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The Interchange: Michael Lawrence

Our guest for this chat is Michael Lawrence. He's a learning and operational development professional at CreativAnswer (creativanswer.com).


He considers himself a walking Seinfeld episode. And he aspires to help people learn their value at work and in their personal lives, become a thought leader in the learning space and get a speeding ticket at age 100.


Michael's various achievements are being a father, creating his own space in the corporate world and learning and development, and being the first in his family to go to college from high school and graduate In this episode we talk about training and development and having fun at work.


If you are a learning and development professional and are interested in being interviewed for our show, you can sign up at calendly.com/maximyz/inteview.


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Transcript:

(edited for clarity, grammar, and content)


Rahel

Hello, everyone. Welcome to the interchange, brought to you by Maximyze. I am Rahel. And this is your co host, Matt. And we talk about everything related to interpersonal communication. So Matt, tell us what's our topic for the day.


Matt

So today's topics are going to be training and development and having fun at work. And our guest today is Michael Lawrence.


He's a learning and operational development professional at Creative Answer (creativanswer.com). He considers himself a walking Seinfeld episode. And he aspires to help people learn their value at work and in their personal lives, become a thought leader in the learning space and get a speeding ticket at age 100.


Michael's various achievements are being a father, creating his own space in the corporate world and learning and development and being the first in his family to go to college from high school and graduate. So welcome, Michael.


Mike

Thank you. I'm excited to join you today. So let's have some fun in the process. Let's do it.


Matt

Let's do it.


Rahel

Awesome. So I'm curious right up front. So you are a walking Seinfield?. What does that mean?


Mike

The one of the things I used to love about Seinfeld, and I saw that we did in college when I was young as well, which I wish we would have got the idea first, or expounded on it first was just seeing how funny everyday life is. And when we just take what's right in front of us and enjoy it.


We're actually really comical people in general. People watching, if you have never done it, it's just absolutely phenomenal. A phenomenal pastime, if you haven't tried it before, but that's where it came from. So some of the things like, you know, from Seinfeld episodes, like there was one where they have, you know, they have the big salad, you know, that's, there's nothing special about that. But the fact that you commented on it made it something that is actually quite comical.


And we do that all the time. And when we can kind of lighten ourselves up a little bit, it makes life a lot easier, for one thing, but you just kind of get to see the joy of what life really is on a day to day basis. So that's where that whole Seinfeld episode comes from. And we have a lot of references from those.


And it becomes kind of a second language as well, when you're even in the learning environment, people remember that stuff. And that's really what kind of gets them through all the different things that they learn on a day to day basis, in my courses, or you know, are even in their own interaction. So...


Matt

Cool. Oh, that's great. Awesome. It's been a while since I watched Seinfeld, but you're right. He was really good about just making fun of everyday kinds of things. And the more we joke, you do, you do learn more by joking. But also, you know, there's studies that show that you live a longer and happier life if you joke around more. So that's absolutely true.


So in terms of, you know, learning and development, and you said, you incorporate some of this into your learning about how do you how do you do that?


Mike

Oh, really these are the stories I know, in the more recent years, you've probably read more and seen more in the actual learning space where people are starting to celebrate stories a lot more. One of the things that always said even beforehand was you'd ask somebody how their day was, nobody comes up to you with a bullet point list.


I washed the dishes, I took the kids to school, I dropped my sandwich on the floor, you know, nobody does that everything's in this realm of a story. So as you begin to really look at that, and how would you, oh, man, you know, forget all the other details. Oh, it's just this one big event that happened where there was, you know, a raccoon got loose in the school or something, you know, and you just don't know what it might be.


But those are the things that really define who we are. So when we can begin to use those in the classroom, it makes it stick. One of my favorites from not too long ago, is we were doing some, of course, really just kind of interpersonal relations. And you know, focusing on the issue, not the individual was the big idea behind it.

But there was one character on there, that was kind of the negative guy of the whole thing. And actually, that became the motto around the office, everyone that went through that course, it wasn't so much that they took everything away from that course, they've got these six wonderful steps on how to, you know, have better interpersonal conversations, but they walked around, they walked away saying, don't be mad. But anybody that went through that course, understood immediately that their focus in the conversation was either negative, or wasn't moving the conversation forward.


And those are the type of things where you just when you see it, it makes you laugh, it proves the point. And it keeps it from being a drawn out conversation. And it lightens the mood at the same time. So it was it was just an excellent example really, where that just kind of permeated an entire organization, you know, to the point that almost t shirts were made, to that whole concept of just being positive focus on the issue, not the person, you know, lead by example, all the different things that were a part of that were just gathered in that one, you know, what is it Don't be that three words, you know, it's beautiful.


And that's, that's where really those particular exercises were solidified. In my mind, if we can laugh a little bit, we can find something that represents the bigger picture, you know, we can all move forward at the same pace and then a lighter mood, which helps us to think better as well. So what I want to do is nerd out on the whole neuroscience of learning too. So if you've never just put in neuroscience learning in Ted, here's a shameless plug for Ted Talks. You can learn a lot from that as well, you know, in short, 15 minute bites, which is also nice.


Matt

Yeah, we love TED talks in neuroscience as well so that the last business that we owned before the pandemic was called mind gym. So we were focused a lot on something called neuro aerobics. And aerobics teaches you to use your brain in a different way, like, stand on your left foot or brush your teeth with your opposite hand or eat with your eyes closed. It's about engaging your senses but in a different way and creating different pathways in your brain.


Rahel

Yeah, I really like what he said about the, you know, you come out of there saying, don't be mad. And just focusing on that, instead of coming out and saying, what are all the positive things and thinking of all the positive things? It's a different way of thinking. Because usually when you go to a course you just hold on to the positive things. But when you focus on that, don't be mad. Oh, it's, it kind of changes your mindset on how you win. Okay, so how do I not be mad for the rest of the day? So that's cool to think about it that way.


Mike

Yeah. And it's a ripple effect. That's the beautiful part about it to that one conversation, or that one statement really does kind of ripple through the, you know, the organization or those that are involved in that conversation. And that was one of the things that I saw that was so amazing to me, was from the individual contributor all the way up to our executive level, saying that one phrase could get everyone's attention and like, Okay, well, what is it? What's causing it?


So now we move over into root cause analysis? Well, why? what is causing this, you know, and they start looking at that, is there something in our process we need to change to make this easier. And just like you say, just opening your mind up to doing different things, but just being by once, I mean, literally was an hour and a half course, that literally changed the mindset of an organization around how we thought, which is pretty spectacular.


Matt

Absolutely. That's great. That's great. So in the learning and development world, are there any areas that you see where learning and development maybe is, is not doing so? Well? And maybe it's, it's failing?


Mike

Yes, I'm facing it now. For those that I guess nobody's gonna know. So for those that don't know, because I'm on television every night. There's my brain at work. No, but we're just in the most recent just using my own experience as an example. Just this past March, I was laid off from my last organization that I worked for. And in the process of being back in the job market, as I'm approaching even other professionals that I know, or have known for years, that have an idea of what I do, when I try to explain to them what it is that learning and development is, they don't really get.


So I think as an industry or as a profession, or as really more. So as a part of the culture of an organization, the learning in the relevant areas is really behind, and really stamping out. This is what I do in this organization. This is my role in this organization. And I think that's why it's so easy to be the first one out when it's time to cut the budget. Because the value of what we do is not really understood. And for a long time, it was hard to measure as well. So we're getting better at measuring it.


But the impact, you know, when we get to the point where we can really begin to measure impact, and we're doing better takes time, of course, to get there, but when we can begin to really validate the impact that we make, it will sound bright, you know, it'll sound a lot louder for for learning and developer, but I think that's one of the areas that we could get so much better, from the training coordinator to the instructional designer is doing one product, just making sure people understand why, you know, what start


Why are we here, what is what we do, what we do, we do for the organization, even at the highest level, you know, when it comes to the goals, or or, or cultural values of the organization, how does what we do impact all the way to that level. And I think that's what's missing, a lot of times, it's training, a, something that gets pencil whip is something that you dread going to, it's forced on you, instead of being seen as an avenue, or a tool for you to get better at what you do.


And that, to me, is the downfall of the learning and the really the corporate and business space. And an individual level. We do it every day. We're on YouTube all the time with Google everything that we want. But we fail to take those cues as to how our culture is working and begin to use them in that corporate and business world. So that there's a similar flow. So if you can't tell this from a soapbox of mine it's a big pain point. It became so much more magnified as I'm explaining to people what I do, or how I do what I do in this season, and it's really like wow, they don't get it. And that's a problem. That's a big problem.


Matt

I've been hearing you're not the only one so you're not alone. I mean, almost every single learning and development professional I've spoken to has said the same thing. It's it's Difficult to sell the importance, especially when it comes to like personal development skills and things like that to the upper management, they just they don't they want to see, you know, immediate return on on taking an action and with learning and development takes time to see the return on your investment, I think and that's what they struggle with.


Rahel

What's he saying that was through them being in business for so long, they still don't see the importance of this. I mean, there must be some, you know, we can't be the only people seeing this, right. So that being in those positions, I'm just kind of like, they don't see the importance of that all these years. Do we really still need to come back here and prove again, that no, this is a very important topic. It's sad.


Mike

It is, and it's one of those Seinfeld moments. It's like, so you learn what you learn to get where you are, where you want to go, you don't want to learn? Yeah.


Matt

Well, you know, lots of reports on it. And you know, the, they say, the fortune 500 companies, they get it. And that's why their fortune 500 companies realize you need to invest in your people to become profitable, it affects your bottom line. Ultimate absolutely makes your company stronger, it keeps people there longer, keeps them more engaged. When an individual has passion, and they're aligned with your vision, then your company's gonna go so much further than somebody just showed up to show up.


Mike

Absolutely. Absolutely. And they're getting it more and more. Now we see the bigger ones, like you saying the fortune 500 they get it. And in pockets. I think what's happened even in that space, to me being in that arena is that the learning that's happening there, has been playing catch up. So you end up now where the learning that you've done was great, because it walked people through a process. Even the leadership development that was there, it helped people with where they are. But really, if we look at the last 20 years, let's just go from 2000, which is insane. The thing? It's been 20 years since a party like it was 1999. Because it was that, yeah. But in the last 20 years, how have we shifted?


How have we shifted, I mean, just as a culture, not as a human as a nation. But as a world. When it comes to social media, when it comes to diversity and inclusion in these things play a huge part in the learning scape and the learning curve. So now, those same companies, and I applaud them for everything that they've done, but it's time to look at it again, because you're still trying to send me to a day and a half course that you expect me to implement when I get back from it. We're nothing in my world today. goes for an hour and a half except for a movie.


Rahel

Yeah, yeah.


Mike

And I'm not required to remember that. But I remember the movie because it's telling me a story.


Matt

Yeah, yeah.


Mike

So again, these are those things where, as a learning professional, we can begin to highlight these things. And I think the last organization I love three, I know, I understand, you know what took place as far as the business scape. And I always like saying up front. But as far as the working environment, I have never worked in a better place in my life where they just took on. And he said, I understand.


Okay, well, let's do that. None of our courses, you know, that we created were more than 10 minutes long. If we were doing a day-long course, we were doing a plant tour, we were doing some new information, we were doing activities. Out of the eight hours that we spent with somebody, maybe Wissmann, specifically explaining our product, the rest was activities, so you can engage with the product, it was going to plan a seed to learn how the product was made. So it was building that story around what they were receiving. So again, it's you know, those, even in that space, I'm glad you brought that up, I think they're doing an excellent job with it.


This is where we have in the group forward as well, we have to look at all this stuff, just like we had to get rid of flash. Though we had to move all our stuff away from the flash that was on the computer. You know, we're having to do the same thing with our learning and development and say, let me relook at what I have. Is it relevant for today? It's relevant for my business, but is it relevant for my learner? And on this day as well, and that's what I think is the tipping point that's going to really make the difference in those companies that succeed going forward. At least those During the service industry, those that have a product point and click and let it rip.


Rahel

Oh, yeah. And just add to that. I mean, sometimes maybe the thing is, it's just it's change. And ages sometimes just difficult to, you know, like you said the example movie for slash people. I agree. Okay. Yeah, it's better to move that away. But I mean, I understand what I have to go through all that? You know, I think it's just fear of change, you know?


Mike

I think 2020 was great because it pushed so many companies and really the industry as a whole hit 510 years, because they had to figure it out to stay afloat. So, you know, I don't you know, I'm the first one to say let's, you know, we can kind of forget about 2020 best, we can sweep it under the rug.


But from an industrial standpoint, and from, you know, from a business standpoint, it was needed time to really wake everyone up and say, Hey, we got to do things differently. To be able to be successful going forward, I think we'll, we'll begin to see the fruits of that very soon. There was an article I was reading on on LinkedIn, you may have seen it, as well, we're saying the the great resign, coming, you know, is the great resign coming, where people are from organizations, yeah, based off of not being able to work from home, or not be able to have a remote work environment where they've had it for the last, you know, 12 to 18 months.


I thought it was kind of interesting in in, you know, even from a, you know, industry standpoint, you know, are we are we ready to do that, and a lot of companies aren't ready, because they haven't built that into their infrastructure, they're still rather have less productivity and look at you than they would create a performance, you know, create goals that actually cause a person to perform and allow them to build the bandwidth to do what they're supposed to do, as opposed to be able to stare at them in the office.


So that's going to be interesting to see how everything adjusts even in that realm. Because if they're really thinking people are going to start redesigning based off of that, yeah, we're gonna see another lopsided economy in a different way. Because the companies that are more forward thinking or are more electronic or better built around performance management, they're going to be the ones that Excel.


Matt

Yeah, Yeah, that'd be interesting to see the future. So I'm gonna switch gears on you a little bit. Funding game games at work. So what do you think about that? Do you think work should be fun and games? Do we have fun and games at work? But what's your experience there?


Mike

Absolutely, absolutely. Yes. There's only one field where it's not fun in games, and it's called surgery.


We need to loosen up a little, lighten up a little bit, you know, it's it is and we learn better that way, as well. And like you, you alluded to, Matt, it is, it's healthy. For us. You know, it's proven we're in a good mood, or when we're jovial we actually think more outside of the box, for lack of a better term. You know, we're more creative and how we can come about things, you know, we face a problem differently than if we're buried under, you know, the weight of everything that's going on. And we have a little bit more freedom there in that space as well. Some of the best times to watch are just children on a playground, or, you know, a child playing by themselves with some toys, they come up with the most outlandish ideas.


You know, I actually recorded and called him kind of my god nephew. Just this past weekend, and you know, he had Legos and he was putting them together. And next thing, you know, you're saying, oh, they're in cars, and then they were robots. And I was like, Oh, alright, cool. So now the robots need to stand up. He's like, Ah, yeah, they can stand up. So we started refiguring it so that they could stand up. You know, he got frustrated because he wouldn't stand up. Yeah. He was in, he started afresh was like, Well, what could you do to help us stand up? He's like, Well, I think it needs another leg. Cool. Let's put it in the mind.


So we have a three legged robot. But the idea was, you know, again, when he started to get frustrated with that, it was like, No, no, this is we're going to figure out how to make it work. So here are these pieces and it's just showing him some different ideas and he came up with it on his own. I think the same thing you do in the workplace. We're so you know, dead set on having to work this way and nine times out of 10 innovation has always come out of it. The mistake, or the workaround, you know, not the process that was in place. And I was, you know, I've been to a party on both sides of that from a trainer and playing with a three year old to changing a process on a multimillion dollar line, you know, but it came out of that same idea. You know, what, what can I do to kind of make this better?


Actually, my original idea with that multimillion dollar plan was how can I get out of here early on Fridays? Quite honestly, that's how that works out. But what I did, literally, I'm in a field in a, in a facility with a bunch of scientists and physicists, and all the others are out there. And they're these extremely intelligent people that I learned a ton from. But the simple process of trying to get a product to dry is the little kid with the film degree that figured it out. Because I was thinking that I need to dump all this stuff in the back and just watch it, you know, let's sit here and watch it drip, you know?


Okay, well, why don't we put a little bit at a time, let that drain it dry, put another little bit in there. They're trying to figure out how I'm leaving at two o'clock on Fridays, instead of being there till six. And it took them three weeks before somebody asked me. Wow, then there's that. So as you can see, there's all kinds of little, you know, hills and tunnels that really, I think learning helps answer. But when it comes back to the fun part of it and thinking about that, these are those things that are birthed out of just, you know, enjoying the workplace or enjoying what you're doing or being having that freedom to explore. And I think that's what really begins to make work fun as well.


Matt

Yeah, I have worked in the corporate world for many years. And sometimes you get stuck in these processes. And people just don't want to budge. And I think it does stifle creativity, it doesn't allow you that freedom, and you feel a little bit frustrated when we have to follow this process. You know, it doesn't make sense. And so, yeah, I think it's good to have processes, it's good to know what I need to do. Absolutely do. But I think you also need to have some leniency in the process. You can adapt to it, depending on the situation. Definitely, definitely. So as far as this, this whole conversation has gone, during the development in playing games, is there one kind of key takeaway or key information that you'd like our audience to hear?


Mike

Oh, yeah, I think that the big idea, I guess, for me is to explore the depths of what learning is in the organization. You know, I think we kind of get we kind of think, I guess, because a spider webs our way through it. And in a sense, we talk it through different topics. But the idea is that all of this comes out of the learning function, or the development function, or organizational development, learning and development function of a business. And when you really take the time to think about it, honestly, you don't have to think really hard on how learning has impacted the organization. And in that, you know, we have to realize that it's also one of those things, it's iterative, it's not a, you know, it's not going to be one time and go.


So, I guess, without starting to dig into it, again, the concept there is just, you know, just sit back and realize, you know, what learning really has done in your organization, it's in your processes, but it's also in your innovation. It's in the attitudes of your employees, but it's also in their productivity, you know, and it's in, they all work hand in hand, and where they find this information out outside of just living life is the things that we're doing to assist them in growing in that organization to think that's the kind of the big idea to me at all. It doesn't have to doesn't have to be fun. It can definitely be fun and memorable and change the trajectory of your organization.


Matt

I've seen it happen. Thank you very much. There you heard it straight from Mike Lawrence, learning and organizational development professional at CreativAnswer. It was a pleasure having you Mike, and we hope to talk to you again soon.


Rahel

Thank you everyone for watching The Interchange, brought to you by Maximyze.





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