Name: Howard B. Esbin, PhD
Headquarters: Vancouver, Canada
Superpower: Bringing high touch into a high tech environment
Operations: Social entrepreneur, serious game developer, and virtual team collaborator at Prelude

 

We need to hold on to our humanity while we become more efficient.

Howard Esbin has developed a cloud-based game for virtual teams called Prelude. Prelude uses a novel mix of psychometrics and creativity to help foster team member rapport and trust prior to the start of a new project.

Howard’s background is in corporate management. In the early 90’s, he did a doctoral thesis and studied the transmission of knowledge between older and younger stone carvers in Kenya. Little did he know, that these same communication styles would anticipate the web. In the late 90’s he was working with a fair-trade company in Canada with about 50 groups in 30 countries around the world. As they started migrating online, it became clear that there was a new way of thinking, learning, and communicating. And so, Howard began developing Prelude as a blended learning product game to enhance this new way of working.

In this interview, we discuss how teams get to know each other and connect virtually.

Prelude game process

What are the benefits of working virtually?

Technology is now ubiquitous and things that might have seemed fantastical six several years ago are commonplace today. Because of the ubiquity and inexpensive nature of technology, there is clearly a greater proliferation of activity around virtual teaming. You find it’s happening in the military, in healthcare, in education, certainly in business, and even in voluntary organizations. If you go to the United Nations website, they’re really trying to inculcate virtual volunteerism.

Junior Achievement Canada are is bringing together 150 young entrepreneurs from around the world for a multi-day conference.  And now they’re thinking about enhancing that by creating a virtual school so that young people who might be in different countries can create virtual businesses together. These are businesses that don’t consume energy, don’t pollute the atmosphere, don’t cost unnecessary money and yet, at the same time, could conceivably find a cure for malaria or cancer.

The savings in travel costs can be significant. We have a colleague in India who’s working with a very large global corporation. They used to bring in 20-25 managers from across the world for a two-day workshop and the travel costs were nearing the 10’s of thousands. Lets redeploy that money for more intrinsic gain rather than being squished into an airline economy class for 10 hours. I think there has to be a better rationalization for spending that money to come together. That’s where the market’s going. Decision makers and stakeholders are becoming more and more aware of the relevance of doing this.

Harvard published an article where they say they are expecting 1.3 billion people to be working virtually within the next year or two.  That’s a significant number of people.  All of us who are in this emerging field can call ourselves pioneers as we are finding traction and common language.

What are the challenges of working virtually?

Working with time zones will always be a challenge. If somebody’s in Winnipeg, Canada and somebody else is in Tokyo, that’s a 14-hour time zone difference.  Somebody is going to suffer in that conversation. Somebody is going to bed very late or waking up very early and it isn’t going to be what he or she would rather do.

Technology of course is an issue.  You may have an engineer in Toronto who’s very versed in using technology but you may have a marketing person in Zurich who’s very uncomfortable.

And then there are cultural differences.  In some cultures, making eye contact is not a good thing.  So if all you’ve got is a video, and somebody keeps averting their gaze, it’s not because they’re rude or shy, it’s because culturally, they’re uncomfortable. In the developing world, they are also dealing with the challenges of unreliable electricity sources.

Play PreludeSo there’s time, there’s technology, and there’s culture. But the biggest issue, and this has been a consistent throughout the literature, is lack of rapport and trust.

The reason being is because in a traditional co-located team, one has all the extra senses. We could go out for coffee, we can have a chat in the hallway, we can come in early and compare notes, and we can have a drink after work.

And all of this allows for important informal conversations “Yes, I’m a skier.”  “Oh, you’re a skier too?  Do you go here?”  “Yes, I go there.”  “Oh, my kids go to the same school.”  None of that is happening in virtual teaming because the organizations that have bought into its efficacy have this myopic view that just because you’re an expert in your field and I’m an expert in mine, there’s an assumption that we should just get on with the project.

If you had an orchestra that was coming in from another country to do a concert, they don’t just go on stage and they start performing cold. They first tune together, and warm up so that when it’s time to perform, they’re ready to entertain.  And similarly with sports teams, a team doesn’t sit on the couch all summer drinking beer and eating pizza and then the day of the gold event say “I’ll meet you at the stadium and we’ll win.”

Virtual Team PreludeThe research is showing that unless you have some kind of an intervening process to get people to know each other, what you’re going to get is the opposite of what you hoped for.  Managers, corporate executives in particular, haven’t gotten their head around the fact that a new dispensation is called for that requires some intervening point before the actual project starts.

In general, training and management skills still leave a lot to be desired but then when you go into the world of virtual team management, it’s a harder set of skills to learn, and requires that much more commitment and dedication.  I think virtual team management, as a discipline, is where project team management was about 10 or 15 years ago.  And it took a long time for that field to become accepted as a discipline in its own right where you have MBA programs in specialty project management, etc.  And you have the Project Management Institute certifying 3 or 4 hundred thousand project managers around the world and they share a standard and a common language and a common vision about what this discipline is about.

With virtual team management, it’s not going to take 10 or 15 years. Brandeis University in the United States has just created an MSC in virtual team management.  And certainly INSEAD based out of Europe has a new program around virtual team management.  So we’re starting to see this awareness and I think we know who will carry the day: it won’t be the Boomers.  It’ll be the Millennials and the young people who just are digital natives to begin with. They know that this is a great medium for communication, or creation, and for fun and entertainment. And so I think that’s the shakeup. I think we’re going to see more and more proliferation of innovation and creativity in the next few years so that in, I would say 5 years, a conversation like this will seem antiquated.

Tell us more about Prelude

Prelude-logoI’ve been reading extensively about virtual teaming and trying to identify emerging best practices that are unique to this particular issue of how people can better interrelate before the project. I wanted to develop something that’s cost effective, efficient, engaging, safe, and do it in a way that will then act as the tune up for that project team in the same way that the orchestra or the sports team would have. The game is designed in a modular way. There are 4 or 5 30-minute modules spread over time so there’s no heavy investment. It takes 2-3 hours in total, and it’s fun, simple, and intuitive. It’s a small investment for a lot of return.

Prelude is based on my doctoral research about visual thinking and communication and how it has its own center of gravity.  If we enfranchise that visual part of our mental and affective apparatus, if we give it scope, then the quality of communication is enhanced as opposed to just us talking back and forth or comparing text notes. The minute you bring visuals in, it suddenly enhances awareness and understanding. When you see that you’re working cross-culturally, visual communication becomes even more important.

So one case in point is in an international airport where you have common iconic signage so you know what is the women’s or the men’s bathroom. That power of the immediacy and trans-cultural understanding of iconic symbolism is certainly part of our game process.

The emerging best practices are calling for exactly that kind of interface in advance of any project. In other words, helping a team to externalize its own mental model of itself through some visual means. When you are working with gaming, you are working with mechanisms for people to feel like “There’s an opportunity for me to know more about you holistically” rather than simply “You’re the engineer who’s handling this part of the project.”

There is gap right now because we’ve gone high tech but we haven’t yet fully developed how to develop rapport, or empathy. How do we bring high touch into a high tech environment? There are a lot of tools out there that will help you collaborate but not necessarily get to know each other better virtually in a more holistic way.  It’s important to share a common understanding and a common language that creates a bond. And if this common understanding isn’t there, it needs to be developed in a very legitimate, transparent way.  We need to hold on to our humanity while we become more efficient.

Connect with Howard

PlayPrelude.com

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Watch the full interview


Original transcript

Lisette:  Oh, great!  And we’re live.  So welcome, everybody, to this Hangouts On Air.  Today, I’m very excited to be speaking with Dr. Howard Esbin.  It says here on your LinkedIn profile, a social entrepreneur, serious game developer, and virtual team collaboration through creativity.

Howard: Right.

Lisette: Which got my attention right away.  And you’ve developed a cloud-based game for virtual teams called Prelude.  So I wanted to ask you about that.  And before we start, though, I’d like to just mention that if anybody has any questions now or in the future, feel free to—oops, I think that’s mirrored actually—but it’s #remoteinterview.

Howard: Cool.

Lisette: That’s the first time that’s happened so [inaudible 00:41] but thanks, Howard, for being here.  I’m very excited to talk to you.

Howard: Lisette, thanks so much for this opportunity to talk about virtual teaming and management and certainly, our learning game.  Your work is very interesting to us as well.  And I’ll be happy to answer any of your questions in any order you’d like to ask them.

Lisette: Oh great!  Well, I guess the way I’d like to start is how did you get into virtual teams and what’s your background around this?  I know you have a background in education I saw.

Howard: Right, right.  In a nutshell, I have a background in corporate management for 15, 20 years and went back to university kind of in my mid-thirties and ended up doing a doctoral thesis.  I was working in Kenya for a couple of years and I was looking at how a community of stone carvers were very remote from any traffic area and were able to sell their carvings to outlets as far as New Zealand.  This is in the early 90s.  And I was just studying the transmission of knowledge between older carvers and younger carvers in the social context and so many of the things that I was studying anticipated the web, anticipated different forms of learning and communication and diffusion of knowledge even though they were not using any technological means at that time even to get a fax to this village that I was living in, you had to go to a town 30 miles away to get the hard copy of the fax and draw it back to the village and then you’d have a fax because there wasn’t any electricity there.  But the underlying mechanisms for visual communication, visual thinking, are so prevalent in the internet today.  Imagine the internet without pictures.  I think it’ll be pretty boring just text based.  And so I think we’re on the verge of a revolution with visual communication.  So when I started, I remember in ’91, I was sitting with some people from the World Bank in a Chinese restaurant downtown Nairobi and the woman I was working with was talking about getting mail with no paper like how do you get mail without an envelope.

Lisette: I have to say the dichotomy is striking.  We’re talking about stone carvers as opposed to…

Howard: Right.

Lisette: I can’t help but notice.

Howard: Right.  So email, what is email?  So through this period, I had traditional [inaudible 3:42] research in the late 90’s and I was working in traditional conventional marketing context.  The internet was coming on stream, I was managing [inaudible 3:56] a fair-trade company so we were actually working in Canada with about 50 groups in about 30 countries around the world.  And we started migrating onto the web and it became very clear to me that this was going to open up an incredible new way of thinking and learning and communicating.  And so while I was developing the game at that time, it was still what one would call a blended learning product.  So part of it is online and part of it is in a physically colocated environment.  And that kind of went through its own trajectory through the last ten years I would say until it got to a finished product where we were able to bring it to institutions.  We were working with primary schools and secondary schools and alternative programs, universities, colleges right through North America, and in Asia, and different parts of the world. And the work was great.  The response to the product was great.  But the problem is you’d have to either go into a classroom, or you’d have to meet in a hotel room, or go to a company’s office and carry your cases, and you’d have to travel and you’d have to pay money and all kinds of different peripheral things that really got in the way I think with the essential experience of the game.  And as far back as 2006, we knew the product should become a virtual product.  And at that time, the technology isn’t what it is today so there were a lot of barriers to just making a migration from a [inaudible 5:51] product to a virtual product so as we evolved and as we learned more, it was kind of like walking on a train that’s moving because the world itself was evolving.

Lisette: Right.

Howard: In terms of the ubiquity of technology so things that might have seem fantastical six years ago are now commonplace today.  And so in that process, two things kind of happen kind of simultaneously.  The first was we realized about a year and a half ago or three years ago that we could now migrate this thing.  The second thing was that the world itself, it shifted so we saw a greater and greater proliferation of activity around virtual teaming.  It was really coming into its own.  And at the same time, we realized that the product that we have developed for youth are just based on the work we were doing with professionals who kept saying whether it was the superintendent, or a school psychologist, or a professor, or whomever was using the product kept repeating that they thought it would be great for their own professional development as well as the educational tool for youth so we recalibrated the product so that it could speak to a business sensibility rather than a learning sensibility issue well, how it could help people get to know each other, how it could help build rapport, how it could help build trust through some very unique mechanisms that really reflect immerging best practices in virtual teams.  So I don’t know if I’m kind of being clear here but the sense was that there were a couple of points that converged to create a perfect opportunity for us last year in August where we finally had the understanding of the market, the trend, what we envisioned the product looking like.  And then from last august through the spring, we started building it out so that it would be a fully virtual product that would speak to businesspeople who are confronted with some of the problems that I’m sure you’re aware of that are starting to immerge in the virtual team business literature.  And so in May, it took a lot longer than we hoped for, we were able to launch the product and as we speak, we’re starting to pilot in several different countries with several different stakeholder groups and sectors and niches in the marketplace if you will because what we’ve seen in our research is that virtual teaming as a phenomena because of the ubiquity and inexpensive nature of technology to accommodate it today.  You find it’s happening in the military, you find it’s happening in healthcare, you find it’s happening in education, certainly in business, and even in voluntary organizations.  If you go to the United Nations, they have a huge section where they’re really trying to inculcate virtual volunteerism as a case in point.  So we found that we were right where we needed to be in the sweet spot as they say and so the response that we’ve been getting is very positive just because we’ve anticipated some of the needs that have been immerging and that there aren’t very many resources that creatively respond to that specific need.  I mean there’s a lot of tools out there that will help you collaborate but not necessarily get to know each other better virtually.

Lisette: Right.

Howard: If that can make that distinction.  So that’s a long way to answer.  I hope it was helpful.

Lisette: Oh yeah.  But I have a lot of new questions as well which is what are the main challenges that you see for virtual teams that want to work together?  What’s the barrier, I mean I know that there are not just one, or maybe what are several of the barriers that you’re seeing?

Howard: Right.  Well it’s very interesting because literature for virtual teaming goes back as early as the late 80’s.  Virtual teaming was already a term that was being used very much in the early 90’s. But when I look at that period, I think it’s like B.C. or like prehistoric, right?  And event the literature that as things evolved, the literature kept evolving in pace but I make a very clear distinction between the issues of virtual teaming that were recognized earlier than five years ago and those that have come.  They’re the same issues but the reality of the market and the reality of technology have changed.  So while the issues were always fundamental.  Well, somebody’s in Winnipeg, Canada and somebody else is in Tokyo.  That’s a 14-hour time zone difference.  Somebody is going to suffer in that conversation.

Lisette: Right.

Howard: Somebody’s going to bed very late or somebody’s going to wake up very early and it isn’t going to be what they would rather do.

Lisette: Right.

Howard: So the time aspect is certainly an issue.  Then technology of course is an issue.  We’re working with a consulting firm that does a lot of work in the developing world and well how can we do this when electricity is so spotty, when service is going to go out?  So there is a technological concern and also a technological concern in terms of people’s mastery.  You may have an engineer in Toronto who’s very versed in using technology but you may have a marketing person who might be older let’s say in Zurich who’s very uncomfortable.  And then there are cultural differences.  I read a great study that in some cultures, making eye contact is not a good thing.  So if all you’ve got is a video, and somebody keeps averting their gaze, it’s not because they’re rude or shy, it’s because culturally, it’s uncomfortable.

Lisette: Right.

Howard: So there’s time, there’s technology, there’s culture.  And all of those are factors that I would say technology today has helped improve or mitigate against.  But the biggest issue, and this has been a constant throughout literature, is the biggest problem in my estimation is lack of rapport and trust.

Lisette: Right.

Howard: You see this consistently over and over, and over again and the reason being is because in a traditional colocated team, one has all the extra assets.  We could go out for coffee, we can have a chat in the hallway, we can come in early and compare notes, we can have a drink after work.  And all of this allows for this informal well, “Yes, I’m a skier.”  “Oh, you’re a skier too?  Do you go here?”  “Yes, I go there.”  “Oh, my kids go to the same school.  That’s interesting.”  Well, none of that is happening in virtual teaming because the organizations that have bought into its efficacy somehow have this myopia that just because you’re an expert in your field and I’m an expert in mine, and even if we’re wearing the same corporate hat, even if we’ve never met, there’s assumption we should just get on with the project.

Lisette: Right.

Howard: And the research is showing and this is very recent research that’s showing, well, that’s not the case that unless you have some kind of an intervening process to get people to know each other, in fact, what you’re going to get is the opposite of what you hoped for.  And some of the studies that are out there are saying as much as there’s a proliferation, Harvard published an article last fall.  They’re expecting 1.3 billion people to be working virtually within the next year or two.  That’s a very significant number of people.

Lisette: Huge, indeed, yes.

Howard: And yet that one of the papers I read was talking about hi-tech high touch.  How do you bring high touch into a hi-tech environment?  And the traditional means if we were in that same office together are not available.  So what I was doing over the last year and a half was reading extensively across literature basis around virtual teaming and trying to identify immerging best practices that are unique to this particular issue of how people can better interrelate before the project.  And the analogy that we’ve been using, I talked to Hassan about this is, and it’s ironic because you could have a very, very high budget project, multi-million dollar project or multi-million euro project and you’ve got this great core team and you’ve got this great project manager but they never work together virtually or they’ve never meet before.  The assumption is next Monday, we’re starting the project.  Who has the flowchart?  Who’s going to do this and who’s going to do that?  Whereas if you had an orchestra that was coming in to do a concert from another country and they landed, they got in the bus, they get to the hotel, they don’t just get into the car or go to the concert hall, the audience is there and they get onto the stage and they start performing cold.

Lisette: Right.

Howard: It’s unheard off.  Who would do that?  You need to go in advance.  You need take out your instruments, you need to tune up your instruments, you need to practice together, maybe the violin and horn people over there. You give people the opportunity in the orchestra to tune up and become harmonized so when the event does take place, they’re ready to entertain that audience.  And similarly with sports teams, a team doesn’t sit on its couch all summer drinking beer and eating pizza and then the day of the gold event, “I’ll meet you at the stadium and we’ll win.”

Lisette: Right.  Or they don’t practice alone.  They practice together.

Howard: Exactly right.  If you’re in the World Cup, you don’t go dribble the ball alone and call yourself a team player.  So there’s kind of a gap and I think it’s because people managers, corporate executives in particular haven’t gotten their head around the fact that a new dispensation is called for that requires some intervening point before the actual project starts.  And how can one develop something that’s cost effective, efficient, engaging, safe, and do that in a way that will then act as the tune up for that project team in the same way that the orchestra or the sports team would have.  Because we started, and this is just great good fortune, it wasn’t any grand scheme, but because the blended learning product is so based on visual communication based on my doctoral research about how visual thinking and communication has its own center of gravity, it has its own locus, and how if we enfranchise that part of our mental and effective apparatus, if we give it scope, then the quality of communication is enhanced as opposed to just us talking back and forth or comparing text notes.  The minute you bring visuals in, it suddenly enhances awareness and understanding.  When you see that you’re working cross-culturally, visual communication becomes even more important.  So one’s the case in point in an international airport where you have common iconic signage so you know that that’s the woman’s bathroom, that’s the transgender bathroom, that’s the boy’s bathroom, whatever it is.  Or even more to the point, highway signage.  You’re speeding at 200 miles an hour on the autobahn.  Whatever that sign is that says “Stop.  Danger,” it’s got to be communicated immediately.  It’s not like give me ten pages of text and tell me why I need to stop my car.  So that power of the immediacy and trans-cultural understanding of iconic symbolism is certainly part of our game process so what we started learning about is that we had that imbued in the learning product and it was great when you had a colocated team actually co-creating and learning about each other through this very creative process.  In fact, the immerging best practices are calling for exactly that kind of interface in advance of any project.  In other words, helping a team to externalize its own mental model of itself through some visual means working with gaming, working with mechanisms for people to feel like “There’s an opportunity for me to know more about you holistically” rather than simply “You’re the engineer who’s handling this part of the project.”  In a way, that’s natural and safe but completely virtual so the game actually ironically, we identify about 20 best practices from 4 to 5 silos and when we saw the game, you could go check, check, check, check, and on our website, we actually chronicle that at prelude.com and it’s just quite an amazing thing.  I don’t think we could have sat down and planned it but the fact that it was there, we were able to take advantage of it and capitalize it.  And like [inaudible 20:56] said, “If you’ve got it, flaunt it” so now, we’re really meeting with the fact that we’ve got this thing that really does anticipate this need to create a mechanism by which we can learn about each other in an accelerated way that’s natural, and fun, and safe, and engaging, and that in less than three hours over 4 or 5 30-minute modules spread over time so there’s no heavy investment.  It’s not like, “Oh, shit, excuse my language, I got to go to this thing and I really wish I could just stay in my office.”

Lisette: [Inaudible 21:34]  My question was how long does this game take?

Howard: Right.

Lisette: I’m sure every project team would love to sit down remote or not.  We’d love to sit down and know each other but then there’s always the issue of, well, the client wants to perform.

Howard: Time is money, right, but I used to have a business colleague who I would say to him, he was our financial manager, “Can we afford to do this?” and he would say, “Can we afford not to do this?”

Lisette: Right, right.

Howard: And so if you use the analogy, maybe if the project is small enough and the budget is small enough, it doesn’t merit the investment but I’d feel that anything that’s more significant for that team or that entity and we use the analogy if you were a sports team or professional musicians group, you would definitely be practicing.  You would definitely warm up and have that much more confidence in each other when you have to face the real project.  So if the project lasts several weeks or several months, the way we’ve designed the game is modular so it’s incrementally based on the number of people involved.  If it’s a smaller group, you do less of the game and still get the same benefit.  So theoretically, and the research is showing that the ideal team size is between 4 to 10 people.  That’s the ideal. Larger than that, it gets a bit unwieldy so if you’re working with a smaller group, you could make an investment of a few 30-minute sessions which is no big scratch because they’re fun, you don’t have to do a lot of thinking around them, but they tap into this visceral innate sensibility that becomes very apparent through the artifacts that we create online together.  We use an interactive co-creation on an interactive whiteboard and we’re really revolutionizing in some ways the way interactive whiteboards have been used because if you look at how they’re being used right now, it’s always subordinate to the need for you to get a document or for you to need to see a blueprint but never to use the interface for sheer creative purposes to bring people together.  So it’s a lot of fun and very simple and intuitive.  So the idea is for 2 hours, 3 hours, that kind of an investment for a bigger project where the stakes are high isn’t significant and it becomes kind of a no-brainer.  And of course, that is that is the response that we’re getting from these early pioneers we’re taking a look at the product and IT, in software development, in leadership training, and in several other kind of aspects.

Lisette: To me, it just sounds like of course you would want to do this.

Howard: Right.

Lisette: Of course, in the analogy of the sports team of yours, that’s perfect.

Howard: Right.

Lisette: I mean it really sets the tone but why wouldn’t somebody do this?  What’s the push back that people are giving?  I just can’t think of why somebody wouldn’t do this.  If I were a leader of a company, I would say, “Yes.  Sign me up.  I want my team on this.”

Howard: Yeah.  We really haven’t received push back in that way.  I mean so far, the response is “Oh, this is so interesting.  This is so needed.”  There’s a woman that we’re working with, a team member of ours, who has a particular footprint in Asia, in subcontinent of India and different parts of Asia, and was telling me six months ago that a year ago, she had been with one of the largest tech firms in India.  We’re talking about 100,000 people and “I left money on the table because they were looking for a tool and that tool didn’t exist and I think this tool would do it.”  So our sense, I mean because it’s in the early days, we just launched Virtual 1.0 in May and his coming back to [inaudible 25:42] because of his experience with Cisco as a senior virtual team manager there, he said, “Wow!  This is really a great 1.0.”  Normally, 1.0 has got a lot of rough edges and things and we’ll get to 2.0 at some point.  So I think we started well out of the gate even though it was late.  And I think that the need out there is kind of becoming more obvious too to decision makers as more and more awareness, I mean I don’t want to be negative here but, I just Florida to Vancouver and I inherited my mom’s little dog and I had to bring him to Canada and I went to the vet a couple of times.  The last time I was at the vet, they have a client relations manager who comes in to look after you while you’re waiting for the vet.  And we’re talking about traveling to Vancouver and so forth and he says, “Oh, well I have to fly from Florida to Portland.  I’m really worried.  I’m really worried,” he says.  I thought, “Why are you worried?”  He says, “Well, flying is too dangerous these days.  And I look East Indian.  I look like a Muslim.  I’m afraid I’m going to get—whatever that word is—pigeon-holders, stereotyped.” And I said, “Oh, don’t worry about it.”  As I said, “I don’t want to be negative here but if you look at this Malaysian flight over Ukraine, things are more unstable, more uncertain.”  And if I could be assured that I will be effective in what I do with you and we deliver an exemplary product in the process, and I don’t have to leave home, I’ll be happy not to.

Lisette: It strikes me then in the beginning of our conversation you said, in comments on how much time it was taking every time you have to go to a school or somewhere where you want to implement the game and you have to fly there, you have to book your ticket to go there.

Howard: Right.

Lisette: It’s almost day’s worth of work just to go on a day worth of travel sometimes.

Howard: Absolutely, absolutely.

Lisette: [Crosstalk 28:13] all the logistics.

Howard: Right.  I mean we have a colleague in India that we’re working with in Punam in technology and he’s talking about he’s working with a very large global corporation.  He’s talking about the fact that they brought in 20 managers or 25 managers from across the sub-continental and further field to a hotel for a two-day workshop and I think he said it cost like 9200 dollars.  And if there’s a way to redeploy that money for more intrinsic gain than simply being squished into an airline in economy class for 10 hours, I think that’s where the market’s going but the big gap again is we’ve gone hi-tech but what this article I was mentioning earlier White Paper was calling for high touch.  How do you develop rapport?  How can you develop empathy?  I mean the three of us are in a way are doing that now.  There’s a certain rapport but I think that’s because we’re in the business together so we share a common understanding and a common language and that creates its own bond but you need that bond.  And if it isn’t there, it needs to be developed in a very legitimate transparent way.  And again, I think we’re just very lucky in the work that we’ve been doing.  It’s just dovetailed so nicely with trends like gamification [inaudible 29:49] and engaging people in a more holistic way.  So we just got very lucky but it’s several years of active ongoing development and I feel it’s kind of one of those old cowboy movies where the good guys have the head the bad guys off at the pass and got to get there faster so when the bad guys show up, they’re there.  And I think what’s happened with us is we’ve developed this thing.  We’ve just arrived as the market was coming into its own.  And so that’s why we’re kind of getting the response but I don’t want to count chickens.  It’s early days and, obviously, part of these dialogues that we’re having with you or with Hassan or him having dialogues with…

Lisette: Howard, your sound is cutting out for me.

Howard: Is it okay?

Lisette: Yes.  It just cut out for just a second.

Howard: So I think all of us who are in this immerging field, I think we can call ourselves pioneers as we are finding traction and ground and common language.  I think what’s happening is decision makers and stakeholders are becoming more and more aware of the relevance of doing this.  We just finished a project with Junior Achievement Canada and they are bringing together this August 150 young entrepreneurs from around the world to do a 3 or 4 day conference.  And now, the dialogue with Junior Achievement is they’re thinking about creating a virtual school online for young people so that young people who might be in different countries can work together virtually to create virtual businesses if you will that don’t consume energy, that don’t pollute the atmosphere, that don’t cost unnecessary money and yet at the same time, through the magic of algorithms could conceivably find a cure for malaria or cure for cancer, or whatever the heck it is.  So we see that this is just really, really early days and what we’re trying to do is position ourselves with key partners who also see that same threshold of opportunity coming up for the next couple of years.

Lisette: To me, what I’m noticing in the trend is really people struggling with how do we humanize the virtual experience more.

Howard: Right.

Lisette: Because the technology is there.  I mean it’s not awesome per se but it’s doable.

Howard: Right.

Lisette: You can totally collaborate there.  There are hundreds of tools.  You have to find something that’s right for your team but there are lots of opportunities but then how do you humanize that.  Almost a year ago, we started a webinar series called Punch through the Screen, How to make presentations come alive.  And we started exploring like do the clothes you wear matter when you’re collaborating remotely and then what about your lighting and what about virtual world.

Howard: Right.

Lisette: And we just started exploring every area of this.  And it was enlightening.  I didn’t know how much some of these things mattered.

Howard: Right, right, right.  I love it:  Punch through the screen is exactly that artificial boundary is there if our perception allows it to be there but if we understand that there are ways to make connections emotionally that are legitimate, integral, it changes one’s perspective about what one can do and about the notion that one can have intimate meaningful honest connection with people that otherwise you might never meet physically.  It’s available, it’s there, and I think we’re going to see more and more and I’d like to think Prelude, our gain is a barometer, a hallmark, a harbinger of what’s coming.  And as we develop our expertise, hopefully, we’ll have more and more partners to even explore how more this kind of notion of high touch and breaking through the screen can kind of immerge.  So I’m very, very hopeful and very encouraged.  And even having dialogues like this really fuels our motivation and our inspiration.

Lisette: Yeah, me too.  I love seeing that this is done.  I mean years, I work closely with Jurgen Appelo who wrote the book Management 3.0 which is sort of new way of doing management.  And so that’s really interesting for me to see that whole world and to hear from people like, “Oh, part of the problem is that management is not just a job.  It’s a skill.”  And a lot of people have been promoted to managers because they were the best lawyer or they were the best technical person they got promoted, promoted, promoted, and all of a sudden, they’re a manager but they don’t have management skills.

Howard: Right.

Lisette: They may be a fabulous lawyer but their people management skills are horrible.

Howard: Right.  And that’s in general.

Lisette: I know.

Howard: In general, training and management skills still need a lot to be desired but then when you go into the world of virtual team management, it’s kind of like even a harder set of skills to learn and requires that much more commitment and dedication.  And I talked with Osman about this and my other colleagues.  I think virtual team management as a discipline is where project team management was about 10 or 15 years ago.  And it took a long time for that field to become accepted as a discipline in its own right where you have MBA programs of this specialty project management, etc., etc., etc.  You have project management institute certifying 3 or 4 hundred thousand project managers around the world and they share a standard and a common language and a common vision about what this discipline is about.  With virtual team management, it’s not going to take 10, 15 years.  It’s already happening.  Osman pointed out that Brandeis University in the United States has just created an MSC in virtual team management.  And certainly Insead based out of Europe also, you could see has a huge new program around virtual team management.  So we’re starting to see this awareness and I think you know who will carry the day won’t be the boomers.  It’ll be the millennials and the youngers who just are digital natives to begin with and they know that this is a great medium for communication, a great medium for creation, a great medium for fun and entertainment, and so I think that’s the shakeup and I think that’s why we’re quite of getting the response we’re getting because the game speaks to young people as much as it speaks to older people.  But I think we’re going to see more and more proliferation of innovation and creativity in this next few years so that in I would say 5 years, a conversation like this will seem antiquated.

Lisette: Right.  We’ll be the tapes, the cassette tapes.

Howard: Exactly right, exactly right.

Lisette: Yeah, I love the evolution.  It’s interesting one of the things that also stuck in me what you said was that a lot of the times it’s the basic things that seem to get in the way like for instance time zones.

Howard: Right.

Lisette: When you think, “No, it’s just basic math.  There are websites that help.”  However, I haven’t been on a single virtual team yet that has not struggled or hasn’t missed the meetings because of the time zone.

Howard: Right.

Lisette: It happens every week.

Howard: Right.  I mean I just moved from Florida.  I mean Jennifer and I were able to communicate with a 5-hour gap between let’s say Toronto and London but moving here, now it’s an 8-hour gap.  And we were just talking about that before we got on with you.  Said, “Well, Jennifer, it looks like our window.  If I get up at 5 o’clock in the morning, we can have a conversation to 1 o’clock your time.”

Lisette: Right.  But some place, you’re going to get up 5 in the morning then and unless you’re a morning person…

Howard: Well, there it is.  So there are those physical restraints and I like I said I was always looking for the example that would be the widest time spread.  And the one that I found was Winnipeg which is in the middle of Canada and Tokyo which is 14 hours, that’s a very big stretch.

Lisette: Yeah.

Howard: So there are going to be physical limitations.  There are going to be technological and temporal limitations but like I say, the biggest limitation is the lack of touch, the lack of interface.  And so when you have a program that says “Break through the screen,” or somebody’s calling for a high touch approach, I think it’s because intuitively, we all understand that we need to hold on to our humanity while we become more efficient.

Lisette: Right.

Howard: Or more effective.

Lisette: And there is a time for a face-to-face meetings when they do happen.

Howard: Absolutely.

Lisette: It’s still of course the most powerful way to do it but when you don’t want to spend 100 thousand dollars to take your team to one city for a 2-day workshop there…

Howard: Right.

Lisette: There needs to be a better way of doing that.

Howard: Right.  I think there has to be a better rationalization for spending that money to come together.  Like I say, my colleague in Arizona, we’ve worked together really intimately and we’re talking about significant funding and sometimes major challenges, and we’ve never physically met.  We will one day God willing but it hasn’t been a barrier to effective teamwork and communication.  And I think the spirit is kind of embodied there in the game itself and I hope that we can schedule another time where we could actually walk you through the demo.

Lisette: I’d love to see it.

Howard: And go from there.  I must say I have to go to another meeting now so I feel that maybe we shortchanged you in time.

Lisette: Not at all.

Howard: Or do you feel you’re blocked some scope here.

Lisette: Clearly there needs to be a follow-up conversation.  I would love to see the game.

Howard: Okay.

Lisette: I’m very interested in this.  So we can stop here and say goodbye and I’ll just be in touch and we’ll continue the conversation in another time.

Howard: Okay.

Lisette: But thank you so much today.

Howard: Thank you.  Lisette, it’s such a pleasure and a privilege to meet you.  I love your energy.  I love what you’re doing.  I feel like I know you and I look forward to further interchange and exchange so thank you.

Jennifer: Thank you so much for your time.

Lisette: Thanks, Jennifer!

Howard: Thanks, Jennifer, for being such a good active listener.

Jennifer: Alright, bye!

Howard: Take care.  Have a great afternoon.

Lisette: Thanks, you two.  Bye!

Howard: Bye!

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