At 14 years old, Kat Salazar walked into her very first classroom at a local community college. She was about to start college when most her age were just beginning high school.
For some this might have been an awkward or overwhelming experience, but having been homeschooled for her entire life, Kat was completely UNDER-WHELMED instead. She thought, “How is this learning? You haven’t asked me to think or do anything but simply regurgitate information.”
Unfortunately, this traditional and common structure, one that was created to spit out factory workers, is the one we have all come to know as formal education.
Kat has since spent the last 10 years focusing on identifying the skills that optimize the way people learn and perform, especially on teams. Her unique life experiences have allowed her to see much of the world from a different vantage point and identify a massive problem in the traditional approach to education. This tapped into her passion and inspired her to start weThink, an intelligence software platform built to help people and organizations thrive in team based environments.
In today’s episode, Kat asks some bold questions and helps us understand several key points:
- How to measure skills like communication, problem solving and critical thinking (32:30)
- Why we need to change the way we think about education (39:10)
- Ways we can and should practice the skill of learning (45:30)
- Why context is the key to more successful interactions (48:50)
If you’d like to find out more about Kat and weThink, you can visit wethinkteams.com or find her on LinkedIn: Katrina Salazar.
Today’s episode is brought to you by our very own Art of Coaching Speaker School, as well as our loyal partners Dynamic and Momentous.
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Brett Bartholomew 00:06
Welcome back to another episode of the Art Of Coaching podcast. I am here with Kat Salazar. Kat, thanks for sitting down with me today.
Sure, it’s a pleasure to be here.
Brett Bartholomew 00:22
I, you have done so many incredible things with your organization. We’re going to talk about some of the origins and the purposes but I just want to say this right off the bat I cannot tell you how happy I am. To have somebody on the show who has an equal affinity for helping people understand that 21st century skills, soft skills communication, problem solving, collective all these things that generally people talk about, but don’t really champion or celebrate as much as they should, because they’re looked at as these things that either God or you don’t.
I can’t tell you how happy I am that somebody is on the show that has looked at this from a research perspective is scaling it and is literally changing the way things are done surrounding how people grow in these areas at such a massive level. So thank you for your time.
No problem. It’s always a pleasure to connect with you. I love the conversations we have so
Brett Bartholomew 01:19
So we’ve done a dive into this a little bit. People heard your bio at the beginning, but I just want to know at a more basic, almost kernel level. What’s the why behind the mission of why you started weThink and why you got on to soft skills, social skills, 21st century skills however you want to turn them and this is the chance I really want you to set the foundation of the language you think we should be using around these areas and why they matter so much. There’s a lot there to dive in wherever.
Yeah, I really honestly don’t think I like any of those terms. I’m not sure that they really fit it ,they’re descriptive of these skills that we’re talking about right so I know the academic terms tend to be higher order cognitive and non cognitive skills. And those terms don’t seem to fit either. So I’ve always looked at them as some sort of essential human skills, right.
They’re the sorts of things that are foundational to our development, and ability to perform. And I’m not, I haven’t come up with a term that I like the best. So maybe we can discuss that later. But I guess we can call them essential skills. Sometimes I call them foundational competencies, which is what the military calls them and it’s not a terrible term. You need these competencies to build anything else on top of them any occupational skill or professional skill. And I think we forget that often right? We tend to come back around to these sorts of skills later in education and development. And that’s a shame because you need them first.
And in any case, I really was inspired by my own educational experience and there was a disjunct at a certain point growing up. I am first gen here and I was homeschooled until I was 14 and I had a wonderful educational experience. It was truly learning. And then I went to college. And I was surprised because I had never been in a classroom before. And I thought how is this learning? I mean, you’re literally just feeding me information. That I have to remember no problem there, and I spit it back out to you on commands. You haven’t asked me to think or do anything but simply regurgitate information and at what point in life is this actually the way that things work outside of this small sphere? So that was strange. And I started, we started on my entrepreneurial journey then writing people’s papers
Brett Bartholomew 04:03
How old were you at that point?
I was 14 when I was first in college. It was just a local community college and I transferred into a full university at 16.
Brett Bartholomew 04:18
You skip past that. That is not common, right. And we often have this with guests in that they, you know, they’re and I know you’re humble because we’ve talked offline, but the average person just doesn’t transfer to college at that age. So unpack that a little bit because I think our audience would love to hear of somebody. You’re homeschooled. And I even had another question prior to that. Did your parents have an educational background? Why did they homeschool? You help us get to know peel back these layers a little bit before we move on?
Sure, um, I mean, just sort of. Some of that is I think immigrant family mindset. My father wanted us to have the best possible education and make sure that we were safe more than anything. My mom gave us a fantastic education that involves reading a lot of great books to us kind of continuously and unabridged versions from a very young age. And we did a lot of thinking and exploring.
My father owns his own business and we worked in the business and I mean it was never one of those super structured environments, but that allowed for a lot of innovation and creativity and a term I love unstructured problem solving the ones job set skill that we need today in almost every occupation and our education actively unteach is that. You know, we just we do the opposite of allowing people to be unstructured problem solvers. So I mean, my parents provided the environments through which we could, we could learn how to learn to be good learners and to push ourselves.
I had no problem jumping into college, no problem at all. I was bored and irritated quite honestly because it wasn’t interesting. Right? I had to sort of shut down and just check a box and I had never lived my life checking boxes,
Brett Bartholomew 06:23
which I can relate. I just want to jump in here because I think somebody will love what you’re saying here. Especially when you said you were bored. I was kind of looked at as a problem kid in high school because I was disengaged too. You know, well, I’m not saying you are disengaged. And I’m gonna say I was disengaged too.
But I didn’t find high school challenging and that’s not me saying I was some Jimmy Neutron genius or anything, but it wasn’t divergent thinking like he said it was a regurgitation of acts and facts. And I just remember I graduated early and they were just, I remember getting marks that was like seemed disengaged in class disruptive. And it’s funny because I wonder what your thoughts are on how many people and I know this just lose postulating, right like, don’t worry about being too literal here.
How many people are deemed problematic or you have ADD or you have this issue or you have that issue, when in reality, they’re not in a learning environment that engages and stimulates them because of the way that we created the education around these pieces. Is any of that resonate? Or do you think that’s you can always push back and poke holes?
Yeah, no. 100% Because the next leg of a story there was like a nude instead of just writing people’s papers and tutoring. And I think I’ve worked with 1000s of students over the years. Across varying age groups, I think the youngest I worked with was nine and then through a university level. And I mean, personal case of personally, I would have dropped out of college if it wasn’t for my honors program professor. Because I was, I just couldn’t justify it. I just couldn’t justify checking boxes and I definitely had I guess a rebellious attitude.
I mean, I was 16 and 17 at the time, so it just, I couldn’t understand why I would waste my time. I mean, I understood the point of getting a degree but what I mean, I don’t mind doing work, but there had to be a purpose behind it and the’re just no any purpose. And I tried to even make it interesting for myself, but getting into the honest program was my way of making it interesting and thankfully, the university was at let me build some of my own courses to get units to graduate. But I would have absolutely dropped out like I think so many brilliant kids end up doing, not for lack of an ability but just for an inability of complying to a system that they can’t justify. And that’s too bad.
I think we lose kids on both ends of the spectrum. And we really cater to a very few and what we’re doing to the kids across the spectrum is a real shame and we’ve known for a long time right? I don’t know that anybody. I would be surprised if anybody would stand up and say education is not broken. We have an education system that is built to turn out factory workers for a very good reason too.
I mean, there was a reason why we put that system in place. And at the time, arguably, you know, it makes sense. It just doesn’t make sense for the world that we have today. And so it’s time to change and that’s really, really, it’s a hard thing to do because it’s systematic. There’s not one thing that we can do. There’s a number of things that need to be done to unravel it so I understand why it is the way it is but it was man it was hard to get through.
Brett Bartholomew 10:01
For contacts you’re kind of speaking to, you know that industrial revolutionary period right or revolution period where Frederick Winslow Taylor and scientific management very meticulous, almost taking out all the nuance of the individual because at that time, to your point, right, you wanted consistency when we’re turning out factory parts and this and that and today, you know, in this century, we need to have more of that divergence. We need to be able to think laterally a little bit more. Am I right in terms of what you said?
Yes, absolutely. I think we need people that can actually be good users of technology that we’re producing that in order to facilitate right a better work and a more creative process. We have robots on factory lines, right? So less factory line workers. And we need more people that can truly exist at the pinnacle of what it means to be human, which is I think, a question we need to ask again.
And what I’ve seen is from nine through, you know, as I tutored kids from nine years old all the way through that university level is sad. I mean, none of the kids that I tutored, was failing for lack of capacity for the most part. There and I can remember the handful of kids that really just you know something hadn’t been explained, usually math hadn’t been explained really. Well, they just needed somebody that could explain it to an in a different way and provide them just a small space. But those I mean, those students took me less than a week to turn around and that, you know, but it was great if their parents didn’t have to call me back, just call me and say thank you, you know, she’s got it now.
Brett Bartholomew 11:45
But can’t do anything that came from an inherent and I’m still getting to know you. Do anything that came from an inherent drive to want to relate and not just educate as well. And what I mean by that is, in our interactions, you’re obviously you’re very analytical, you think at an incredibly high level, whether you want to say that or not publicly, but you also I can tell there’s this compassionate side and my compassion.
I mean, you know, there’s empathy on one end of the spectrum, which is almost getting too emotionally involved, right, letting your emotions take sometimes, it just depends on how you use the term. I know empathy means something to some people, but you look at somebody’s work like Paul Bloom, or he’s like, hey, people can get too emotionally wrapped up. But without that, then on the other end, there’s apathy.
I think there’s a lot of educators and it exists in every profession, that they get into it, and they’re not necessarily there because they liked the relational piece. I mean, you have to have that. You can’t just have the intellectual because I mean, I didn’t see it. In the early stages of my career at strength and conditioning. You saw people that wanted to regurgitate just like you said, kind of facts and figures, all right, it’s sets and reps, okay. It’s just kind of prescription but they weren’t focusing on the human side. And then it was almost like talking about that was anathema, even though that’s your job.
So how much of you have that desire for you and your capacity to help these individuals came from matching? Yeah, your natural inclinations as an educator and a higher level thinker, but also somebody that deeply wants to actually connect with a human being?
Yeah, I think I had a lot of compassion for this. Honestly, though, it was less the student that just needed a little bit of help understanding the idea because they were off and running and more than students that just couldn’t.
I’ll never forget the 10 year old that looked at me and said, I just don’t understand why I’m doing this. And I couldn’t give her an answer. I just have to look at her and I’m the only fair thing to say was, I can’t understand why you have to either and I’m really sorry. Just, you know, I don’t want to tell you get through it. And it was so sad. I mean, 10 she was completely disillusioned with learning. And it’s tragic.
And, you know, it’s not the teachers fault at all. I see so many teachers working so hard, but they have to work within the system and get so many kids through and it’s yeah, it needs to change. And yes, there’s definitely, you know, a part of me that I think I brought to the table with a lot of compassion and also as a tutor, I had the capacity to spend that time with those students. So it was those experiences though just sort of all the way back around your question.
And a couple more, I opened my own tutoring company. And scaled that about ended up doing some pretty interesting research and I read an article by a Cambridge ethicist. I think his name is William McCaskill. And in the suggestion, I’ve always been passionate about learning all sorts of things in my life, which I’ve been free to do and given my education, right, so I feel super lucky on that front, so had a hard time kind of nailing down what I wanted to “be right” that led discussion in our house probably you want to be what is your profession? I was just an avid learner.
So I asked myself, what is it that I would change about the world as opposed to you know, what do I love the most, right, what do I want to do as a profession and that was the suggestion in this particular article and that was an easy one for me, right? If there was one thing I could change about the world that would be how we help humans learn across the capability spectrum, not just small children. We do it all the way through, right we fail to really help people be the best version of themselves, help people understand what it means to be human and very specifically, you know them and find their identity and continue to grow that or build their identity and continue to grow that. And that’s a shame, because I think that as humans, we can do some pretty awesome things.
Brett Bartholomew 15:55
And I agree, and so when you see that gap, you know, I just wonder, you then go on and I know there’s many things in between, but you’ve created weThink and I know you’ve told me that you work. I mean everything that you guys do spans working in education, corporate HR, the US military, professional sport beyond I know there’s a lot. I think my question is this.
I mean, I would have to imagine, I know our audience is curious as well starting something but this much of a global initiative. One, you got to go out and raise a lot of money. Two, you’ve got to clarify what this product is what you’re selling, because you have a strong backbone of like, hey, it upsets me that I see a world like X. I think we can make it better by providing, you know, these outputs, but then you’ve got to go sell that and you’ve got to figure that out and you’ve got to make it make sense to people. Which seems easy, and perhaps it is the song, but I know a lot of people and especially a lot of our listeners who comprise people from a wide range of professions that are very educated, but often feel like they’re drowning in their own ideas.
And I know this, this is terms that they’ve said to us, they often feel like no, I always need more information and more knowledge. Before I take action. I guess my question to start this off is between that part of your journey, and you starting with it and trying to help the world make sense of why it needs X, like how do you navigate that and what led what are some just lessons you’ve learned in terms of these things along the way and if you can even contextualize we think for our audience, I’d love that as well because I want to dive into the nuance and the science and all the incredible work you’ve done with that.
Okay, yeah, so I think I understand that the questioner is setting up but correct me if I’m wrong. How I will the path between always needing to know more before I actually just went out did something
Brett Bartholomew 17:45
Yeah, that’s part right like I think just making sure that you know, like for me like when I was hospitalized at a young age, I knew that I have two fascinations the body and then the mind and really later on that came to like, be more clear of oh, by the mind. I mean, I love what making, learning what makes people think. So I can relate to them.
And I started tying these dots together and it really wasn’t until a few you know, probably five years ago that I thought oh, you know what? I can create a company that helps us so yeah, like how did you weave this? All right. I know these aspects that I’m interested in, but now I want to solve this problem and help it make sense to a broader world.
Right. So I mean, obviously I started with a really big vision statement of the world it would be how we help people learn, and that’s huge. Right? And so I mean, multiple experiences, but I kind of whittled it down from there, right? And part of that was just my own thought processes. I thought back through, you know, my early, you know, tutoring experiences and or writing my friends papers for them, like what was the hang up and what was the issue and what are we missing?
And, uh, what I came to the conclusion of the, I had, I was tutoring at the time independently, so I was just running my own tutoring company, multiple things. I have an interesting background. So I was in the entertainment world, as well, doing storyboard art, but there was a couple of high school students that I was tutoring at the time. And what I realized was, I mean, it’s executive function that most of them were missing, right? They couldn’t goal set. They couldn’t plan, they honestly couldn’t organize their own thoughts. And it was frustrating because they had a lot of access. They weren’t losing access.
So I thought, well, you know, what would we call these bucket of skills? Like what are the skills that I’m seeing, you know, all these gaps and again, you can call them whatever you want it, some overlap of 21st century skills and soft skills and executive function which we seem to reserved only for students with learning disabilities, and that’s just not the point. There’s plenty of people missing. Or injuries, you know, when you hear somebody has a traumatic brain injury, especially like, especially in the military or beyond, somebody whether executive function has been compromised, and you’re like, wait, why? Like, can you talk like a human and by the way, that’s not just for trauma based situations or special circumstances as you alluded to. Yeah, it’s absolutely not.
And so it kind of pulls in a little bit of stigma then right if a young executive function and nothing has happened to them, so I just I started doing my own research and asking myself what the issue was there and what I realized was we have no way of measuring these skills that that we do across the board. We haven’t canonized these skills in any interesting way. And that, you know, the best, some of the schools that I was working with, were doing really putting up posters on the wall or making mention of the skills but if you can’t measure something, you can’t really manage it. Right. And that seemed to be an issue for me.
So my next thought was, well, what are the bucket of skills that are most important and then how do we measure them? So I, by the time I was on that journey, so actually started out with an experiment because I thought we could focus on these skills that we could see outcomes, measurable outcomes and academics or a work and I had access to academics.
So I started a pilot with a school in California that was in an underserved community and just didn’t have a lot of resources. And they let me do an ICT program. So I use kind of the SATs, my labor ometer and I developed a curriculum and built communication skills as well as just critical thinking skills, problem solving, goal setting, planning. These sorts of soft skills that we don’t tend to teach at all. Because we really ask students to give up so much ownership and divest them of so much responsibility. Right, just sit down, shut up, and please do the work because there’s so many students coming after you and we just need to get you on to the next step. Right? Yeah.
And then suddenly by the time they’re in college, which is where we see I think, oh, man, I don’t want to misquote what I read. But we have too big of a dropout rate within the first two years and a lot of that is the inability to handle that pathway forward because suddenly we asked students to be responsible for their own journey and then work is even worse. We did not prepared them for that. You know, I tell this to my to my 17 year old son you don’t one day wake up and feel like an adult and all these skills just drop on you and you know how to do everything you actually have to start practicing.
Brett Bartholomew 23:04
But it’s funny right? Because and sorry to interject, but this is a point of contention, not with you. But that I find, that we find our businesses. I remember when we did a survey and we asked people hey, what keeps you and like you? I don’t like soft skills or what we tend to refer to what our goal is social agility. And that’s a whole nother conversation and I’m not going to rob the interviewer.
But you know, what I try to tell people is I remember asking, you know, do you believe that X, Y and Z are important? And the answer was yes. Right. And then I say, well, do you train for it? How would you rank yourself as a communicator, so to speak, and I remember somebody saying, it was 1 out of 10, they’re like 9 I go great. Well, what tool did you use to evaluate that? And by and large, they’re like, I don’t really use a tool. I did people do what I said they did, or I asked them to do, or one was, hey, I bartended for 18 years. So I think I know how to handle people pretty well. And I’m like, that’s all great and I appreciate that.
But like, have you ever evaluated yourself have you ever met and then comes the question the barrage, from the Twitter crowd of well, how do you measure it? How do you and I’m like, well, that depends on you know, who you’re asking the medical world measures in another way we have our own evaluation, but like, along those lines, what has been your retort? Generally, not that there’s one but what is a way that you craft a response when people are telling you about Katrina this all sounds well and good, but I don’t buy that you can measure it or teach it. I think you got it or you don’t.
Right. So I think that people conflate you know, something like soft skills, right? And part of the confusion is we haven’t taken them seriously, those skills. And by the way, we call them skills because we don’t have a better term for them, but they’re really, their skills insofar as their observable behaviors, right, that we that we then call skill.
So we say this, you know, this subsection of behaviors equals the skill, right? So they are observable behaviors and you can change behavior. They aren’t traits. They aren’t personality assessments or traits. And I think that’s where people get confused. And that is that, oh, it’s a personality assessment. No, no. It’s not a personality assessment, right. personalities, arguably, but to a certain extent, are fixed. So that’s, it’s great if you want to do a personality assessment. You can however you want to use that information. That’s fantastic. But that’s not what we’re talking about.
And what’s interesting so when we got to work with Kansas University’s achievement and assessment Institute. And we did research with them on kind of the, the field of higher order cognitive and non cognitive skills, which was the academic term for soft skills or 21st century skills, etc. And we aggregated the research and the studies that have been done today and we built a criteria for our framework of skills. We didn’t want to just go and pick an existing framework. I wanted to manage why, right, we have the skills in our skills map.
And are, we focused on the skills that, you know, studies have proven were measurable, and then malleable, so you could change them? They’re behaviors that you can change, right? Because the idea wasn’t to produce another IQ test or personality assessment and that meaningful so we know that by improving those skills to have an effect on other outcomes that we care about. So how you do at work, or academics, your overall sense of well being and happiness, right, et cetera, and we hold down that skills list to about 33 and 167 prerequisite notes.
There’s is research. There’s research out there. And not only that, but I mean, we are so much to some of our behaviors and habits and you can learn how to control that. I think there’s some really fantastic research out there on how much habits which is just really, you know, a sets of behaviors that we get used to doing and they can be, you know, healthy or unhealthy. Absolutely. You can master those things, right. And that’s just so awesome, but it takes it takes the individual right driving, taking ownership and driving that pathway forward.
And I think that’s awkward for people because we’ve so put education in this bucket where it’s kind of like something that’s done to you. And it’s something obvious, but there’s actually there’s statements going back all the way into the 1800s about how we really only have one side of educating the human, right? And it’s the side that we can manage which are just, you know, facts with math as a language we can teach that right. In another language, we can teach that we know how it works together, it’s obvious and you can essentially program that into somebody, right?
It’s that somebody down in a classroom, if they spend enough time there, they’re going to get that whereas when we’re talking about these sets of behaviors, right without self awareness, and reflection, and then some sense of ownership, you’re not going to progress, those that learning and I think that’s a hang up, right, because that learning has to actually come from them in person. They have to be self aware as a precursor for learning anything. And I think that’s a huge divide because we’ve so thought of education is only the kind of hard facts that we can program into somebody and have them repeat.
Brett Bartholomew 28:52
Sure. Yeah, well, and oh, sorry, go ahead.
No, no, no. Go for it.
Brett Bartholomew 28:58
I was gonna say, you know, I love that you you talked about, you know, the true definition of a skill and you know, being around and observable behavior, and one that can be applied in a wide range of situations as well because that that brings in contexts and which is something that you look at as a society just globally. We’re somehow getting worse at navigating. You know, and I think that I’ve had a fascinating, how do I phrase it? It’s been fascinating having a podcast during this era of society having social media during this era of because you will say something, and you always have to, we use these imperfect tools into imperfect mediums, right like think of, we use social media, something that inherently is limited, and media richness and social presence, and people can get judged so quickly based on certain things, and that’s already during a polarized society.
We’re not very, we’re not good at understanding. It’s not just about the individual. It’s about the situation they find themselves in, and then the end the interaction. And so there’s a couple of things here, if you’ll just let me get through this, because I want to give you a lot of jump off points and just enrich the conversation if I can, because you mentioned not only are people sometimes averse and non self aware to this kind of education or their own behaviors. A lot of it is because of the way as you alluded to earlier, education is done.
We had a hell of a time early on from one entrepreneur to another, getting people to come to a workshop that I had created. That was the basis of my doctorate, so I can get people to read my first book. Conscious Coaching talks about human interaction, conversation started, right. But you know, when you put out a book, you have to keep it pretty simple. You don’t get any, you don’t want this to be some academic treatise, because then nobody’s gonna read it. Then we came out with an online course and we’re like, alright, we had good feedback from the book, let’s find another output.
Then we had people who said well, I’d really like to do this in person. But what they say and what they do is a bit different. We started running these pilots and we said, okay, now you have to come. And there’s going to be elements of chaos theory involved, because we’re involving the use of improv, or involving the use of structured roleplay as well. We’re involving the use of video analysis.
So there’s how I think I interacted and then there’s go back to back and watch the tape. And then what we found is alright, for a year or two, we eat very careful about how we marketed it, because you would get the people that they were fine with eating pro, there at that point in their career, they want to know, hey, where am I the problem? You know, where am I the problem? But those are generally the people that yes, they need it, but they don’t always need it as much as everybody else who’s not even thinking. And so then there’s this fine line of all right, we think about the words we choose to market it and we can use social agility and we can talk about power dynamics, but what we found is we did have to use sometimes terms like soft skills that are abhorrent to me, and it sounds like you have a disdain as well.
But to get people in the door, like hey, come learn this, come learn that when in reality I remember training my colleague, Ali one time and I go, you know what this workshop really is. This isn’t a communication workshop or a salsa. This is a self awareness workshop that teaches people how to adapt to context. And but we have to wrap it and this leads to my question for you. We have to wrap it in things that are engaging and fun and we even have to use comedic forms of improv to kind of bring levity to the workshop at some points because otherwise it gets really heavy, right? People want to have they come to train for really hard conversations.
So I guess my question is, it’s clear that you’ve done your research around a lot of these subjects. And this is a very basic question, but how do you make it fun? How do you make it fun, engaging, so that people want to keep coming back? And I guess even for our audience, giving them insight, are your outputs software based? Are they, what are the ways these organizations engage with it? And then how do you keep them coming back for more? And if I could be more clear, just handle me with it I will, but I want to give you a lot of rope there.
Thanks. Yeah, for sure. So we are a software platform. What I wanted to do was take the programs that I was creating, right and the methods that I kind of improved, worked and find a scalable way to introduce that to organizations. And we’re still l working on it, obviously, because we’re early but so the outputs are all on our web based software, but how to make it fun. One of the ways that we’re trying to make it fun and engaging is by making sure that we keep our touch points quick when it comes to the more serious questions and then otherwise integrated into team based setting.
So when we started working with high schools, mostly, and we started using eSports environments, because they’re team based environments. So what I think people don’t understand is that in order to build these sorts of skills, you need to practice them, right. And a traditional classroom environment doesn’t allow you to practice these sorts of skills, you have to be in situation and then execute on them. And so we wrap around the moment, exclusively team based environments and provide a scaffold of survey questions and assessments before and after you participate in those environments to help you think about these sorts of skills while you’re executing on something that you probably already care about. Right? So yeah, these sports were really great way of really great environments for for supporting the learning of these skills because they were social in nature and emotional in nature. Right? So you got to see how you were behaving if you thought about it, right? Simply putting the scaffold around those environments and helping people build that awareness.
And it was interesting to see in some of our early pilots, kind of those broad patterns, you could see an entire group go through understanding what a skill actually was, or behavior actually looks like. Right? They had one impression at the beginning.
So we’re kind of calibrating awareness of both self awareness right, how I’m behaving and what’s attributable to me, as well as just awareness of what these skills and behaviors actually look like. Because sometimes I think I know what good communication looks like. Being assertive looks like, but it turns out I’m just kind of being a bully and being really mean, right? And that’s not good communication. Raising that awareness is kind of baby step number one for us. And if you can put somebody on that journey, you know, they can roll ahead because what you’re doing is building out for them sort of that recognition, as well as a new vocabulary.
What we found too is that there’s not a really great rich vocabulary around a lot of these skill sets and behaviors as well and we’re not used to talking about them. Like they’re things that matter. I think they’re things that we’re continually developing. That’s the other thing is that and that’s a huge failing from I think, just a systems perspective, right? We were only trying to level up and that’s not actually how, honestly I don’t know that’s how anything works. But for us, the skills are all woven together on the back end. So how these skills relate. They don’t exist independently in silos.
The point in our system isn’t just to like, get to that next level. And then suddenly, faster communication and you’re done, as you know, very well aware of your term social agility. I love the idea of agility, or, or terms like adaptability, because context matters so much you should be continually calibrating these skills, right? They’re behaviors that will look different in every different team contexts, relationship contexts that you’re in.
So it should be a continual calibration, a continual dialogue with yourself, as you seek to improve and adapt as a person because they’re the sorts of behaviors that making you right and the best version of yourself and whatever role you’re in and as those roles change and they will right? Your role in your family changes as you grow, your role at work as you switch, you know, switch occupations, or even just grow a team, your position changes so you shouldn’t continually calibrating and thinking and agilely moving through understanding yourself and the way that you interact with the world. So I think we forget that.
Brett Bartholomew 34:48
Yeah. Well then touch on that. I want to know if you would, if this is an accurate statement in your mind. Sometimes I feel like if people understood context more, and you did say this in some in a different way more eloquently than I will, understanding context allows us to become the best or at least a better version of ourselves. And what I mean by that is what I think I’ve heard you say is that I want to give an example literally and from a narrative standpoint.
When we feel constrained by certain conventions, or norms or even whims of a societal culture. It makes us overthink everything. It makes us constrict a lot of our forms of expression, which people already struggle to really express things accurately. And I remember just from a narrative standpoint, even when I had my wife, she had her sister come visit one time and you know, I have to be buttoned up in a lot of areas of my life. And there’s the other side, there’s a presenter side when I’m at home, sometimes I just want to be able to not necessarily be me but be a different version of me and I remember saying something to a friend and you know, my wife sister had said, Oh, you shouldn’t say that, shouldn’t say this.
And I said, listen, I’m in my own home or just joking. Like my friend knows what I mean. This is I, it was almost like when I trained athletes, I could give them that remember, I was wearing a device one time that measured my tone. And the device was telling me I was being incredibly negative. When in reality, I was just bullshitting with the athlete and they were laughing their butt off. And, you know, I just feel like when people understand context, we give ourselves more grace.
And it just leads to more happiness because people should be less likely to judge. People should be less likely to judge, less likely to engage in black and white thinking, because it’s the situation, it’s not this static snapshot of a moment. Does that conceptually resonate at all? Or do you think? Is there anything else that you can kind of added out or pushed back on?
Yeah, I think that’s wildly important. Because I think again, we try to put things into formulas, right? And that doesn’t work, nuance and subtlety. But we’ve lost a lot of those things in our society, distinctions right, seem to happen anymore. And that’s wildly unfortunate. I think context matters for learning. context matters when you execute any of these particular skills. That’s why it’s not a formula. It’s not just if you do x and y, then suddenly z will happen. doesn’t actually work that way, either.
So that’s the cool thing about being human and we’re not you know, we’re not just programmable machines that we know anyway, that these awesome, you know, brains with the ability to be creative and innovative and adaptable and looking for the nuance and the subtlety in the context really, really, really matters for interpretation. And that’s, it also is there’s an art there, right, as well. So, you know, maybe we don’t get it right, every time, whatever right is, but you learn from that and that’s exactly what it is to be to be human.
Brett Bartholomew 41:38
So I have two questions to follow up off of this one is more nerd question and has to do with analysis, evaluation scoring, and then one is a little bit more personal in nature, you game for both?
Brett Bartholomew 41:51
Okay. So early on. You’d said something within the last five minutes and I’m glad that these things don’t exist in a vacuum, however you categorize and how would you score and I know you haven’t seen our evaluation necessarily, and I haven’t taken part in yours. But we had a great question the other day, when I was running a workshop where we have certain meta categories.
I’ll give you an example and this will be old hat to you because you get it. You know, we have the basic and this is an overall social skills evaluation. So we have one category that is communication base, and that’s your classic verbal, para verbal, nonverbal, and even those get broken up like nonverbal is haptics the use of touch can be fix, right, if I cross my arms or I raise my eyebrows, you say something interesting proxemics spacing, you get the idea that within verbal there’s plenty different ones, there can be clarity, conciseness, tonality, porosity, all these pieces.
Well, then we have another meta category separate to that even though these are all forms of communication. They’re different expressions of social skills. And one of them was just this element of what was it? It was presence, this idea of presence, which is, you know, in the research is very hard to pin down, you know, to have presence. Of course, there’s presence of mind, which I’m not referring to here, and then there’s presence in terms of command of a room. Now, there are certain things that go into presence that by and large, absolutely are related to the same things we’d see in the nonverbal category, like your Kinesis and how you stand and we’ve heard those sites, but there’s also different elements of presence that maybe aren’t neatly categorized.
And here’s my point. When we’ll ask questions, when we ask people to evaluate, write down their videos in the clinic. They’ll say, well, I think it’s this category, but isn’t it also that category and it could be this category and it’s also that category? And our answer usually like, yes, listen, if I perform a pull up, it’s not just my biceps that contract. There’s co contraction. There’s all the like, and so there’s times as a practitioner, I do feel like I fail, that if I don’t give people these things in these neatly ordered buckets, but then I go back to what you said, and what I know to be true in the research we’ve done in this space. They don’t fit into buckets, they are complementary, they are co contractive in nature, if I can use that word, and that only reaffirms your point early on, that we’ve got to get out of black and white thinking If this, then, that. It’s like no, you can walk and chew gum, things can exist in two spaces.
What you have to say is what I tell them is guys go by order of magnitude, you know, go by order of magnitude is where is this best represented categorically? Because the only reason I break it up into categories in general and our evaluation is just so people can piecemeal it a little bit better for me. I can’t turn it off. I see it all the time. And I wonder if the way you score and evaluate or analyze as similar elements in the sense that certain categories, they don’t necessarily blend together but they’re complementary, and that they feed multiple ends of the spectrum does that question an example? Makes sense?
Yeah, no, no, exactly. Um, so one of the things an empty skills in in particular, right? If you think about all the skills that make up communication, or if you think about the idea of collaboration, right collaboration is one of our skills well in order to collaborate well, you have to communicate at all, so there’s not a way in which you can just sit down and learn a lesson on collaboration without understanding communication.
And the reason why I mean, you know, in your examples, which I think are are fantastic, you’re asking people to kind of, you know, either create a hierarchy or put things in silos is simply for an identification of those skills practice, right to build awareness of what they look like and kind of feel like so that’s the reason why we do it, but it’s artificial. Because at the end of the day, they’re all related.
So one of the unique things that we did when we built our skills framework, and again, can use just their assessment achievement Institute’s know for this sort of work is map those skills together. So understand which skills are most closely related. Someone said, Yeah, instead of just a list of skills it’s like a mind map of skills, if you will, where, you know, the ones that are that are clustered work closely together are the ones that have an effect on each other the most, and one of the reasons why we did that, too, is so that as we started to pull in, data points on, you know, users learning pathways we could understand, you know, maybe what patterns exist there in terms of in terms of learning and understanding.
And then of course, you know, eventually we can infer when we have a data point about one particular skill that maybe is more observable, right, what level of mastery or probability of understanding somebody has in some of these other skill arenas and then you can begin to approach you know, instructing or teaching these skills from from multiple angles just depending on the person in front of you because every person is different, right? There’s not going to be just one way gives you more ways to get at these different skill groupings. If you will, so that you know there are there like three main modalities for getting any sort of measure on the sorts of skills that are soft, durable term, but soft for the reason that they’re, you know, perhaps a little bit hard to get a measure on. But, and that’s, you know, situational judgment tests.
Brett Bartholomew 47:46
Tell me more about that.
Situational judgment test is, looks like a multiple choice question. So it’s a scenario with options, right, how would you, what would you do in this scenario, right? Where the options that you have there’s not a right answer.
Brett Bartholomew 48:04
Oh, it’s like scenario planning in general like this. Yeah. Okay. Keep going. I love this. .
Yes. You want to ask the multiple questions, right. So there’s not ever one. It’s not like a word problem in math where there’s only one right answer right? With every answer you give one with respect to kind of triangulate where you’re at when it comes to your understanding of a given context. So and skill, right so we mount those data points up and then we can infer a level of mastery of a particular skill or behavior set. Does that make sense? Yeah, like that a lot. So, situational judgment tests, forced choice questions, which we see on personality assessments all the time, right?
Brett Bartholomew 48:50
Yeah. Yes. Can all that big downfall of those.
Yeah. And then just just surveys, right. We’re using a network of servers right now. So pure self, and then manager coach assessment of your skills and that’s honestly that started out as a validation method for us, but it’s become an interesting learning tool as well.
Because when you ask somebody to reflect after the experience that they’ve had in a team, like how did you just execute? So this goes back to context, right? So not how do you feel you executed in general with your communication skills, but this last game that you’ve just played? How was your communication and it should be, you know, slightly different every time more than it depends on how much somebody upsets you or whether your mind was somewhere else and that’s, that’s it, you want to watch those patterns and then you know, we pair that up against peer assessment and coach assessment and understand where you are when it comes to rating yourself versus the way that everybody else is preceding you, because functionally you might have the latent abilities to say be a good leader or a great communicator.
But if you aren’t using those and the rest of whoever is on your team, or part of the group that you’re in, doesn’t agree right, with you on where you stand, then functionally, that’s where you stand. So calibrating that kind of group percentage perspective, is one of the ways in which we go at kind of providing an assessment and reducing that idea of leveling up. So instead of trying to like hey everybody’s gonna score really high on these assessments, we’re aiming for you know, lack of deviation. So we want, we actually want the aggregate scores to be at zero. So we’re understanding that everybody’s aware in the same way the skills on how they’re being executed within the group that you’re in, in a given context.
Does that make sense?
Brett Bartholomew 50:35
Yeah, I love that idea. Because the way that the way that we do it, and it’s definitely something you know, we iterate in permutations and this is why I definitely, I need to get you out to one of our events, and I haven’t seen want to be hyper involved in what you’re doing in any way as we for lack of it. When we started off, we started kind of Likert scoring and there’s inherent downfalls with that.
But let’s say we’re working on a scenario where somebody wants to work on a conflict with a roommate, right to point resolution. And this is something we did at a Boston workshop. Somebody said, Hey, I’m telling my roommate, I’m breaking the lease. I know this sounds silly, but I’ve been dreading this for months. I want to roleplay that scenario, right? So I’m going to be brief in some things for the sake of just not losing any of the listeners. But they roleplay it out and then we evaluate three ways to It sounds similar degree to yours is they give after the role playing scene we say okay, evaluate yourself, right and in zero to three and we try to make sure they don’t get hooked on free is always good either. That’s not the point.
The point is their peers, evaluate them as well. And then we try to account for group bias where people can come together and say, Well, I gave her a two, I gave her a one I gave her because when we have multinational individuals, right, different cultures express things like assertiveness or anything differently. And so what’s nice is what we look for is the perceptual gap. If somebody thinks they’re all ones, but you know, their peers gave them threes, or vice versa, then there’s a conversation to be had and we tell them like there’s no 20 there’s no perfect score.
What we’re worried about is an asymmetry, and we try to help them understand because another category is inclusiveness. So I give you myself or a friend item and others were at a table having dinner, I want to spread around that conversation. I want to ask you some questions and so on and so forth. If I don’t do that, that’s a zero. If I do that, right. The goal is that I worked my way up the scale but part of your giving graduation speech at Harvard, you’re not supposed to score high on inclusiveness that by and large is a monologue other than thanking the provost, the deep. So we try to get people and this is mean just checking for understanding with what you’re saying.
We try to get people to understand that a three The goal is not threes across the board. If you did that would actually be dysfunctional communication, because you can’t get a three on use of questions, listening and inclusiveness at the same time. You wouldn’t be a juggler, am I hearing you right in terms of at least that the context plays all the way in the scoring and we have to account for the situational nature of things? Absolutely. Always. Yeah. How you get more involved with what one another doing, that’s a question I’ll, we’re gonna hit offline.
It’s going through my head to grips.
Brett Bartholomew 53:18
But I want to know this on a personal note, and I’m going to let you go because I want to respect your time. I know you have a lot going on. We’re gonna do a part two because there’s so much I want to get to. I have found that despite me studying so much of this, and you’ll get the final word, by the way, you can answer this and then you get a fire away question. There are areas that I still fail tremendously as a communicator, one of those areas that’s always hard. It’s just in your marriage, right? Like it’s hard, especially with those that are close to you and all that and there’s nowhere it’s more evident.
I think another area is sometimes I’ll do solo episodes of the podcast where I want to help people with so many things that will find me and I tried doing too much in that episode or I tried doing this. I wonder what are some areas that you feel despite everything you know, about context and interaction? Where are some areas you still really struggle and feel? Wow, no wonder this is a lifelong apprenticeship and this you’re never gonna perfect it. Yeah. That’s an interesting, that’s too personal. No problem.
Oh, no, no, I think it’s a really great question because I think I mean, this is, these are definitely questions that I asked myself and I think that it’s probably so I guess this falls into this category too. Honestly, it’s just confidence in speaking up more. I’ve actually always tended to be the quiet one, even though I’m super opinionated. And I used to get in trouble for it all the way back in university right, got you some more in class stop coming to offer office hours just to talk to me like why don’t you speak up in class in front of the group.
And that honestly has been probably the biggest challenge for me and like, I’ve had lots to calibrate personally right and I’m married and I have a son and there’s constant challenges there. And context, so matters and you can see it right. Especially in your personal life because you tend to ignore things and just get tunnel vision. But I think my biggest challenge is the same challenge. That I’ve been working for this university, which is making sure that I speak up in the group and not just keeping on my thoughts to myself and the professors that I respected.
Brett Bartholomew 55:43
Yeah, well, I think that answers you know, something that I wanted to ask you, but I want to give you more room to elaborate on it. You know, why? Why we focus on, we’ve covered a lot about contexts and situations and communication. You know, and we’ve talked about a little bit of why we focus on individuals and not always the relationships between them, and how do we shift our definition of what it means to be human I think on my end of that that’s a key thing of what I just mentioned as a self disclosure is I often felt like Man, if I make my life’s work, really communication and that’s what we mean. So much of the Art Of Coaching is changing the way we guide lead interactive mentor, putting in I feel like a failure in my own marriage.
Sometimes I feel like a failure in it as, as a boss or a leader, you know, is does that mean I’m not worthy or I’m not skilled, but in my mind, I think that is very much what makes us human is the nature of inherent misunderstandings. But how do we become better humans, I think is at least trying to figure out alright, misunderstanding is the baseline because we can’t read each other’s minds.
To me, the first step in becoming a better human is doubling down on all these things that we’re talking about how we interact and how we look at ourselves in situations and would you care to elaborate or share a different take on that?
No, I think that’s interesting. So it’s making me think of something I’d love to know what you think of this in general because I think that I mean, we tend to put people on pedestals because they’re the best right? And so we’re gonna learn from the best and that’s fine. And I think it’s certain, um, certain channels of expertise. Maybe that makes tons of sense. But in general, you know, we’re talking again about these human skills, right.
And then you mentioned that you know, the idea of what does it mean to be human or the question what does it mean to be human which you know, I think we should start asking ourselves because I think it’s time to recalibrate, on what that really means. And I think that you know, what really matters when it comes to these skills is not it’s not being the best. There’s a real, I think there’s a real misunderstanding and a super artificial idea there that somehow you think can be the best. I think it’s, it’s the best out and accepting continual failure because what you really want to do is continually experimenting, right? Experimenting and calibrating.
And so even if you mess up a lot, right, and you don’t get it right every time it’s that ability to just get back up and try again. Right. That’s how long because of the other point that you brought up, and I know that we’ve talked about this before, right. And what’s interesting to me and I think what’s interesting to you is it’s not the the nodes on either end, right, or even the individuals on either end. It’s the relationship between those two things. That’s continually being worked on and calibrated, and you will fail and thinking that you won’t fail is just a really bad position to start from, yeah, I think that you know, there’s no way to get really good at these skills, and have a huge ego. Which is maybe the other cool thing.
So I think it’s accepting those failures, admitting them and instead of feeling bad or ashamed or wrong it’s you’re just human, and that’s okay. So now what do we do to recalibrate what’s the next step? So I think, yeah, we figuring out how, how we phrase that simply,
Brett Bartholomew 59:21
I think that’s, it is a great way to mention. I mean, I remember there’s plenty of research that just makes it clear that communication is foundational to the human experience. So in essence, to be more human and a better human. We need to double down on it. I think that inherently people get that. I think it’s reminding them of that in a way that’s sticky. In the sense that we always have to mark it with we’re in a sense, like you said, we have to remarket the way people view these things, you know, oh, go ahead.
Sorry, I just, something struck me as you were saying that there. I mean, there’s already something false in our assumption here though, as well because communication is not a one waste. If there’s a misunderstanding or miscommunication it isn’t, you know, say it’s between us. It isn’t just on you or just on me. I mean, we should both be taking ownership but figuring out where that happened because it’s one of the skills that we bucket under communication is active listening as a communication skill, because it’s a part of that two way street, right.
So, if you look at it, you know, almost like a dance right? It requires it requires two people in order to get good at or be effective. And it’s always shifting because you might not always be talking to the same person. Right. And then and then it’s just as you learn how to communicate with each new relationship.
Brett Bartholomew 1:00:49
Podcasting has definitely helped with that. You know, making sure that because we tried to having been on a lot of podcasts prior that I just felt like nobody, there was a fine line. Some of them were too scripted. And then some of them couldn’t do the art of improv well, because they didn’t listen to what we were saying. And when you have a certain amount of time, it becomes difficult and I think you know, I appreciate you sharing what part is on your evaluation, another part that’s on ours is expectation management would help bridge that gap that you just mentioned, right to make sure that we understand it’s a two way street.
It’s why before every episode, we always try to talk to folks and we say, Hey, here’s our audience. Here’s kind of the tone that we said, here’s what we’re looking for. And it doesn’t guarantee I mean, you’ve done a wonderful job with it, but I remember there’s plenty of times where we had an offer. And I said, Hey, you know, we want to support your book. We want to support you. But I promise you if you come on and you just say well, in my book, as my book said in your ardent about just selling your book and not just being a human being, people are not going to listen to it. You know, and you try to make that clear.
And there are times inevitably we’re just people kind of get in that robotic way. And they’re just like, why would I sit in my bed? I’m like, say something other than that, like, come on, you know, but as a host, you have to be like, Hey, maybe I didn’t make it clear enough. Or maybe I’m not making them comfortable enough that they feel like they can do that. And so that’s another thing that I think is wonderful about what you said about fear. I have had to come to terms with being the best is overrated.
All you can do is try to facilitate improvement and adapt and learn and grow. And I just, I think it’s wonderful. What you’re doing. I hope you take over the world with it. I hope that we find, you know, a way that we can get you out to one of our workshops and I can collaborate with you. And I want to have you on again if you’re comfortable with it. So I want to thank you so much for coming in and also give you the last word here.
Thanks Brett. I really appreciate it. It’s really wonderful to be here. I always enjoy having conversations and so please let’s find a way to work together. And yeah, I just love to push this whole field forward as quick as possible, because it’s gonna have such an impact. I think on the way that learning just changes, particularly in our society right now.
Brett Bartholomew 1:03:05
So other than wethink.us Where can people support you? What can they do to learn more? How can we get involved with what you’re doing and share with our friends and family and everybody in between?
Absolutely fantastic question. Thank you so much. And it is actually my apologies I probably should have sent this to in advance. It is wethinkteams.com we just changed the name in the last couple of months and I know I was scheduled on you so my apologies. But it’s wethinkteams.com. That is the best place to go and find articles and resources on what it is that we’re doing. That website is improving soon. So that would be the best way to get a hold of us. There’s a button to schedule a call. And then you always find me on LinkedIn. I do respond to my messages there. So I’m on LinkedIn as Kat Salazar.
Brett Bartholomew 1:04:03
Phenomenal. Well guys remember, the essence of what we do as leaders is influence, interact, communicate and help others grow. And we cannot do that if we don’t understand the nuances of this space at tremendous depth. There are people out there like Kat doing this work making it accessible, please make sure to support them. They come here and give you an hour more of their time for free. We can’t appreciate you enough.
Okay guys, until next time, the Art Of Coaching podcast, we’ll talk to you soon.
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