How to Broaden Other People's Minds
The other question, though, when we're talking about how we can broaden our minds we'll get into a little bit more of this, there's a question around, how do you broaden other people's minds, too? If you're working in a group, trying to get civil rights passed, it's not just about you who are organizing the movement. You need a lot of people doing it. You're trying to have a good debate or an argument at work, where you can play with the different viewpoints and stoke the friction, everyone needs to be able to open their minds, otherwise it's just not gonna work. If one person's open-minded, but the group's not gonna do that. Saying the same thing over and over again. So how do we do this? Well, there is more science that shows us some pretty cool stuff that we can do. And for that, I need a volunteer to get their brain invaded. Actually, you four have volunteered. We're gonna go through an exercise. So I have here, for everyone who's watching, this is a band from Immersion Neuroscienc...
e. And it's a little band that has these light sensors that you'll see light up. I'll put this on that. So this is a company called Immersion Neuroscience, developed by these two guys, super cool. Neuroeconomics is kind of a new term. It's basically an economist that studies neuroscience, like what are the things going on inside our brains that make us make the irrational decisions that we make. And then his associate Jorge, who hooked me up with these things for all of you. Super smart guys that have unlocked a way to measure downstream effects of our brains and some things that are going on inside of our brains, without actually having to put a needle in or put a helmet on. So this thing, the way that it works is, you put it on your arm here. And they have, their website is immersionneuro.com. If I can do this on myself. So what it's measuring is the downstream effects of oxytocin. Which is a neurochemical that our brain synthesizes when certain things happen. And when your brain synthesizes oxytocin, there's a nerve called the vagus nerve that runs from your brain to your heart that, it will have variations in the rhythm because of this chemical that's in there. I don't understand how that works, but. And the variations in the rhythm of the vagus nerve actually has downstream effects that you can measure in the sort of primary veins in your body. So this little light sensor is measuring how your oxytocin levels are changing while things are happening. So we're gonna do a little demonstration. This is a chart of our collective brains all at once. We're gonna separate them in a second. But it's baselining. So first our brains are gonna be like, what is this? We're so curious. And then it's gonna smooth out and we're gonna do a little experiment. This is our chart. I'm actually gonna split it out to all of us. We've got Froggy, Pink, Robin, Shane, and Why not me. All right, here we go. And now, I'm gonna tell a story. Pay attention to me instead of the chart (audience laughing) for this next story. So the last time I cried, I was actually hooked up to this thing. So this is a bit of a meta story. I am not a father. But I watched the story of a father that made me cry. The story went like this. There's a dad who had two young kids. Gets up in the morning, goes into the kitchen to help make breakfast and sandwiches for them for school, has a little son who's young enough that he's excited about everything. And he's like, hi, Dad! Has a daughter who's like a pre-teen daughter. And he goes, kisses his son, goes to kiss his daughter, and she's like, oh, Dad. So, you know, he's going about the morning. And then he gets a camera. Goes, takes a selfie with his son, he's like, yeah! Takes a selfie with the daughter, and she's like, get out of my face. And so, you know, that progresses. They leave the house, The dad and the daughter both walk down the porch and he goes to say goodbye to her because they're gonna go separate ways, and she just runs off, ignores him. She's like, headphones in, taking off. Daughter's at school and she opens her lunchbox. And underneath the sandwich is the little photo, the Polaroid that the dad took of him happy and her being a pill. And she closes it to make sure none of her friends see this. And so next scene, they're at home. Dad shows up home from work, long day, he's tired from the office. Comes in, his kid's playing video games, he's like, hi, Dad! Goes past the daughter, she's got headphones in, he tries to get her attention, she's like, being a jerk. You know, and he walks down the hallway, goes into their room, and there's all the signs that his little girl is growing up. And they have bunk beds, and it's pretty clear that that's not gonna be a thing for very much longer. He looks at all these signs that she's growing up. She has a vanity, she has makeup now. It's his little girl, and you can see the weight of this on this father, as he kind of like slowly sits down on the edge of the bottom bunk. And then he kind of like sighs and lays down on the bed, just thinking about, you know, life. And he looks up, and on the ceiling of the bunk bed is photo after photo of him and his daughter, selfies he's taken over the years, including the one that they took just his morning, has already been taped up there. And then that's kind of the end of the story. So that's the part where I teared up. And the scientists attached me to this monitor. We're gonna look at how you guys did during this meta story. All right, so, wow, who's Why not me? So these spikes, what this is measuring is how immersed you are, emotionally, in the story that I just told or in whatever you're doing. So you can see, kind of everyone's having different reactions. Two people here had a very different reaction to this point in the story. I'm guessing, all right, I'm guessing that this here is where, we can actually go dissect this afterwards, but usually during this kind of story, the spikes happen when some sort of emotional event happens. So, you know, you realize that she's found the photo in the lunch pail, and she hides it. She's embarrassed of it. Or you see the father, you know, try to get his daughter's attention, and she's not doing that. And over here, somewhere over here, yeah, so this is where I started talking again. We're actually gonna combine these charts. All participants. There we go. Now, my own data is going to kind of mess with this. But you can see, our brains are having different levels of activity in different parts of the story. The parts where it gets emotional are the parts where your brain is more active. The parts where it's less emotional, or where it's boring, the parts where it's not. So clearly there were a couple of parts that really affected everyone in the audience, during the story. Now, if I had told a story that wasn't just about the time that I cried, but a time something happened to me, chances are that those spikes that you would have would go a little bit higher. If I told a story about, you know, a PowerPoint presentation I once gave, that kinda meta story, it'd be down at the bottom. But as soon as you cross four or five, that's when the brain measurement, the brain chemicals, are being elevated. So what this is measuring is something called oxytocin, like I said. Oxytocin is the empathy chemical. So inside of our brains, anytime your brain is deciding that it should care about something, or that it does care about someone, or it's feeling an emotion for someone else or on their behalf, so this thing, you can break down these scores into actually isolating the empathy, isolating the amount of immersion that you're having. So you ever sit in the movie theater and then someone coughs and you realize that you're in a movie theater and you're not inside of, you know, the James Bond film or whatever? So this actually breaks down those things and combines them into these lines. But basically what this is saying is that stories, that science shows us that stories actually cause changes in our brains. And we can use this to, you can bring up the slides again, we can use this as a way to actually develop open-mindedness and bring people together, which we'll talk about now. So you can take your little bands off. All right. You just hold the button for a few seconds, it'll turn it off. So this thing, Immersion Neuroscience is the company, what they're doing now with these bands is they're actually testing TV commercials. And they're testing charity ads. So they'll show people two ads and they'll say, they'll look at which ones have the most spikes of empathy or of immersion. And they've actually done experiments where they say the ones that have more spikes, people will donate more to the charity, they'll be more likely to do something. Now, I'm not a father. I don't know this fake person in this fake story I just told you. But I know that I felt real emotion when I first saw the story. And when I tell the story, I feel like I wanna give this fake person a hug, right? Sorta weird, we know it's not real. You watch a movie that you know is fiction, and you still feel that real emotion. So now that we can measure it, there's some really interesting things that we can do. So the science of story, how it has to do with open-mindedness and humility, pretty interesting. So the first thing that we learned about stories from a science perspective is that stories help us remember things. So, neuroscientists like to say, neurons that fire together, wire together. So that means that the more of your brain that's active, the more your brain will remember things. So neurons wiring together is memories and habits and all that. So a story has this really interesting effect on us to actually engage more of our neurons. So I tell you this story about the dad and the teenager and the little son, and you're probably imagining what he looks like. Probably feeling some feelings that he might have had. You might even have had sort of sensory, like sounds of what, you know, the voice was like or whatever. You know, the son, when I'm like, hi, Dad, like, you're actually processing that auditory sound, more of your brain is active, so kind of filling in this imagination. This means you'll remember that story much more than you'll remember, actually the specifics of the chart you saw. And so that's the first thing that science has learned about story. The other is about this oxytocin thing, which these guys at Immersion Neuro are the pioneers of this research that shows that oxytocin actually does a lot of really interesting things. So we, you put the band on, and you can measure, when someone gives you a hug, you'll have a little spike. When someone shows you a kindness, you'll have a little spike. When you hear an emotional story, you'll have a little spike. And what this does, what this was theorized, is when we were living around campfires, we had to survive together, it was advantageous for us to care about each other. And it was also advantageous for us to tell stories so that we could remember things and pass down knowledge so that future generations could survive and learn how to do things. So these two things became kind of intertwined. Stories became this mechanism that not only helped us remember, but also to build relationships and to make people care. My favorite story about this is, one day I was really bored at a conference. And I was scrolling through my phone, scrolling through Wikipedia at random. And that's how bored I was. So somehow I'm like clicking on random things, and I end up on the Wikipedia page for Ryan Gosling. (audience laughing) I don't know if you know the story of Ryan Gosling, but according to Wikipedia, it goes like this: Ryan Gosling grew up, had a very sad childhood. He moved around a lot, his dad was a traveling salesman, didn't make friends, had a kind of a rough time. And with kids, you move around a lot, it's sad. His parents then split up when he was still quite young. He stays with his mom, his mom has to work, he stays home all day watching television. And little Ryan had all these problems. One, he had a hard time making friends. Two, turns out that he was really challenged when it came to learning. He didn't learn how to read until he was 12. He was diagnosed with ADHD, had a really hard time. He was bullied. He took matters into his own hands one day and things came to a head when he brought knives to school and threw them at the bullies because he wanted to defend himself like Rambo, which was his favorite movie that he watched while his mom was at work. So little Ryan Gosling was troubled, and then the Mickey Mouse Club came to town and he begged his mom to let him audition. So he went, and he auditioned, and he was cute, so they let him in. And then he has to move to Orlando, but his mom can't move with him. So he goes by himself. This is the crazy part of the story. He gets adopted by Justin Timberlake's mom. She becomes his legal American guardian and then he learns to act and learns to dance, he gets good at reading, and then he becomes Ryan Gosling. And once you learn that story, yeah, after that little Wikipedia journey, I was like, I love Ryan Gosling. I wanna watch all his movies. I went and watched The Notebook and it's great. And I watched Gangster Squad. I would never watch that movie. And all because of Ryan Gosling. And this was someone who was not human to me. He was just like this pretty face, who was probably rich and great his whole life. I had no idea he didn't know how to read. I had no idea he had to defend himself with bullies with throwing knives. Like, that's crazy. But also, he's now a human being who I wanna give a hug to. So that story made me care about him. And it turns out that stories can help us to care about other people who we don't see quite as human. When we talk about those two categories, the in group that's safe and the out group that's a question mark, it's really easy to turn that question mark into something that's not human. And this is how evil people have gotten people to destroy other people for centuries, right? During the Vietnam War, they said, don't ever call them people. They said this to the soldiers. Call them any of these awful names, just don't ever call them human beings. And that led people to be able to do horrible things like use civilians for target practice and awful, awful things. And we see that in the whole history of anyone that's trying to, you know, kind of destroy another people, as long as they're not humans, then you can do a lot of really nasty things to each other, which is part of why Twitter is such a nasty place, too. You know, the people behind the avatars don't feel like humans and so we can be really awful to each other. The more that we can humanize people, we can feel those emotions, the more that our brains can generate oxytocin. It can help us to care about them, to help us put them in the category of just like us, in terms of human beings, which then allows us to be open to their ideas when they're different than ours. New Zealand did a study, well, some professors in New Zealand, where they took schoolchildren from different races and economic backgrounds and had them do story time together. And these weren't just stories like reading Harry Potter, but it was also sharing your stories. And these kids that come from these backgrounds that, you know, in a place where that can be kind of tense, they grew up less racist. Simple as that, they grew up more open to other people who did not share their same backgrounds. Just super cool. One of my favorite parts of the studies that we've done with this open-mindedness test that you took is this. How many books do you read per month? Turns out, people that read no books a month are less intellectually humble than people who read more books a month. It just takes one to get a spike in intellectual humility. Same thing happens with television. So watching television a few hours a week actually is very correlated with intellectual humility, being open to other people's ways of thinking. And it turns out that it's not news television, it's actually fictional television that does this. Because what are books, what are novels and what are TV shows but stories of people who are not like you? So the more you take in these stories, the more your brain decides that they're okay. Just super cool. Another thing that kind of hammers in this point, I don't know if you saw this article a couple years ago. It was the most popular article of the year in the New York Times. To Fall In Love With Anyone, Do This. It was a list of questions that, if you ask your partner or your friend these questions, you go through all of them, then you're very likely to fall in love with them. And this was this huge sensation. Doesn't mean you will fall in love with someone, but you can't go through this list of questions without developing enormous affection for someone. Here are some examples of some of the questions. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else? Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible. What's your greatest accomplishment? What's your most treasured memory? What's your most terrible memory? Can you imagine what this sensor would be doing if you asked people these questions? Most of the questions in this thing are getting you to tell increasingly vulnerable and emotional stories. So of course you fall in love with people when you do this. Can you imagine, even if it's not someone who you'd be attracted to or interested in that way, if you sat down with any human being and went through these questions, there's no way that you walk out of that deciding that you need to kill their entire race. Or, you know, put them in a box and hammer them over the head with some awful slur. Right? There's no way that you wouldn't walk out of this saying, there's no way I'm gonna respect their viewpoint when I disagree with me at work. Can you imagine? So, my company actually used this to a degree. We realized that we had enough people that we didn't all know each other. And we have this company layout, this is back when, I started at a startup company that was three people, and then it grew to, you know, hundreds of people. It was a point when the layout was basically four different parts of the building. And, you know, the product team was never talking with the customer success team. And the finance team didn't know who was on the design team. And we realized that people were going to, were in danger of devolving into organizational silence, into having feuds, department versus department. And, you know, a lack of good collaboration and teamwork if we didn't help people to generate empathy for each other. So what we did was pretty simple. We just started having people share their stories with the company. So the first thing we did is, any new employee, we did this little talent show, where you have to share a story about yourself and then demonstrate or explain something that you know how to do that most people don't know how to do. Another question that I asked you. We then had like a little intranet, where we interviewed people like you would for a profile in a newspaper. About who they are and their life story. And I remember one in particular, one of our finance leads, who was kind of a quiet guy, but had, like all this power because, controls the finance. And one of our designers, who was also a very quiet person. And they discovered that they both have three kids and they both have similar sort of things in their background, that they care about some things and they you see them hanging out together at the happy hours. They would have never done this before. It also makes the budget discussion that they need to have once in a while, about buying the foam boards or whatever to print the artwork on, easier to have and easier argument to have because they have empathy, they care about each other because they learned their story. In particular, for me, one of the most, the best lessons in this, in collaboration, in this point in my career, was a woman that we hired as our head of sales at one point. And she was awesome. So good at her job. And, you know, great salesperson, great at rallying her team, great leader. And I could not stand her. We had just very different, like, it was like we were speaking a different language. We couldn't communicate. Very different styles of the way that we would persuade people to do things. And I was not having a great time with this person. And, you know, it didn't take too many months before I decided I didn't like her and that I would be happy if she was gone. And, you know, and you can see, you can probably imagine, right? Like, when you've had these kinds of experiences, someone who you have to work with, there's potential in those differences that we have. But, you know, and I think on her side, she was like a little bit cooler about it than me. (audience laughing) But it got to the point where I was not really respectful of anything that she had going on. And the short version of the story of what happened is, Thanksgiving rolled around, I was not going back to Idaho for Thanksgiving, and I let this slip. And she invited me to Thanksgiving dinner with her family. Which, I don't know why she did that, and I don't know why I said yes, but I did. And I went, and I met her grandma, and I met her sister, I saw baby pictures of her, and we did karaoke. And I just remember coming back to work that next week and being like, I am her, I'm on her side. Even though we still have, like, you know, different disagreements on the way things, they should be done, we could actually hash those out. And there would be meetings, and I would defend her, I would defend her points of view that I didn't agree with when people would try and run over her. And I, she became one of my, I became one of her biggest fans and she became one of my best collaborators. And, you know, I think one day she's gonna run for office and I'm gonna volunteer to, you know, help her do that. Like, amazing person that I almost missed out on the opportunity to be able to collaborate and do great things together because we were different. And yet just learning her story, like having her grandma and her sister talk to me about her and, you know, getting to know her as a human being, generated that empathy that I needed. Blackrock, which is a, one of the biggest financial firms in the world, I think they manage more investment money than any other company in the world. They used this idea of personal emotional narrative as a way to, when they formed teams, to get people to care about each other so they can have the intellectual fights that they need to without it getting personal. They actually have a program where they have people share their stories, their personal stories and they have certain prompts. What they have them do is identify the emotions that they felt in those stories. So you and I might have lived very different lives, but chances are, there's experiences that I've had that, whether they're smaller or less significant or more significant than experiences you've had in certain areas, where I've felt the same emotion that you've felt at a time in your life. And if we are put in a scenario where we're both giving each other benefit of the doubt and trusting each other's intentions, and I reveal a story to you, however big or small, and how I felt, that's gonna generate the oxytocin that's gonna help you to be a little bit okay with me. Blackrock is kind of on the cutting edge of big corporations getting people to do this and to actually have a diversity and inclusion program that actually works. So many big companies have this problem, where they hire all these people from different backgrounds and then say, either get with the program or, you know, be quiet unless you agree or they see conflict and turnover. Blackrock is doing so well, they're winning all these awards for doing a good job with this because instead of trying to shy away from the conflict, they're having people get to know each other and become more open-minded to each other, which is super awesome. So imagine what we can do with this, this idea of helping each other become more open-minded, becoming vulnerable, sharing our stories.
I'd love your thoughts on how you start to apply these in a larger organization. So thinking about, you know, a smaller startup culture is one thing, where it's manageable, potentially, but thinking about a larger organization with thousands of employees, how do you increase that vulnerability and affinity for each other when you're potentially meeting and passing like ships at night, you know?
Yeah, great question. It, you know, the hard truth is, a lot of it starts with the leaders, right? So I think one of the things that Blackrock does really well is their founder is still there, still very involved, and is leading the charge on this stuff, right? I think that the more that the leader can show vulnerability can share their story and show that it's okay and actually invite, you know, the dissent, the friction, but also share, you know, me telling that story of me and my VP is not super easy to do sometimes, right, and depending on the group. But that gives you sort of implicit permission to share your story about things, right? So I think that's part of it. The bigger the organization, the harder it gets, right? When you don't know everyone, you have to kind of do these things at scale. So even when we were talking about playing, right, you know, you have to build into sort of the fabric of the team or the organization these things that allow people to be in that zone. Trying, if you're in a bigger organization, you probably have the means to move people around and put them in new environments. So you know, if you have offices across the country, actually have people spend a month in the other office, like that sort of thing. You know, it might cost money, but you take key people and have them do that. I think, a lot of times what I've seen is, organizations, they put all the pieces together, and then they say, now be open-minded. You know, and that just doesn't happen. It has to start with the top, but then also the middle layers of leadership become really important, too. Those people need to be trained and focusing on these kinds of things, that they're trying to have these relationships in this zone and that they need to lead with example. I think that's also where the one-on-one kind of dynamic really helps. One thing I've been thinking about lately is the power dynamic that you often have between a leader or a boss and a subordinate that doesn't allow for the subordinate to express a different opinion or to feel safe changing their mind about something. You know, you put something out there, and then you have to stick with it or else you might be punished for it. In the same way that, you know, traveling can help you to detach your need to be right from your identity, taking some of those meetings off site, right, you know, having the one on one, but where you know there's a power dynamic, do it at a coffee shop, kind of in a different neighborhood, dress down. Don't do it late at night in a hotel, right? Do it somewhere else. But this is why, you know, some of this stuff that's kind of cheesy that we talk about or we make fun of in like corporate off sites actually inadvertently gets really right, I think. You know, the trust fall thing is the easiest to make fun of but going to some campground and doing obstacle courses together and a tug-of-war and all that, putting yourself in an environment where things are a little bit more equal ground, those kinds of things you can do at a bigger scale than you can, you know, or than other things, right? So, I mean, I think the underlying principles there that this new stuff we're learning can kind of help us, you can go in a lot of directions. If you need to, get out of the environment. Depending on the scale of the problem that you have, you can kind of apply that in different ways.