In part 2 of Brendan and Tom's Q&A the guys explore their insights and influences in the world of eLearning.
Brendan Cox, Tom Payani
Brendan Cox 00:30
So this is our part two of us interviewing each other.
Tom Payani 00:33
Exactly. Yeah. Part two of blend question time.
Brendan Cox 00:39
Okay, so do do you want to ask your first question?
Tom Payani 00:44
Okay. What are you most proud of? In terms of what we've achieved so far with blend?
Brendan Cox 00:51
I'm proud of our decision making, that we pivoted early stage. And we're able to find our focus pretty quick. I'm proud of the fact that I can say exactly where my priorities lie in terms of the type of learning that I want to do. I didn't think we would be able to focus in this quick and be this sure of it. And I really like that.
Tom Payani 01:15
I think our transparency is something that I'm pretty proud of as well. And I think that's set us apart from competitors to a certain extent, being transparent with our process with our pricing, with prototyping things. I think that's really helped us out because we're pretty open and honest about our backgrounds, how long we've been doing it. And I think, at least I hope, that clients have found that quite refreshing. We've definitely made them part of the process as well. You know, we've got the client involved in the decision making process and I think that's really helped us build relationships and get work in that respect as well, rather than, give us a brief and then we'll get on with it. And you'll have something back in the next X amount of time.
Brendan Cox 02:08
Okay, so my question, if you could hire any famous person living or dead and have them work with us at blend, who would you pick? And why?
Tom Payani 02:16
Ooof! A few options there isn't there? Because you could have some crazy answer, like Leonardo da Vinci or someone who's just super creative and then for obvious reasons. But maybe a more realistic answer would be someone like Gary Vee, Gary Vaynerchuk, who is an entrepreneur, who's quite famous on social media, I just really like his mentality, his attitude to things. A lot of what he talks about revolves around empathy in business. And I'd really recommend whoever's listening to check him out. Gary Vee is quite famous, but he's really great. I've got a lot of respect for him and admiration for him.
Brendan Cox 03:05
Okay, so Leonardo da Vinci, not even kidding, I did actually write that down. Basically, just because I've been to loads of exhibitions of his stuff. And I've read his notebooks, well try to read the translation of them anyway, because he writes backwards and in mirror. His brain is wired in a completely different way, to anyone I've ever seen. But it's his level of observation and curiosity, its just unmatched, and I think he'd be an excellent person to just have around.
Tom Payani 03:43
Salvador Dali would probably help us create some interesting eLearning.
Brendan Cox 03:49
Yeah, that'd be cool. I think there could be a whole podcast episode on Dream Team.
Tom Payani 03:55
Now I can think of loads, I would like Marcus Aurelius as CEO, who helps guide us with our decision making. We can have a definite dream team there.
Brendan Cox 04:06
I'd want Morgan Freeman just to do all of our voiceover.
Tom Payani 04:10
Exactly. Exactly. Yeah, that's definitely an episode in itself, isn't it? That's a good idea. Okay, what's your biggest strength in terms of what you contribute to blend? Where do you see your superpower?
Brendan Cox 04:28
I'd say empathy. Because I tend to be hyper-empathetic towards people. And so I put myself in their shoes really quickly. Obviously, everything's always a double edged sword, isn't it? Because if you're too empathetic, you can get upset when other people are upset, or you feel really strongly about something and read into stuff. But at the same time with something like elearning I think being empathetic is really useful because as soon as we start designing something, I can imagine me doing it. And that really helps because then I can cut the fat and remove the things that don't help and go off course . So I think that's useful. And also being able to talk to clients and speak to studios in general, interacting with other people, it helps as well.
Tom Payani 05:14
I'd have to agree with you that I would say empathy is the number one trait. Most important trait, the trait I value the most highly in not just running a business, but in life really, isn't it? And it just trickles down to all other social skills and emotional intelligence and everything like that.
Brendan Cox 05:34
Okay, so what would you say is your strength?
Tom Payani 05:36
Well, I'd like to think I've got decent social skills as well. I think we both have, in a more practical sense, I think I'm pretty good at creating roadmaps for learners to get them from point A to point B, and learning something in an efficient way how to achieve that learning objective in the most efficient and engaging way, I've had a lot of practice doing that in my career. And I think I am quite good at finding the shortest route between those two points. But that also achieves whatever learning goal there is.
Brendan Cox 06:15
Yeah, it makes sense. I agree. I'd say storytelling as well, because we both love stories, we love movies, TV, computer games, all that kind of stuff. And I think that's always been a core principle of what we like doing as well.
Tom Payani 06:30
Often your strengths are the things you enjoy the most. And that's the bit we enjoy the most, being creative and storytelling, creating stories through the learning.
Brendan Cox 06:42
Okay, so my question then, what's one of your favourite practical tips for developing eLearning?
Tom Payani 06:48
I guess, in a more general sense, if you want to be an instructional designer or elearning developer, just get the free trial of a storyline, open it up and play around with it. And get some YouTube videos up, get some tutorials up, get some stock assets in there and just do stuff with it. I think a lot of people have this problem. And I've had this problem myself in the past as well. Where you end up reading so many books about something you talk about something, you analyse all sorts before you've even touched the software, or you've even started doing anything practically. And I think for me, it's also a procrastination mechanism that people use, there's no excuse, if you want to be an instructional designer, or get involved in eLearning, the first thing you should do is download storyline. That's the first thing you should do. And just play around with it. There's loads of people like Devlin Peck and people like that out there who have tutorials, good YouTube channels. They walk through how to make projects. You don't need to read 10 books on storyline or about instructional design before you do that. I'm not saying there's not a place for that, of course, there's a place for the theory and understanding the analytical side of it. But just get on with making something. I feel quite strongly about that.
Brendan Cox 08:20
Yeah. If you're learning to do it, pick a subject that you're interested in. Because it will make everything a million times easier to actually just do.
Tom Payani 08:30
Brendan Cox 08:30
I always remember it was really difficult to learn piano at school, because none of the songs were cool. That's the key if you want to learn how to play piano, play Michael Jackson on it.
Tom Payani 08:44
Yeah, This is a key point in terms of any type of learning. In the past, when I taught languages, as a teacher I often had to make sure that whoever the students were and the profiles of those students in the class, I picked content that I knew would engage them. So if I had a group of 13-14 year old lads, and they loved their football and they were non native speakers so it was an English class, I made sure that all the materials that I gave them were connected with football, and all of a sudden, you've given yourself a head start there in engaging them to learn haven't you .
Brendan Cox 09:25
Yeah, okay, so mine would be, my practical tip is always be reductive. So when you're making something, once you finish the first stage of making it, try and remove as much as you possibly can for it to still work. To do that is to look at everything as you're doing it and when you finish the first round of making something, ask yourself, how is this in service of helping the learner do what they need to do? If you can't answer that, take it out.
Tom Payani 09:56
Apple are a good example of a company that used is reductive design
Brendan Cox 10:02
I think being reductive applies to everything. E = mc squared. It's basically a lot of work behind a universally understood short formula.
Tom Payani 10:16
When you reduce something, in the context that you're talking about, it becomes elegant.
Brendan Cox 10:24
Yeah. And I think it becomes more understandable as well, I think also being reductive in things like terminology, especially for industries that have a tendency to be quite wordy. It puts barriers of understanding to get over to actually work out what's going on. And I think being reductive with language as well as the clearer you can visually describe something as well as in text, as well as in the learner journey is always going to be better.
Tom Payani 10:54
I think people who are often insecure, or who maybe look down on others, often try to use certain language, certain vocabulary and makes themselves sound more intelligent or more of an expert, when it's not actually the case. It's just a facade.
Brendan Cox 11:13
And the thing is, all it is doing is just making it less less accessible.
Tom Payani 11:17
Brendan Cox 11:19
That's the opposite of what you want to be doing when you're trying to teach someone something.
Tom Payani 11:24
Okay. How would you like to improve yourself professionally in the next year?
Brendan Cox 11:30
To improve myself professionally, I would like to start positioning myself as more of a consultant, and less of a technician. I'd say that as a designer who's worked in design for 20 odd years, there's always a tendency to jump into making things to be seen as someone who's there to jump in and make everything. And I think that part of how I want to improve, is to actually build on that foundation of knowledge and use it strategically and help guide clients and work collaboratively with them to come up with solutions. But be comfortable handing it off to someone else to do the technical part.
Tom Payani 12:21
Yeah, I understand that. Although my answer is a little bit different. Even though I agree with you. There's a part of me that actually, there's certain technical skills, I'd like to improve, just for my own interest as well, I think. Because we often share the discovery stage, the needs analysis, the instructional design part. And I'm obviously more heavily involved in the development side of it, and you in the design side of it. So I think for me, just to be more rounded in this world, I would like to improve certain design skills, and because I think augmented reality is going to be something that becomes more and more prevalent. I would like to become proficient, and improve my skill set with certain AR software, whether it's Adobe Aero or whatever, that's something I've got my eye on.
Brendan Cox 13:15
Yeah, yeah. I'm interested in the AR stuff as well, from a technical standpoint. So my question, what is your eLearning spirit animal? To be linked to eLearning?
Tom Payani 13:41
Ah, okay. I'm gonna go for an otter.
Brendan Cox 13:47
Tom Payani 13:48
Yeah. Because, you know they go with the flow, they drift away with the current, they go with the current. So they're adaptable. They're flexible. And they also, I often use the sentence as a chat up line, when I'm on Tinder. 'Did you know that otters hold hands when they're asleep, so they don't float away from each other? ' I think you know, we're such a great team, Brendan, and I'm always there for you holding your hand even if you fall asleep.
Brendan Cox 14:17
Wow, that was everything I could possibly need in an answer. I've gotta say, I'm a dog because I'm really empathetic and enthusiastic.
Tom Payani 14:32
The answer is fine as well.
Brendan Cox 14:36
Dogs don't hold hands so they don't fly away.
Tom Payani 14:44
I'm gonna let you choose how you answer this because it's two questions in one really, and you can decide how you want to answer it. So what's the number one mistake clients make in terms of their requests for eLearning or what they want to get out of it? And what's the number one mistake designers make when they produce eLearning? I'll let you decide how you want to answer that.
Brendan Cox 15:09
I could answer both if you want. So I'd say the number one mistake clients make is that by the time they speak to someone who's going to design the learning, they've already made up their mind what the solution is. And because they're in it, and they're passionate about it, and they want to get started, they'll start writing-off certain solutions, and they'll start hyper focusing on other ones. And it's almost like sunk cost theory. As soon as you start they say, Oh, we need this or that. And they might well need this and that, and they quite often do. But the thing is, if you just start at that point, you might miss the better solution higher up the project. So one mistake they make is to not actually say, Okay, this is what we're trying to achieve. And then start the discussion. This is some of the ideas we've got, but this is what we want to achieve. So I think quite often, you have to help them take a step back.
Tom Payani 16:12
Yeah. My answer would be similar. From a client point of view. I think often the discovery stage is overlooked, isn't it? The needs analysis, and the actual learning objectives themselves, people rush into the design and development of a project without giving the first stage enough attention?
Brendan Cox 16:34
From a designers perspective, I think the same thing with a lot of designers is that we, as humans are fixated on what's easy, what makes our lives easier. That's why we're all addicted to apps and social media and everything else like that. And so there's often a shiny object syndrome with designers in terms of what you always see on YouTube, or a video tutorial, and they're like, 'what software are you using?' They'll focus on that rather than 'Oh, where did you learn to do that?' or 'How did you work out how to do this and that?' One of the key things is actually just picking the right tool for the job. And picking the medium that suits the message, rather than just going after the technology or going after the the app or whatever. It's that thing of whithered technology, the Japanese principal, the guy that made the Gameboy came up with, I mentioned before. I think that even something like PowerPoint, people see as a simple presentation tool, if you use linear thinking and use a creative approach to actually coming up with how you're going to present it to the audience. You can do all sorts of incredible stuff with even simple tools. And I think that's the best way to approach it. What's the best way to do this, not what is the best app to start from?
Tom Payani 18:05
Alright, one more question from from each of us then.
Brendan Cox 18:08
Okay, um, so my question would be, we've known each other for so long we finish each other's what?
Tom Payani 18:16
Brendan Cox 18:18
No the answer is questions. but that's fine. I'll accept either. Okay, my real question was what are some of your favourite video games and why?
Tom Payani 18:41
Oh, cool. All right. Mario World on the SNES. Oh, nice. Mario Kart on the SNES. Okay, Zelda on the SNES, the SNES was my favourite console.
Brendan Cox 18:56
Okay, so I would say not just what are the games but can you think about what it is the essence of why you liked it? Say for example Super Mario Kart for me was the social aspect. It was the best game for playing with your friends.
Tom Payani 19:12
Yeah, exactly. So to link in with the learning stuff you've got the community thing the social proof all of that, me and my mum always talk about like Mario Kart to this day, it was something that bonded us when I was a kid, so Mario Kart is a great example for that. Then you've got things like Zelda and Mario World, sandbox style games for me introduced me to RPGs, Mario not so much , Zelda more, but this world exploring it was amazing to me. Then you've got championship manager or football manager. That's probably the game I've spent the most hours of my life on. And that was just because it was a super addictive to be honest. Other games I really liked on PC like the Sims, or Sim City, these types of games because again, sandbox learning, open-ended learning or gameplay. We've studied that a lot ourselves for Blend haven't you? Will Wright is a bit of a hero of ours. The game theory that he used just ticked so many boxes in terms of what video games should be, the open-endedness was amazing. And civilization, and Age of Empires, games like these, Sam and Max hit the road. Yeah, okay, I could go off on one here.
Brendan Cox 20:35
So Monkey Island was the first one, the point click adventure where I really saw the sense of humour and sarcasm coming into the games. And I absolutely loved it. So the sense of humour and the surprise and the comedy aspect of it, I'd never played a game that was funny before, so that really stood out. Zelda was definitely the sense of adventure. I used to draw the maps for my mate while he was playing it, and had the kind of diamond shape graph paper that you had at school.A massive two metre square map of the whole of the original Zelda. So I think I've always liked maps.
Tom Payani 21:17
Another one to add into these types of games, Final Fantasy seven. Remember that one?
Brendan Cox 21:23
I've never played any of the Final Fantasy ones, actually.
Tom Payani 21:25
You'd like it.
Brendan Cox 21:26
I loved things like Fallout, which is a dystopian future. A role playing game. I basically get very addicted to skill development stuff within games. So things like Skyrim or Fallout , where you basically run around and pick up things and make your weapons better, or make your armour better and build skills. I find it very addictive as a reward system for playing these things. And then there's one , less famous than that lot, called Journey. I remember going around to my friend's house. And he said 'Oh, you need to have a look at this. Because this looks amazing.' It's one of the most beautiful games I've ever played. And it's like a dream would be the best way of describing it. So Google journey video game.
Tom Payani 22:18
All these games we can put in the shownotes.
Brendan Cox 22:21
I highly recommend it, it's not expensive, it doesn't take long to play. But it's a beautiful, beautiful game, like the light in it alone is worth playing it for. The Last of Us is amazing for storytelling, and tension building on a whole nother level. And then things like Batman (Arkham City). I've just really enjoyed that sense of storytelling and an immersion where you're in a whole city.
Tom Payani 22:51
Cool. Cool. Cool. We could talk about video games for a long time.
Brendan Cox 22:56
Do one last one last question. I think you'll like this one. So final question then. Name three books you would recommend to anybody?
Tom Payani 23:07
Okay. Marcus Aurelius - Meditations. Awareness by Anthony de Mello. And Radical Acceptance by Tara Brock. Okay.
Brendan Cox 23:23
Mine would be Feel the fear and do anyway by Susan Jeffers. The power of moments by Chip and Dan Heath, and Mastery by Robert Greene. Feel of fear and do anyway makes you realise that everything that we do, or put off, or question ourselves about is rooted in a fear. And it's normally a fear based on rejection of some sort. So it's really interesting she's got practical tools for how you can overcome that and quiet that inner critic. Power of moments is really cool because it basically tells you how to really create connections between moments and people and that means that the people around you and the people that do your eLearning with, everyone. So that's really interesting. And Mastery by Robert Greene is a really good one on how to get good at something.
Tom Payani 24:12
Okay. Yeah, I'm gonna add in one more, A new earth by Eckhart Tolle. I think yours are pretty cool in terms of entrepreneurship, building the business, communication skills, stuff like that, because I've read all of those. Mine are a bit more general about spirituality and just our mindset, you know. Great fun. This was fun.
Brendan Cox 24:36
Yeah. Okay. Well, no doubt there'll be a part three at some point. Hope y'all enjoyed listening.
Tom Payani 24:46
I will speak to you soon.