CEO and President, 7th Mind Inc.
Santa Barbara, California
A lifelong learner whose interests run the gamut of sciences, Britt Andreatta is an author, consultant, and speaker. She is former chief learning officer of lynda.com and now the CEO of 7th Mind Inc. Andreatta recently spoke at ATD's International Conference & Exposition on the neuroscience of teams.
You've worn quite a few caps in your career, from academia to the corporate world, to consulting. Can you talk a bit about how your career evolved?
I have always focused on the science of success, and for me that includes the intersection of learning and leadership. It's run through every part of my professional career, the golden thread that holds it all together.
When I was at the University of California, I designed cutting-edge educational and leadership programs for students that were eventually adopted by colleges and universities around the world. That's when my consulting career really started, as I worked with faculty and administrators who then referred me to their colleagues in corporate and nonprofit sectors. So even though I was "within learning," I was teaching concepts about how any person can be successful in his or her life.
In 2010, Lynda Weinman—co-founder of lynda.com—and I were on a panel together about learning in the digital age. She immediately began recruiting me. It took a couple of years, but it was clear that we shared a passion for empowering lifelong learning. In 2012, I finally jumped over to become the chief learning officer for lynda.com and also an author, which I still am. I am honored that, to date, my courses have more than 4 million views worldwide.
You recently wrote Wired to Resist: The Brain Science of Why Change Fails and a New Model for Driving Success. Tell us some of what you learned in the process.
I find what's happening in this "renaissance of neuroscience" to be fascinating. You know, 50-70 percent of change initiatives fail. That statistic has not changed, even with all the best money and people thrown at it. I wondered why we were getting it so wrong so much of the time. I now know that it comes down to our biology.
In my research I found that there were four key brain structures that play a role in why change tends to not succeed; together they drive fear, failure, and fatigue. Further, 24 percent of senior executives feel that change fatigue is prevalent in their organizations. Even for people who are good at handling change, it's coming so fast and furious that we're pushing the envelope on what people can handle biologically.
We're not going to make change stop. So how can we take what's happening in the brain and work with it to help people move through change successfully? That became my focus. What I ended up creating was a new model for thinking about change, one that helps us identify different types of change we're asking people to go through as a matrix of time to acclimation and amount of disruption.
In addition, the person going through the change has a motivation for it based on whether they chose the change and want the change. Being able to assess the type of change and how motivated the participants are can help you identify the leadership skills that will be needed to take the group successfully through the change. What often happens is that an initiative gets launched before the leaders and managers have the right skill sets to complete it successfully.
How does an organization focus on its passion—part of the purpose, passion, and profit connection that you espouse?
It's interesting because, really, the passion piece should be part of any organization's history, right? At some point, it was created by founders who should've been incredibly passionate about launching it, whether it was a corporation, nonprofit, or university. That early passion may or may not translate into today, how the organization is working, and with the people who are within its walls.
We get passionate about something because we have an intense feeling or emotion that we want to make it better, we want to achieve something, we want to move it forward in some way.
For an organization, then, to get focused on its passion, it really needs three things: First, it needs leaders who can authentically articulate that passion and vision—where is this org going and why should we be excited about it?
The second thing is that you need employees who, in addition to whatever passion they feel for the org, have room for their own individual passions—being able to bring their strengths to work, being able to contribute to something meaningful. What is fascinating is that, organizationally, we hire people into roles and responsibilities but we don't always match people's strengths and passions with the work they're doing.
When I work with an organization, oftentimes it's to step back and have them take a good look at who their people are, what they are good at, and what they want to be doing. Sometimes it's just a matter of trading portions of two or three people's jobs where you find that everyone's lit up.
The third part is you need to have a positive culture of learning because that empowers and encourages people to be curious, try new things, and get better. People who are striving for continuous growth are going to serve whatever the org is trying to achieve in positive ways.
What trends most interest you in the realm of neuroscience and learning?
I smile at this because I don't consider them trends. Biology goes back to the beginning of time, but the fact that we're paying attention to this is an important trend.
There are a few I would call out. The first is that we're finally awakening to the fact that orgs need to work with how humans are wired and stop trying to force people to leave their humanity at home. The whole shift with understanding employee engagement is that there is a payoff for having workplaces where people come and feel they can thrive and grow.
Second, the power of mindfulness is becoming hard to ignore, which is why more and more organizations are investing in programs for their people. I follow the work of Richard Davidson and Jon Kabat-Zinn, who use a scientific approach for studying meditation. Mindfulness creates all kind of benefits, including enhanced resilience and adaptability, increased emotional intelligence and compassion, and all kinds of health benefits that translate to reduced costs for healthcare.
The third trend has to do with driving real behavior change and how to develop different levels of skills from beginning to mastery. Achieving advanced levels of expertise takes focused effort, feedback, and lots of practice. There is a whole science to building the correct neural pathways and habits that drive organizations to success.
For someone who studies a lot of different sciences—not just neuroscience, but anthropology, psychology, sociology—it's about synthesizing all of this into cohesive models that we can implement to solve workplace challenges. That's the work I really enjoy doing—keeping my academic hat on in being able to understand good research, and then turning that into actionable things we can all do in our organizations.
During ATD 2017, you presented your latest research on neuroscience of teams. What were some of the highlights?
There's some interesting research coming out on what helps teams flourish. The core of it is that teams need to have what Amy Edmondson calls psychological safety, meaning that the group needs to feel safe for taking risks and making mistakes, without fear of being made fun of or shut down. This allows people to do their best work.
What we know is that the heart of that is empathy and trust. We also know how that's developed between people. Biologically, we're wired to develop empathy and trust through face-to-face interactions. When we go online we lose many of the signals our brain was designed to read, so it takes longer to build authentic empathy and trust between people.
Neuroscience also is showing how our brains sync with each other when we work together.
Brain scans show that we enter a sense of we that is based in our biology. The new environment of teamwork requires some new leadership skills for managers and leaders so they can facilitate collaboration across the organization. Team leaders are often selected because they were strong performers, but they need to pivot to be great facilitators. That's not an easy switch. Teams take issues of human biology and multiply them by 10.
What do you see as the biggest challenge for learning executives today?
Tech has obviously exploded. The stuff that can be created on mobile platforms and all the different opportunities are really pushing CLOs to get clarity about their learning strategy. A well-developed learning strategy maps to concrete business needs and organizational growth, aligning with the phase their organization is in now and where is it growing into. This allows you to make sure your talent is ready for that transition. I love to use the Greiner Curve and Frederic Laloux's organizational consciousness model to do just that.
Having a good learning strategy makes it easier to make tech choices. If you're not careful, it's easy to get seduced by the fancy bells and whistles of tech, and you can erode your core learning strategy.
A second challenge is, with the ability to go mobile and with the rest of the business saying we don't have time for learning, there's a push to make learning more and more bite-sized. But there are some aspects of learning that should be done in person; some aspects of developing mastery that you cannot shortchange. So the second challenge is knowing when to hold your ground.
The third has to do with the creative tension that has always existed between the learning side of the house and the HR side. In many instances, when learning stays under HR, and it more or less plays a compliance role—with the thinking that if there's a problem, we're going to throw training at it. This is not going to create a vibrant learning culture that takes people to those passion places where you're going to get the enhanced engagement and productivity we want to see. At some point, learning and HR need to partner as equals.
In these times of instant data and ROI, CLOs need to be really good at being strategic partners to the business, owning their learning strategy, and being able to convey the value of learning in ways that get folks on board.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work for rest or relaxation?
I'm an avid reader. Hanging out with friends is another thing—cooking together, movie night, playing games, that kind of thing. I was also a competitive ice skater when I was younger and a rink recently opened in our town. So I got a new pair of skates and I'm out there a couple of times a week skating. It's fun because it proves the neural pathway stuff. I haven't done some of these spins and jumps in 30 years, and yet my body totally knows how to do it. I've got muscle memory. I don't necessarily have muscles, but I've got muscle memory.
And I love fly-fishing. It's the most Zen-like thing I do. Every summer I commit to two or three weeks you'll find me on the rivers in Montana; they're called Blue Ribbon Waters. I'll start in the morning and six, seven hours go by and I won't notice that time has transpired because I am in that state of "flow." It's just so beautiful. And I do catch and release, so in my mind, I go back and I catch the same fish several trips in a row.