried to warn the company. Nobody listened to him.

And the rest of his executive team had the same blind spot. It was kind of creepy actually. They all had the wrong theory of what was going to happen and their profile results were almost all identical. And they worked with an executive coach again to reshuffle the deck and put people in different jobs and have different accountabilities. In Europe, a lot of the older, more established companies, the aristocratic connections and the family connections are very important. So those needed to be preserved. But the business acumen, particularly with the capital leg of the stool was not there. So they had to be moved into things like the market side where they could have that role.

The FutureView Profiler Explained

Cedric Chin: Right. So before we get too in the weeds of this, I think it might be useful for listeners if you explain the Profiler.

Lia DiBello: Oh, okay. So the Profiler is actually sort of deceptively simple. What you do is, instead of asking people, are you smart? Do you know what you're doing? I mean, even I couldn't answer that question. And I'm supposed to know. I guess what I've learned over the years is, we don't really know ourselves and we didn't evolve to have self-knowledge. That's probably what keeps us going every day. So we do not have self-knowledge and we cannot count on that.

So what we do is we give people a sort of online — it's kind of like a Harvard case study, but not really — we give them an online business case that they have to log into, but they don't read it, they do it.

So we say, "okay, you're the CEO. Read all the material that a CEO would normally read." And we figured out what that would be. Very small select set of material. The letter from the chairman, some financial information, all publicly available. We sanitize it so they don't know what company it is.

And we give them five years of a company's history. And it's always a company that's gone through a kind of a speed bump in the road and recovered. And we have a sort of proprietary method of picking the case and then we sanitize it. So the guilty are preserved or hidden, and we change the pictures, but we make it look like a real annual report and a real financial report.

And we say, "read year one and answer these questions about it. What do you think is going to happen? Tell us what you think the stock price is going to be. In terms of their plans for the new products, are they going to succeed? Or do you see a problem?" You know, just predict what's going to happen.

We find that people with high expertise in the triangle always know what the stock price is going to be. Or if it's going to go up or down and by what percentage. And if the plans of the senior leadership for new products or new capital projects are going to fizzle out or are going to have legs. And other things. And they use all kinds of clues like profits per employee and all kinds of things in the financials.

Then we ask them to say, "okay, in the dataset we gave you, click on the things that gave you a hint as to what's going to happen." So they click on the bits of information that told them why they said that and we score each bit of information as to what category of, or classification of information it is on the triad. Does it inform you about the market, the supply side, or the capital strategy for the capital environment? And what we find is that people who don't do well in these predictions tend to have a blind spot in one or two of the legs persistently. And that's what the heat map is.

We do a heat map at the end and then we have them score their confidence. And typically people who are — when there's a lot of information missing or there's a lot of spin in the annual report and people confidently predict something — they tend to like buy the story, they tend to be more at the novice end. A person who's more expert will miss what's missing.

And even though they may make a more accurate prediction, they will be less confident because they sense that the quality of the information being provided is not good.

How She Gets Her Clients to Accept Profiler Recommendations

Cedric Chin: I guess to sort of follow up on that, since now people understand what the Profiler is. One of the things that leapt out at me, like there were many amazing stories, like the two stories you just told, but also others in your publications where you come in and you give the profiler and then the company actually adopts the recommendations.

Which is, I've done a bit of consulting, that's really hard! How do you do it?

Lia DiBello: You know, it depends on who you ask. One of our principals, Dr. David Lehmann said, "we just wait until they've tried everything else and they're desperate." I don't actually think we do that. I think he has a very significant reputation in business himself. He's been a senior leader for GE and Caterpillar and Sunoco.

I think we have worked with a lot of companies and word gets around. I think that we don't take any job that comes our way. People will come to us and say, I need you to fix this. And we say, well, let's look at it. And we'll see what we think. And we look at the situation and usually we do our process of looking at the whole situation. And we usually find two things.

Number one, the problem is usually in a different place than they think. And usually the upside potential is greater than they think. Because we do a market facing analysis of their position among their competitors. And then we have a tool where we can move the constraint and show them where they could be if the constraint were removed. And then we say, "you know, we think that this is really the problem."

So I'm trying to think of an example that's not too controversial. Cause we have walked away from some and we were right. So that's why I won't bring it up.

Sometimes for example, like we worked with a drug company and they believed that they needed more drugs in their pipeline. And we looked at it and we said, you know, actually you have a lot of leads in your pipeline, but your bench chemistry is very inefficient. And you're thinking about laying off chemists. We don't think you should do that. We think you should automate some of the bench chemistry. You know, this was the precursor to deep learning AI and eliminating all the leads that were duds and taking those same chemists and having them work on the leads further down the line when you've kind of gotten all the bad ones worked out. And automating some of the early bench chemistry, and then you can get to cut to the chase quicker. And that did solve the problem.

Cedric Chin: Did you have to do a strategic rehearsal for that or was it just like a recommendation?

Lia DiBello: Well that was a recommendation. And then we did a strategic rehearsal because the bench chemist had to get used to the idea that they had to let go a little bit. Be more at the end and not so much in the very beginning. You know, spend their whole career on one molecule, that kind of stuff.

Another time we worked with the Midwest Foundry. They believed that their problem was China or you know, all of Asia with the small whatevers, the small castings. And we said, there's a couple things that are never done overseas. Why not get really good at that? The multi-ton castings.

You guys are third-generation foundrymen.You do this in your dreams. You understand molten metal like no one else. And you could probably do it as a fine art, and nobody is gonna do a casting the size of a small house overseas and ship it on a boat. I mean, you know, the customer will pay a premium to have it done two miles away and they need it next week and you guys can do that.

So now they have a specialty business doing that and their scrap rate defies the laws of physics. It's so small and we're like, we don't even know how they do it, but that was definitely a strategic rehearsal to get them to think that way.

The Midwest Foundry Story

Cedric Chin: Yeah. So I wanted to ask this later on in the conversation, but since we're here, I think it might be really cool for you to tell the story. It turns out that I actually came across this story without knowing that it was you in Gary Klein's Power of Intuition. And then I saw it again in the chapter in business expertise in the Oxford Handbook and it is a remarkable story. And I would love to have you retell it here.

Lia DiBello: Okay, well it's a very interesting story. I thought it was going to be my Waterloo honestly. It was really quite a situation. We went to this foundry and these people were making these castings and the place was, I mean, there was little fires on the floor to keep people warm.

The place was incredibly heavily in debt. And the owner was being very financially irresponsible. He was doing some bad things with debt. He was taking out personal loans and using them to run the business. And he had been very successful in making small castings for years.

And he had, I guess, a few foundries. And we knew him. He was a personal acquaintance and he really wanted help with this whole thing. And he had way too much overhead in a fancy office down the road, et cetera.

And we went in there and we went to the shop floor. And we saw all these people making as many castings a day as they could using the patterns that they had with no idea as to whether or not there were orders for them. And then they would put them all in a big, hot pile and you couldn't tell what was in them. Cause they're all covered with sand. And then they're all trucked and cleaned up at another facility.

And when they're trucked to the other facility, the other facility has no idea what they're getting and if it's needed for any orders that they need to ship. So I thought, wow, these people are worried about losing their jobs, so they're trying to look as busy as possible. So then we started asking them, "how do you know what to work on? Do you have an ERP system?"

They had never seen a graph before. They'd never used the ERP system to print labels, to ship things. They didn't know anything about how it does planning or anything. And they had a room full of people answering the phone with customers who were yelling at them, "where's my order?" And that was all their whole job.

And they had a lot of overtime to try to catch up all weekend. And I thought, what do they need the overtime for? They have a huge pile of stuff. If they just made what they needed to, they wouldn't need the overtime and they didn't have any money to pay for this stuff. And things got really bad when the internet provider and the supplier stopped delivering. So we'd have to drive a check to them. So they turn it on for another day and it was bad.

So I said, "let's make a strategic rehearsal so that we can figure out how to do this." So the first thing we did is we made a card sort where we had on each card, a representation of every function and every operation in the entire foundry's system, all the buildings. And we said, "arrange these the way the Foundry runs now." And it was a big mess. There was cards on the table, on the floor, over, across the room, et cetera. And then I said, "okay, now arrange the cards the way it should be." And they actually did a very good job. So I thought, okay, there's hope here. So I said, "okay, we're going to do a strategic rehearsal."

We're going to gamify this. And we're going to run the factory — both, all the buildings. We're going to get everybody here and we're going to do it in miniature the way it ought to be done. And you have one non-negotiable goal, two non-negotiable goals.

One is that you're going to use the ERP system to know when things are due and nothing gets made, unless it has an order. And how you're going to know is the ERP system. You're going to use that to generate the routers, to pull the product through the process.

And the second thing is that you're not going to make anything that you can't sell and it has to be on time. And if it's not on time, the customer gets it for free, but the customer gets it, end of story.

Yeah, it was pretty wild. And then we used a 3D printer to make replicas of all the patterns. And we used a polymer sand that they could use to make the moulds. And the polymer sand we made it so that it starts to fall apart after an hour. So they had to be on time cause it would start to crumble and they cheated.

They snuck water in cause there's a binder for the polymer sand. So we had to dye the water green so that we know whether or not they were cheating and it was quite an exercise.

We set it all up and the first day was a disaster, of course. And they replicated all the problems that they were having and they sat down and looked at it. And the two guys from one building and the other building started pointing fingers at each other.

I said, "no, we're not going to do that. We're going to figure out why this happened." You know, nobody dies in a strategic rehearsal. We figure it out. These are toys, right?

So the guy said, "well, by the time you got me my stuff to clean up and ship, it was already too late." And he said, "but I made it, you know," blah, blah, blah. He said, "yeah, but if you started it in this game period, it's already too late. You know, I needed it the following game period. You starting it in that game period, it's already too late. I need lead time basically." And he said, "you know, I never thought of that."

So the next day they came in and they rearranged everything and they set it all up and they did an amazing job. And then I said, "okay, now we're going to do this in real life." And we're going to start with— there's no truck that takes all the stuff that you guys made in the one building to the other building. The truck now lives in the end building and they come and get only what they need. So you better only make what they need because they're coming with their customer list and they're going to order it. And they're not taking anything else. You have to live with whatever you made, that nobody wants. All this hot molten stuff, it doesn't go on the truck, okay? So if Lani doesn't need it, it doesn't go. He's going to come shopping. And the truck does not live here anymore. It's not yours. They're like, "oh no."

Cedric Chin: And then what happened?

Lia DiBello: So then they said, "well, we don't know what the real lead times are between the stages in this exercise." I said, "they're all a week." They're all a week. They're a week as of today.

As you start making stuff, you can refine it down, cause it's always less than a week. But for now in the ERP system, in real life, everything's a week. Every stage of the process. And they said, "oh okay." And I said, "we're going to print out a to-be cast report every morning that shows you not only what you're supposed to do, but what everyone is doing. So you have visibility into the entire process, what everybody's doing from beginning to end." And they did it.

Cedric Chin: Insane.

Lia DiBello: Yeah.

Cedric Chin: I sent this story to a friend in manufacturing and he was blown away because you effectively taught them the principles of just-in-time manufacturing, lean manufacturing.

Lia DiBello: Yes. Yes.

Cedric Chin: And you didn't really teach them. You didn't give them a lecture. You didn't give them like, "oh, here's what the theory is." You just placed constraints on them, watched them fail, get them to argue with each other. And then they worked it out for themselves, from first principles.

Lia DiBello: They did.

Cedric Chin: That's insane. It's like, how?

Lia DiBello: Well, and not only that, but they were extraordinary. They had an extraordinary understanding of casting and mould making. So I said, "we're going to take advantage of that."

So when the casting is rejected in the other building, in Lani's building, it comes back here and you're all going to stand around and look at it. Because you need to know, you need to see it. And when they all stood around and looked at it, they said, "oh, we won't do that again. Well, you know, I thought if we put the chills in that place that might happen." I'm like, what are they talking about? And then I realized it doesn't matter. They see something that is not available to us and bringing the casting back, they get the feedback on their decisions, like within a day that they need. And so the loop is closed and that's exactly what needed to happen. So we were able to use the expertise that they had probably developed over a lifetime, you know, at their father's knee, that needed to make the business successful.

So here's my conclusion to this story. We visited them later, and I walked in. They borrowed money so they could buy the factory, this business and they own it. And I walked in and I said to one of the kids so how are things going? And it was like a Thursday. He said, "well, we broke even at three o'clock and from here on out it's profit."

Cedric Chin: Oh my God.

Lia DiBello: I know it's like.

Cedric Chin: It's a kid and he knows exactly the break-even point.

Lia DiBello: Yeah, exactly. And it's like nothing. It's like nothing. He goes, "yeah, and you know, tomorrow we do all the maintenance. We shut down everything and we do all the preventative maintenance. And how are you?"

Cedric Chin: When I was reading that story I was thinking to myself in the late 70s, the 80s, there was this great fear of Japan because of lean manufacturing. And it was a lot of papers written in the business literature and in organization management as well. About how like it's an organizational tacit knowledge. We can't possibly, somehow we can't learn lean manufacturing. Only when Toyota takes over the GM plant did the workers finally learn it.

And here you are, coming in, to like a bunch of people who you say like has never seen a graph in their lives. They're not exactly educated.

Lia DiBello: Yeah. They raised goats at home.

Cedric Chin: And in your engagement, you got them to construct from first principles, lean manufacturing for themselves. And then they did well enough to buy the factory and now they run it. Like, this is insane.

Lia DiBello: Yeah.

Cedric Chin: More people need to know about this.

Lia DiBello: But I think that there's a lesson here. Which is, it's our human DNA to figure this stuff out. And they really had a lot going for them in the fact that they understood their customer and they understood their products. And once they understood ERP, they do ERP for other companies now.

They realized that this was an incredible tool for them to be more efficient. And they also said, they got their scrap rate down below anybody in the industry. The ladies who answered the phone when the customers call, they're gone. There's no customer service department anymore because nobody calls.

And I said, "how did you get your scrap rate down so low?" And this goes to the cognitive agility question. They said, "well, what you taught us is that we were so wrong about everything, what else are we wrong about?" So maybe the scrap rate, which everybody had accepted to be a certain scrap rate — given weather and chance and physics and the way metal reacts — maybe that's not right either.

So we took pictures of every casting we had that we had to scrap, and we realized that there was a pattern to it, just like there's a pattern to everything else. And it was actually that certain customer parts were more likely to be scrapped than others. And that if we told the customers, you got to fix your pattern or we're not going to make your part. Cause it's bringing down our scrap rate or bringing up our scrap rate. We could have a lower scrap rate. We would offer to fix the pattern because we thought we knew what was wrong with it, for a fee.

So they're telling companies like Caterpillar and Goodyear, your pattern is not good enough for us. And here's the evidence. Here's the digital evidence. We've been doing an analysis and these companies pay them to fix their patterns.

Cedric Chin: Oh my goodness.

Cognitive Agility

Cedric Chin: I want to get back to the cognitive science behind why strategic rehearsals work in a bit. But before we go there, you brought up something. You brought up cognitive agility, which is a major part of your work. For those listeners who don't know, Dr.DiBello in her original paper about business expertise said it's basically two things. It's the triad mental model, but it's also this construct called cognitive agility. Could you talk a bit about cognitive agility?

Lia DiBello: Cognitive agility is basically the ability to change your mental model when you know that the world or the situation has changed and to adjust your mental model to accommodate that. Instead of rigidly applying what you've always done.

Now it's not simple to do that. You can't will yourself to be different, but you can say to yourself, the expertise that I'm applying to the situation is not working. So, kind of like what the guys in the foundry did, I need to collect data. I need to query the situation. I need to interrogate my situation to see what an alternative, equally viable theory of the situation might be. And that's cognitive agility. And if you do it often enough. You become an expert at that. So you become faster, better able to query your environment for alternative views of it.

Cedric Chin: So it's not a fixed trait.

Lia DiBello: No. Some of my colleagues and I debate this. I do not believe it's a fixed trait. There's no question that some people are better at it than others. But what I've noticed is that people who are different anyway, like maybe they've had to adapt to a different culture or they're gay or transgender, or they've had to fit into a world that doesn't accept them easily. They tend to be more cognitively agile. I mean, look at some of the people who have been masterminds of major inventions, like Turing or Michelangelo. They weren't normal people in other ways. So they had to be more agile just to adapt. So that would tell me it's acquired because they had to acquire. And what I've noticed is that people can acquire it and do acquire it when they have to.

Cedric Chin: How would you, well, I guess this is a two-part question. How would you know if you're a cognitively agile or cognitively rigid? And what should you do about it? Assuming that you want to get better at this because this is a fairly important skill in business.

Lia DiBello: Well I guess how I would know that somebody is cognitively rigid is that they tend to always take the same job all the time or the same type of job all the time. So that their models are never challenged. And they try to, like if I have an employee who instead of doing the job that's required, he or she will try to change the job into what they could do. And I think a lot of people do that.

A more cognitively agile person will say, "well, this is interesting and kind of fun. I've never done this before, and I don't really have the skillset, but I'd like to have the skillset." And if they feel psychologically safe enough, they will expand their horizons bit. And I think employers have to be willing to enable that.

Cedric Chin: Yeah. I was sort of reflecting on your work and thinking that if you didn't have the ability to create a strategic rehearsal, because the strategic rehearsal in many ways sort of overcomes even cognitively rigid people, right? Because you provoke this state of failure, this disassembly of their mental models, and they lose confidence in it. And then they are willing to learn.

But if you don't have access to a strategic rehearsal, because you've said in the past as well, it's really hard to come up with strategic rehearsals. Then I was like what can you do if I have an employee who is like, sort of cognitively rigid and tries to wave away evidence.

Lia DiBello: Well, I think one of the things I realized that's a constraint of our company is that, I think we are all pretty cognitively agile. And I don't think we were born that way. I think designing strategic rehearsals actually made us that way. Creating and gamifying businesses has made us more cognitively agile. It's like a collateral effect. I think people could do that. I think that if people could role play or gamify situations, even in a minor way, they could increase their own cognitive agility. Just play around with different approaches to the same problem.

Cedric Chin: Yeah. Cognitive agility is an obsession of mine because, like my background is primarily startups, right? Small businesses. And my history is, what I'm good at is, if you throw me in a random Southeast Asian country, and you get me to run an engineering office. I can do that. And I did that.

The last job that I did was in Vietnam and it was like a foreign culture, foreign language. And I think the biggest shock was my realization that there is no rule of law. Like there is no rule of law. Contracts are just a piece of paper. It's the relationships and the understanding that in the business that matters. And that was a huge shock for me. And ever since then I go into a situation going like, okay, what's going on here?

Like, I should not assume anything. And it drives me nuts when I have a subordinate or I'm working with someone in the business and they don't have this. They're always trying to apply or trying to fit the situation into some model. And I'm like, no. Just let go of the model and try to see reality as it is. Cause it would just hinder you. And so when I read your description of cognitive agility, it was like lightning. And I was like, yes! This is the thing that I've been sort of like irked throughout my entire business experience.

Lia DiBello: Right. But you probably became much more agile as a result, right?

Cedric Chin: Probably.

Lia DiBello: What we would do, is we would make a game with our gaming platform that would allow people to do that. Go to Vietnam, run a startup and have everything go wrong and say, "oh by the way, you have to make it work. That's non-negotiable."

How Great Businesspeople Learn in the Real World

Cedric Chin: That's so interesting, like simulations as a way out of this. I want to loop back a little to the business triad. So one way — and we're going to talk about this in a bit — like you accelerate business expertise through strategic rehearsals, but how do these great business superstars get good in the real world? What differentiates them from those who are just one-trick ponies?

Lia DiBello: Probably what you just talked about. They've had a lot of failures and they learned from them and they were drastically disequilibrated by dashed expectation. And they had to learn that it's not always gonna go the way they thought. Those are the funnest people to work with.

Cedric Chin: One thing I've noticed though, is that sometimes people don't learn from trial and error or they learn the wrong lessons.

Lia DiBello: Yeah well, there's that.

Cedric Chin: They overfit. They conclude something that then prevents them from — well the way I put it is, it reduces the set of possible moves in a space. And that's always bothered me, like how do you know if you're drawing the right lessons from your experience? When you're doing these trial and error cycles in the real world.

Lia DiBello: I mean, I could see it with you. You have to have a certain amount of social bravery to get back on the horse. You could have learned from your experience to just never do startups again. And you didn't, you said, this isn't going to stop me from doing this again. I'm good at this. You had this basic resilience and to be fair, I was the same way. Especially in the early days.

I'm not sure that I'm not still the only woman in my field, so I just never let it get in my way. And there's definitely situations or times when — I remember once somebody saying to me, what's it like to be the only woman who does this or whatever. And I remember saying, how would I know I've never been a man. Like what do I have to compare it to? I just do my thing and march forward. And it's not like there's a lot of men doing this.

So I think you just have to say, well, that didn't work and try something else and just have the process confidence to do it. And I think some people don't have that. I think I try with employees and colleagues to create a psychologically safe milieu.

I had an intern yesterday call me and say, "I broke the environment." And this poor woman, "I know you wanted to use this for an event, but I broke it." I said, "well, we'll use the other one." And I said, "but you should probably try to fix it because you could learn a lot from trying to fix it. And we'll just use another one." And she was — I don't know what she thought would happen — but I realized you have to do that. You have to be that kind of a leader. Because you want people to treat you that way. You want that kind of world, I guess. And that's what we all have to do.

How This Has Affected Her Practice as a Businessperson

Cedric Chin: Yeah. This leads into one of the questions that I had going in, which is, you've done all this work on business leaders and business expertise. How has that affected your practice as a businessperson?

Lia DiBello: Well, we actually own four businesses. In fact, I actually also have another business. The applied cognitive sciences labs, which owns all the technologies that our science has resulted in. And we're trying to scale that. So how does this affect our businesses?

Well, I guess it's made me realize that — you know, Gary Klein says I'm the only person he knows that's both an academic and a businessperson. I don't know if that's true or not, because obviously I don't publish enough to be an academic.

Cedric Chin: That was what attracted me to your work actually. I was like, your publication history is quite sparse. Wait a minute, you've doing business for the last decade, two decades.

Lia DiBello: Yeah. But I did just publish something recently, but the idea is that — I don't know how has it affected me. I guess it's made me feel, particularly at this point in my career, that business is very fluid. It's very dynamic and that there aren't any real rules to it and that they're changing all the time.

And right now, what we're trying to do with ACSI labs, for example, is take everything we've learned, put it in the platform, and democratize accelerated learning. And I think that ought to be done. And you know, I think that what I've learned about business is that you have to be willing to change and pivot a lot. And we've done that quite a bit. We've been quite big and we've been quite small. And then we've also had several businesses running at a time.

We own an interest in a Colombian coffee company right now. Because we saw a company called Innovakit that trains farmers and digitize supply chain management. And we thought, well, that's really cool. Let's bring that to the US then to the UK. So five of us got together and formed this company.

You can buy, well you can't, but eventually you'll be able to buy the coffee online. It cuts out the middleman. And the farmers make a lot more money and they're high up in the supply chain. And 50% of them are women and they're taught modern methods like blockchain technology. And we're actually doing a big promotional concert at the end of the month at the Hollywood Bowl to promote the coffee.

Cedric Chin: Where can listeners in the US and and the UK...

Lia DiBello: Well, it's, is the coffee.

Cedric Chin: We'll include in the show notes.

Lia DiBello: And, but the point is that we realized it's a business that ought to be done. So we're at the point now where we're doing businesses that we can do that ought to be done. Like more than, you know, we're trying to have socially responsible businesses that are profitable, not charities, that are technologies, sciences and approaches to business that the world should have. So that's how it's affected me because there's so many badly run businesses and it's become very offensive to me.

What Lia is Currently Working On

Cedric Chin: Let's double click on that for a moment because before this call — and we have like 30 minutes left, so we should deal with this first. You said you were really passionate about democratizing this technology and making it more available to others. The whole strategic rehearsal in virtual worlds. Could you talk a bit about that? Like what made you feel that way and what do you hope to do with the current state of the technologies that you've developed?

Lia DiBello: Well, the only reason that we've had the career that we've had is because most businesses are not well run. And they waste a lot of money and there's a lot of harm that's done. It's you know, during the subprime mortgage crisis, a lot of people lost their jobs, lost their homes. There's a lot of harm done when businesses are run badly.

And see how CEOs have responded. The less ethical ones, when they negotiate their job, they just have a better severance package because they know that they may not do a good job and they need to be paid several million to be fired. And this is really not the way to solve this problem.

So we said to ourselves, we do know how to make businesses more successful, and we do know how to make people who are very anxious about their ability to keep their jobs, keep up and re-skill themselves. We know from the foundry that we can help them. We know that we can help senior executives. Because we do it all the time, but we also know that we can help workers who are not that ambitious. Who just want to keep their jobs and who want to be re-skilled and adapt. So we started — the first game we designed, we have a platform FutureView that you can make mega worlds with it to solve huge problems.

Like we have a client that's managing 11 mines, a portfolio of 11 gold, silver, and copper mines. And you know, it streams in the stock market and all the financials. And you could do all this "what if" stuff on cycle based scheduled maintenance and equipment, spare factors and stuff. It's huge, right? That's an expensive "what if" strategic rehearsal in a virtual world, in the cloud. That's not for everybody, but it does make it possible to run those businesses, which couldn't be done another way I think. So those types of businesses of managing a lot of disparate portfolios and assets that are all over the world, you can co-locate digital twins in our platform and run them in a central way and have everybody log in as avatars and meet and make major decisions about them.

So we're doing that at the very senior level, but we also have what we call micro worlds. Which are where people can just learn to become better team members, better product leaders, better product innovators, better at anticipating volatile market changes, better engineers and even better diversity — managing diversity in the workplace. Those mini worlds, they're not that mini actually, they're virtual worlds that are the size of small cities, but for us, there are mini. They're not two miles deep and 50 square miles, but people really liked those.

And we had one that we call "MAXX" where you can learn to be an agile leader and you can learn to anticipate volatile consumer markets. People were addicted to that. They would play it five and six times because it's like Tetris. You can win different ways and you can level up. But more than that, you can understand how your mistakes lead to a lower return on sales. It draws—connects those dots for you. Like even the way you run a meeting.

Cedric Chin: That's incredible.

Lia DiBello: You can alienate your staff, so that they're still nice to you, but they don't tell you information that you might need to avoid a slightly disastrous business decision. So it's a really fun way. And we did the study and we actually built that to do an academic study. And we found out that in six hours, people could get three to five years of expertise in that area. And we can make one of those with our platform in a few weeks. And we're trying to adapt the platform so that companies can make their own. So that they don't need us to do it.

The accelerated learning grammar, we're trying to codify it, so that you wouldn't have to be a cognitive scientist, or you wouldn't have to be a cognitive scientist who understands accelerated learning. You would just have to follow the wizard as you structure your content. And then when it wasn't structured in a way that would result in accelerated learning, like it's too preachy or it's too instructor led, it would push back and tell you, no, put an activity here. Don't put an instruction here. So we're working on that. But the idea is those seats should cost a hundred bucks and anybody who's worried about losing their skill should be able to just practice stuff they're about.

Cedric Chin: That's incredible. Where can people follow along or subscribe to updates for this?

Lia DiBello: Well the is the website for that.

Cedric Chin: I'll put it shownotes.

Lia DiBello: And we have licensees andpartners in Cyprus, Brisbane, and Columbia the country. We have partners all over the world.

The Cognitive Science Behind the Strategic Rehearsal

Cedric Chin: That's incredible. Okay, so I think this might be a good time to go into the cognitive science behind why the strategic rehearsal works.

Lia DiBello: Okay, the fun part.

Cedric Chin: Yeah, the fun part. Before the call began we were talking about the Piagetian and the Vygotskian approaches to expertise, and maybe that's a sort of a fruitful way to start. To sort of set the stage for like why the strategic rehearsal even works.

Lia DiBello: Okay. Well let's start a little bit more abstract than that. The reason that the strategic rehearsal works is because it's very Piagetian and Vygotskian, but what we're always operating with is a dominant framework — a sort of theory of the crime. So when you're at work and you're doing your job, you're kind of on autopilot and that's because your brain has become very efficient.

Once you become good at something, you have what Piaget would call a schema for doing it, that becomes somewhat automated, which saves a lot of energy. So you don't have to think about it so much.

The shape of your schema is largely determined by where you work, your education, your environment. You're always adapting to your environment. So people who work for the same company tend to have similar schemas, similar ways of looking at the situation and they become inculcated to a shared view of things. We'll get into the underlying theoretical mechanism of that. I studied that for decades, how that happens and so on.

What we're doing with the strategic rehearsal is we're interfering with that. Because once that becomes established, you can't really say "oh, I am not going to do that anymore". It's not really possible.

When I was a professor, I used to write on the chalkboard some phrase, and I used to tell my students, "okay, look at that phrase and don't read it." Nobody can do that.

Cedric Chin: Can't do that, yeah.

Lia DiBello: Yeah. And yet we're not born reading. We have to learn how to do it. It's the same thing right? You can't undo something that's already there, but a strategic rehearsal can do that.

And that's where Piaget and Vygotsky come in. How that got formed is that basically that adaptive schema is adapted. You developed it through a series of participating in your environment. And it got reinforced because as human beings, we will always learn and become solidified around an approach that our brains see as critical to our survival. So we always learn stuff that we as organisms see as helpful to our survival. So we look to see what everybody else is doing. What's succeeding as opposed to what's failing. And we're very goal driven. So that's why you don't want to incentivize the wrong things in a workplace because people will get very good at those. And we know that from all sorts of studies that people will develop the skills and sometimes extraordinary capabilities that are critical to their survival. Even in a workplace, even in a social group.

And what we do in a strategic rehearsal is, we build an environment that is coming at you very fast and has what we call "a lot of symbolic density." It's got a lot of the same triggers as your workplace, so that all of those schemas are running on — they're provoked and they're very active. And then we force you to make a decision every few seconds.

So for example, when you're playing one of our strategic rehearsal games, you're playing like a whole quarter of business in 15 minutes. Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, right? 60 decisions constantly. And you're doing it as a group. So all of the group dynamics and the individual dynamics. And you have literally no time to stop and think, "oh gee, should we really be being this stupid?" No. So the autopilot takes over and you replicate all the bad habits at work, even though you know better. You just spent three days in a seminar making a plan for next year. And you know that this is not it — it makes no difference.

Cedric Chin: And you're still doing it?

Lia DiBello: You do it anyway and you can't stop. It's sad, but it's funny. And sometimes the company will replicate it's declining stock price and backlog and — to the dollar, because we track everything minutely, every few minutes. And we display it up on a big board, what they're doing and they look at it and they're falling apart.

And at the beginning of the day, to be fair, we say, "this is going to be a bad day, but it will be okay, we're all in it together. Everybody's safe. Nobody's ever died and tomorrow you're going to be amazing." And they go, "yeah, yeah, yeah, we're going to prove you wrong." And I go, "okay, you're going to be the first people in my entire career, out of 8,000 people, that's gonna win." Great.

Doesn't happen. At the end of the day they're like, "are you sure we're going to do well tomorrow?" I go, "yeah". They go, "well, don't touch our stuff because we know what we're going to do tomorrow. And just leave it alone." They covered up with sheets. You know, they really are—. They find it very hard to stop. We go, "it'll be okay, we're not going to touch anything. Go home, go home."

We touch everything. We rip it all up. We tear it down to zero and we set it all up so they can start over from scratch the following day. They come in and they just astonished themselves. They go, "what were we thinking yesterday? Why did we ever do that?"

And what happens is when you're that disequilibrated, when everything you do does not work and you have a sleep cycle in between, you're really unlearning. And these myelinated sort of autopilots are really — basically unlearned and their autopilot status is degregated.

So then, they're kind of released to get the better ideas that they actually already have. And they have a sort of new autopilot and then they spend the day practicing that, seeing that it will work. And then they have a new approach that they've practiced and because they do it together, they go back to work and they can just hit the ground running.

Cedric Chin: Is there a shared session where they reflect together or is it they just go home and then they sleep, and then…

Lia DiBello: Well it varies. Lots of times they have a whole new language. Like, we worked with a medical device company and they had a device for aneurysms and vascular stuff. And they had to actually invent, do aneurysms treatments, and stuff that were very similar to what they were doing. And that was a physical, strategic rehearsal. So we had a body. A wooden body with a vascular system and they had to do all that.

And the name of the new product was — I think it was called Sapphire in the game — and they actually released a product by that name in real life. And the whole experience became a shared historic reference for them. So they would say like, "remember when we did Sapphire or remember when we did this" and they would use it as a reference.

Piaget and Vygotsky's Theories of Expertise Development

Cedric Chin: I think at this point we should loop back to what you told me before we started recording about Piaget and Vygotsky. Maybe start out with Piaget and what he discovered and how that plays into your current work.

Lia DiBello: Actually, I was trained as a Piagetian in cognitive science in the early days. In fact, when I was working at IBM in the cognitive sciences labs, I worked for a Piagetian and we were trying to apply Piagetian theory to expertise. And as I explained to you before, Piaget was a genetic epistemologist and he believed that levels of expertise, or not really expertise, but levels of functioning emerged almost like in a biological function. And I believe that because of when he was doing his work — which was in the twenties and thirties, and there wasn't a lot of domain specific expertise — he didn't really recognize the impact of the boundaries between domain specific experts. That all educated people were the same in a way. That scientific thinking was a monolith. And he saw it that way. So you went from being a concrete operations child and you evolved over time to being a scientific thinker. And it was a developmental path that was endogenous. It happened from within.

And it didn't really explain the fact that a physicist does not understand biology for example. But he didn't really worry about that so much. And maybe it wasn't even true in his lifetime, that there was that much of a difference, the way there is now. People weren't as much a specialist.

So Vygotsky was very different. He was more top down. He believed that all knowledge was formed by culture. That you inherit knowledge, he called it scientific knowledge, but he didn't mean scientific knowledge in the sense that you and I would mean it.Any knowledge that was socially created as a system of meaning, you know, relations between objects that this means this or systems of principles where he would consider a scientific concept. So a philosophy or a social system, all of that was a candidate for a scientific system for Vygotsky.

Now, he was a Marxist, et cetera. So he was a little bit different. And he believed that you're shaped by your social environment. And what you do at first is you memorize through language. And you encode through language as a kind of placeholder, all of these so-called scientific concepts, but you only have true understanding through a dialectical process of participation and activity and practice with other people.

So let's take religion like Catholicism. You would learn all your prayers and everything, but it wasn't until you participated in the rituals with other people that you would come to understand or appreciate spirituality. And it's the same with work practices. You would not really understand what it is to be a craftsman until you actually practiced with other people through a dialectical process with others and shared meaning, what it really means to understand these principles, but you would always have them as the linguistic placeholder first. So it's more top down.

The work that I did for my dissertation is that expertise kind of meets in the middle. That Piaget, which had these functional invariants, which were the principles by which, or the mechanisms by which you move from one level to another epistemologically. Which are, you assimilate the way you look at the world. It doesn't really fit, so you accommodate and kinda expand your repertoire or your schema which is kind of an implicit theory. The reason it doesn't work, that's disequilibration and then you reorganize your implicit theory to be more elaborate.

Cedric Chin: It's like the baby and the grasping.

Lia DiBello: That's right. Yes.

Cedric Chin: Could you describe that? Because I love that example.

Lia DiBello: Tell that story?

Cedric Chin: Oh, it's amazing.

Lia DiBello: It makes me seem evil! So if you go to a baby and their first concept for Piaget is grasping, which is why we still use that word. And it's a reflex, but it's not like a knee-jerk reflex. It's your first malleable concept. So if the baby grabs your finger, it says, "oh, it's a finger." And it seems to find it interesting.

But if you put two fingers, it looks surprised. And then it has to add that to its repertoire and then it squeezes a few times, and then you add three and eventually you get all this, right? So the reason we use our hands so much is because we start with our hands, with everything. You know, apprehensions. And the part of our brain that manages our hands is huge because all of our concepts start there.

But the point is that for Piaget that was concrete operations and we understand everything concretely as young children. And then that becomes more abstract, but it's basically an internal evolution and it's through activity like this that we get expanded. And it's assimilation, disequilbration, accommodation, and reorganization to be a more refined system.

I think those functional and variants are universal almost at the neural or single cell level. And I think that still explains why the dialectic that Vygotsky likes to talk about works. I think those functional and variants are still operating in that dialectic.

Cedric Chin: Which explains how you design the strategic rehearsal.

Lia DiBello: And how we reorganize people's thinking. We take a Vygotskian domain, you say, "okay, you're thinking in a way that's not adaptive and we're going to give you another way." We're going to give you the opportunity to discover another way of thinking. But we're going to still let you have the old one, but through a process of dialectic exploration, trying to achieve a goal, which your brain is going to figure out is how you win, because that's your non-negotiable goal. Vygotsky always had what you call an adaptive goal organizing everything.

So in our strategic rehearsals, we always make it very clear. There's only one goal. It's not going to change. There's no partial credit. There's no B+ here, you either get there or you don't. But you can get there through lots of ways. It's not one rigid path, but you can't not get there. And they go through a process of exploring, dialectically, all the different options and they construct a new theory. And they do it together.

The General Form of the Strategic Rehearsal

Cedric Chin: Could you talk a bit about the general form of a strategic rehearsal? So what I've been able to pick up from reading your work is that one part of it is you do a knowledge extraction. You extract the knowledge of expertise. I think in business it's not really the case because you already have like the triad right? So you're just extracting like how it's expressed for that particular company. And then, I think you extract the default model as well. And then there's some art, maybe there's some expertise that you have that's tacit, where you pick the goal that allows them to construct the mental model that you want them to construct. Could you talk about that a bit?

Lia DiBello: Well, we do have— that's why the platform is so important. We do have a technology or an approach that now is in the software called the dynamic strategic modeler, which my colleague David Lehmann developed, which is basically the theory of constraints applied to the value proposition of the business. And what it does is it helps us set the goal real simple.

And so what we do is, there's several indicators in any company's finances that indicate how they're doing. It's like a blood test that you go to for the doctor. They look at different things. It's very similar with businesses.

Cedric Chin: You have 13 [indicators], I think you mentioned in some podcast.

Lia DiBello: Yeah. So we look at those and we look at those for all of their competitors in the same space and we say, "okay, who's doing well and how are they different on those 13?" And then we say, "okay, what's constraining our client from doing well on these things? Is there a constraint?" And then we find it. Sometimes it's in operations, sometimes it's in— it's usually in something pretty simple like logistics. Like the product is too far away from the dock that it gets shipped from, something like that. We say, "if the constraint were moved, what would the case be then?" And we play around with that mathematically, and then we see what would happen. Like do they have a bigger market? Do they have a big enough market? Would they be able to do price adjustments to make them more competitive? And then we set that as, you know, how big could they be?

We just did this with a company in South Africa, and we realized that if they sold off some of their more low performing assets, they would have the capital they need to really develop one asset that's actually worth quite a bit and has quite a bit of potential, because it's close to a growing market. So we played around with that. And then we build a model, either in a virtual world or a physical model, depending on what's best for the client. So that they can discover the same thing we did.

But we also make it possible to discover the bad things. Like that there's all these other opportunities that they could buy in other countries that are not good for them. If they tend to be on an acquisition trend, they will probably do that and it will probably be a disaster, but they'll learn that. And then they iteratively discover the right thing to do. But the goal does not change. We set the stock price, the market price and the profit, everything that we've modelled as being possible. We say, "we know mathematically, you can get here. You have to find out how to get there."

Cedric Chin: Have you published this anywhere because it strikes me as like the 13 factors should be taught in every business school in the world.

Lia DiBello: No, we have not published the 13 factors.

Cedric Chin: Is that proprietary?

Lia DiBello: It is now. Maybe someday it won't be.

Non-Business Applications of the Strategic Rehearsal

Cedric Chin: Oh my goodness. When it comes to the strategic rehearsals and you've not just done strategic rehearsals for business, right? Gary Klein has a piece in, I think, Psychology Today where he profiles one of the interventions you did, which was mining safety. And your current work — and there was a recent run of MAXX, a study done with project management and it was based off an extracted model of expertise in project management from IBM. What other sort of uses for strategic rehearsals do you foresee in the future that you want to democratize and give access to people?

Lia DiBello: I think diversity. I think people don't understand what diversity really is.

Cedric Chin: Oh, could you say more about that?

Lia DiBello: Well, let me put it to you this way. In California, by law, we all had to take diversity and sexual harassment training. Every employer had to do this. And what it was — I'm probably going to get in trouble for saying this — but what it was, was an online course where you have to spend at least two hours reading these screens and clicking answers.

Well, I have a technology company. So what did my guys do? They wrote a program that would do it. And I walk in, I see all these screens blinking and doing this thing and a little timer that's making sure that it lasts exactly two hours because you have to do it for two hours.

And I go, "what is this?" And they go, "we're taking our sexual harassment and diversity training." They said, "we're not going to actually— we know from our own research that we're not going to remember any of this." And I thought, it's true, that even if they did read it, they would never remember it.

But we also know that we could put people in situations, in a virtual world, where we could give them very granular low density feedback. Cause we do it now with leadership, where they're in meetings, they're in interactions, they're talking to people and they say something that seems perfectly reasonable, but they get a little red light. And they get feedback about why that's a boneheaded thing to say.

Cedric Chin: Huh… brilliant.

Lia DiBello: Yeah. And we know that when we use those exercises for leadership training, that within 45 minutes, they're getting nothing but green. Talk about assimilation, accommodation. People will automatically change their approach just getting that low density feedback very quickly. They very quickly adapt to an appropriate model of behaviour. And then of course you can get the details about why that's appropriate. But being lectured never works.

And probably within two hours, you'd have people who'd realize what's insensitive, what's not cool. And just have more insight into their own behaviour and how it comes across. That's one thing. We know that the leadership thing has been very successful.

Another is branding. In other words, when you go to a Marriott or Hyatt or some particular type of organization that provides a service, they have a particular service model. And very few employees really understand what that is. Like what is it to work for this particular kind of company? So they say the right things, but they don't really do it. They don't really provide the service the way that the company wants the customer to experience it. And when you're paying $500 a night for a hotel room, you want everybody to understand what that means.

Or even a nursing home. Or some other type of service provider. So training people on that type of thing, or working with the elderly in a geriatric healthcare facility. So we're getting a lot of queries about that. And I think that it's because people realize practice makes perfect really. And I think that doing it online, even in a single player game, it's very private, it's not humiliating. You can make your mistakes, you can have a little bit more in-depth understanding about why people don't like you, you know? Learn how to communicate a little bit more clearly, not be so such a jerk.

Cedric Chin: That is incredible. Well, so we're at time. Where can people find you and follow along as you release this? Like, I personally would want to take the diversity training module, for example, in addition to whatever else that might be relevant.

Lia DiBello: I think the best way to find out when we're releasing stuff like that is the website, but also

WTRI is where we're doing all the research and development and the publications. The company is the platform company which has the licensees and the partners. We would have announcements in both places, I guess is my point. But all our research and cool brain scan stuff is on the WRTI website.

Cedric Chin: If somebody is a business and they want to contact you, where should they go?

Lia DiBello: They should just contact me, email or LinkedIn. My email is lia [at] or ldibello [at] Either one. I'm not hard to find. I don't publish very much, but there's not a lot of people with my name.

Cedric Chin: Well, thank you very much for your time. This was an honour and amazing. Thank you.

Lia DiBello: Well, thank you, it was really fun. Thank you for taking such an interest and reading all that stuff!