The Blend Podcast EP028 – Blend Reviews 2021 Part 1

Tom Payani 1:16

So how do you think you’ve improved in 2021? You can take that question as you want professionally, personally through blend, however, you want to answer that.

Brendan Cox 1:29
Okay, I would say I’ve become a lot more reductive, better at removing fat. We’ve had a lot of meetings this year and we realised quite quickly how much time that takes up if you let them go on for too long. So by the end of this year, we’ve got a lot better, we all of our meetings tend to be less than half an hour with our clients as well as each other. We also design so we get to the point, the essence of the project. And so I think it’s our processes, streamlining our processes and streamlining the communication with clients as well. So I’ve noticed that from the ones that we were doing at the beginning of the year to the ones now, everything’s a lot a lot more straightforward, and a lot more transparent and clear.

Tom Payani 2:21
I think just adding on to that, when you get better at what you’re doing, and more effective and efficient in what you’re doing, fat does remove itself from processes because you’re not hiding behind fluff either.

Brendan Cox 2:38
I think that if we’re critical about what we do, and we care about doing it properly, we aren’t going to let the fat sit there. Because it’s just not needed.

Tom Payani 2:50
All right. Let’s move on. have you changed your mind on anything regarding elearning this year? Anything in the eLearning industry that you’ve changed your opinion on?

Brendan Cox 3:05
I suppose because this is our second year I’m finding more and more out about elearning and instructional designers, because I came in from the design background. I think with time, I’ve come to realise that all of these different bits of terminology and approaches and systems , these different ways of looking at everything, if you sit back from it all actually are pointing towards the same thing. So it’s not so much I’ve changed my mind about it. But more like I feel more focused about what good learning should be – the only real reason to learn something is to be able to do something. And the only reason you do something is because you are in a situation where that’s needed, basically a scenario. So in theory, if you can’t think of a scenario where someone would use something, there’s really no point teaching them it. Because it’s just wasting their time and your time.

Tom Payani 4:17
Yeah, I think there’s some exceptions to that rule in more academic ways of thinking, but I think you’re right, in terms of businesses, employee training, that sort of thing. If there’s no practical application of the training, then it’s redundant, isn’t it?

Brendan Cox 4:35
When you’re designing something asking why is really important, because if you can’t answer the why, then you really are wasting your time doing something. And so for me, it was the realisation that actually the best approach to something is to put it into a scenario and use that to teach the learner and if you can’t actually put it into a scenario, maybe question why it is you’re teaching them it in the first place. Like you say there’s other things where there’s different ways of doing it for different applications. But in general, the kind of clients and customers that we’re working with, that rule applies. And now that switch is flipped in my head, I realised that actually has given me quite good clarity about every project as we approach it.

Tom Payani 5:18
I also think that that links back to question one, I think by questioning why and making sure there’s a practical application, or there’s a scenario where that training can be used, by definition that will cut the fat off the training itself. So what has inspired you this year?

Brendan Cox 5:37
I would say some of the computer games I played. So there’s a lot more independent games getting onto the platforms that stream computer games now. So Google has Stadia, which is you pay per month, and you get access to games, and they stream it through one of the Chrome devices that you just plug in. And then you’ve just got a controller, you don’t have to have a console. And it’s just come straight over the internet. And so there’s loads of little games popping up that you can buy and try. And there’s things like Steam, which is a platform that lets you buy them for PC and Mac.

There’s a game specifically that I got my hands on called Disco Elysium. It’s a point and click detective adventure, very much in the vein of the ones that we love and inspired our content detectives project on our website. Everything looks hand painted so it looks incredible.

You wake up as an amnesiac cop first thing at the beginning of the game. And the scripting and the dialogue is really well written. You’re trying to work out what you’re there for, you don’t even realise you’re a detective when you wake up. You’re there to solve a murder. You’re on this little island and it’s a dystopian future.

What’s really impressive is that normally in computer games, your internal monologue happens outside of the game. So say you’re playing a game and you have this characters, you’ve got an option here, I could do this, or I could do that. That internal monologue actually happens external to the game, have it in real life. And once you’ve had it, you then make your decision and play the game. And for the first time that I’ve ever seen it, they’ve actually created characters that narrate to you, as you’re about to make the decisions. So you have an inner dialogue, but in the game, so you’re talking to a character and they’ll say ‘Oh, you need to pay your hotel tab.’ But in your head, this dialogue column down the side of the game, thoughts pop up, and they’ll speak. They’re all different actors, and they’ve all got different accents, they’ve got different tones in which they speak. And so there’ll be your ‘savoir faire’, which is your ability to get away with stuff and you’re a troublemaker, just cheeky, they will say ‘We shouldn’t even pay him, just run away, you can get away, he’s not that fast. ‘ And then there’ll be an apposing one who says ‘come on, you’re supposed to be a cop, you should really pay this!’ It means that the game internalises monologue and actually leads you in different paths and pushes you against your own normal sense of judgement, which is super interesting.

Then if you choose to ease yourself in a direction that’s more cheeky and naughty, or something else, the more times you do it, that will start constructing the personality of your character. So if you’re a nightmare, and just constantly causing trouble all the time, that will start informing your personality traits. And then the reactions people have to you will be more in line with that type of personality. So it’s fascinating because you’re growing a personality for this amnesiac character as you go along. And for me, it was really interesting. I’ve never thought about it that way. The idea you can lead people down directions that they might not think of doing? And also, can surprise them? Because what it does is it leads you and teases you into making decisions and taking choices that mean that you definitely fail. So you won’t get away, you’ll get caught, someone will knock you out, you’ll drop the thing down the drain and lose it. Or you’ll say the wrong answer, and the person will hang up. But then those mistakes that you make in a normal game, you can reload your save, start again. But actually, you will get something out of these mistakes. They all change the narrative and you start, like in real life, not being able to just restart. And so the the structure of it and the scenario changes depending on everything you do. By messing up you’ll actually unlock things that you wouldn’t get if you’d have succeeded. So it’s a really fascinating way of doing branch scenarios and like branch storytelling.

Tom Payani 10:01
As you’re explaining that to me, all I could think of was, this could this would be super cool in an eLearning context, maybe in leadership training, soft skills, something like that. Where you have this angel and this devil on your shoulder, or these different actors giving you different points of view that allow you to change and influence your decision making in real time, that’d be super, super interesting to use in an elearning and training context as well.

Brendan Cox 10:28
Imagine if you used it for soft skills, and at the beginning you do a diagnostic test, where you find out what the personality traits this person has. And then throughout the training, you start using that narrative to question their own strengths and weaknesses in a way that helps them overcome them. It could be fascinating, and from a technical perspective, it wouldn’t even have to be that complicated. It could just be text like that classic eLearning piece with money, where you have to balance your budget, and you have to try and keep a job and pay for things at the same time. So you could technically keep it very simple, but have a really complex structure, that means that it evolves exactly to the person while they’re doing it. It’s super interesting to me. I think there’s something that I want to explore going forward.

Tom Payani 11:23
Cool. So what has been your highlight of the year?

Brendan Cox 11:27
I would say, the first time that a client got in contact with us completely out of the blue, and they’d found us online, because the first year that we were set up everything comes through word of mouth. We chase after clients, we go hunting, we speak to our contacts, everything’s word of mouth. A lot of it is building the company to a point where we have a sales funnel. And so we’re not using all our energy chasing clients, they’re actually starting to see us and come to us. That was my highlight when we just started getting contacted by clients who wanted us to pitch because it meant that what we built was working, which is really satisfying. It was nice bit of validation for what we’ve done and the route the route that we’ve chosen to go down.

Tom Payani 12:22
And one more question, what challenges have you overcome this year?

Brendan Cox 12:28
I would say the challenges we’ve overcome, we’re streamlining everything, again, this thing of reduction. Up till now, even in graphic design, whenever you have to pitch for stuff, you have to put loads of information in and we realise that you’re trying to explain what you’re going to do for a client by not showing them before they pay for it. So there’s this weird thing of trying to crowbar information in that you’re basically guessing, and hoping that they’ll be able to picture it well enough that they’ll give you some money.

The biggest challenge that we’ve overcome was, how do we present to clients in the most efficient way possible, where it doesn’t waste their time doesn’t waste our time, and bridges that gap so there is no leap of imagination to work out what we could potentially do for them, and what the benefits are. That’s what we’ve been doing this year, iteratively reducing and honing our pitches. At the beginning of this year, our pitches explained how we would do it. And now our pitches show how we would do it. And we can do them in 24 hours, from the point of which we first speak to clients. So that’s the biggest challenge, and that’s what we’ve managed to do.

Tom Payani 14:09
Well, listen, Brendan, I appreciate your answers, though. Some interesting stuff. Definitely. Now we’re going to go off and do a mirror board on that video game we were talking about. That sounds super interesting. I’m definitely up for that. It’s a pleasure as always, mate.

Brendan Cox 14:28
Yep, catch you soon. Cheers.

Tom Payani 14:31
Bye bye.

Intro/Outro 14:33
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