Jay Johnson Helps Use and Understand That Behavior is Choice | Episode 328

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Jay Johnson works with people and organizations to empower teams, grow profits, and elevate leadership. He is a Co-Founder of Behavioral Elements®, a two-time TEDx speaker, and a designated Master Trainer by the Association for Talent Development. With a focus on behavioral intelligence, Jay has delivered transformational workshops to accelerate high-performance teams and cultures in more than 30 countries across four continents.

 

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Full episode transcription (AI Generated)

Rob:
Hey, engagers. And welcome back to another episode of the Professor Game podcast. And we have today with us, Jay. But, Jay, we need to know, are you prepared to engage?

Jay:
I am ready.

Rob:
Let’s do this. Let’s go. We have Jay Johnson with us today. He works with people and organizations to empower teams, grow profits, and elevate leadership. He’s a co founder of the behavioral Elements.

Rob:
He’s a two times Ted speaker and a designated master trainer by the association of Talent Development, the ATD. With his focus on behavioral intelligence, he has delivered transformational workshops to accelerate high performance teams and cultures in more than 30 countries across four continents. With Jay, is there anything that we should be mentioning that we haven’t in this quick intro?

Jay:
No. That was perfect, Rob. Thanks.

Rob:
Amazing, Jay. We always like to see how our guests are absolute rock stars. So we want to see what the day of a rock star looks like. What are you doing these days? If we were in your shoes, what would it look like?

Rob:
What would it feel like?

Jay:
So these days, really focused on our behavioral elements program. So a normal day might be kind of waking up, getting myself prepared for the day, checking out that task list, making sure that everything looks normal. Touching base with my team. I’ve got a couple of amazing team members that actually, one of them is a gamification expert and putting together sort of our plan for the day. After that, I like to dig into designing, creating, and building out different programs, solutions, opportunities for our clients.

Jay:
So we really try to help transform people and cultures by focusing on behaviors. So that’s a big part of it. Normal day might have some training opportunities where I’m working with clients, maybe a little bit of coaching. So do a lot of group coaching with executive leadership and managers, and then a little bit of relaxing, taking my dog for a walk, making sure that I get out there and do a little self work and make sure that I am prepared for the next day.

Rob:
By focusing a little time there sounds absolutely crucial. That’s very important as well. All work and no fun makes Jay and Rob be very sad, and that’s not good for business either.

Jay:
That’s right.

Rob:
So, Jay, let’s dive right in and ask what some people consider as a hard question. I think it’s a fantastic question, especially to bring out some interesting things that we’ve experienced, and it has to do with failure. We want to be there in one of those experiences where you were going north, things went south. I don’t know, just things didn’t go your way. We want to be there with you we want to feel whatever you felt to that point.

Rob:
We want to experience it with you and take away some of those lessons that you certainly took from that experience.

Jay:
This is always a hard one. I do a lot of teaching on entrepreneurship, so I’ve got plenty of failures to share with you or the audience, and I guess maybe one of the ones. And I don’t know how much of a failure it is, but I think it really kind of resonates with a lot of the people that I talk to. Go back to 2020, and it’s February. We are primed to have our absolute best year that we’ve had as a company.

Jay:
So we’ve been around since 2008. We have all upward trajectory. And it was this moment in March 15, we did our last training in our office. So we actually had about 25 leaders in our office. We were doing some work on habits, and that was the very last time that we got to see our office for about the next year.

Jay:
And obviously, that is right around Covid. And when Covid happens, it took about two weeks, and we saw $200,000 of revenue walk out the door. All of our training programs, all of our keynote speaking, all of our coaching was face to face, and everybody just hit the stop button. And I remember at that very moment, and there’s a couple of things that I will never forget and some lessons that I took away from. So while it wasn’t necessarily a self induced failure, all of a sudden we were hemorrhaging that revenue as a company.

Jay:
And I remember feeling incredibly sad, and just like, how could this happen? Like, we were on such this great path at that time. I had ten people working for me. We’ve got about 14 now, but we had ten people at that time. And I was panicking, thinking about, how am I going to help them make sure that they’re going to feed their families?

Jay:
So all of these emotions are just coming to the surface. And I started to get really down on myself, thinking, like, how can I get us this? A lot of times, the company just being one of the founders and everything else, it felt like a lot of responsibility, and it was one of my staff that had been there for maybe six months. That really shook me out of it. And it just reminded me of sort of that failure mindset.

Jay:
She asked me a very simple question. It’s a question that I ask my team in a lot of cases, okay, we’ve lost $200,000, but what did we gain? And it was that very moment, it was just that second that I was like, you know what? You’re right. Instead of looking at this failure or this catastrophe as the ultimate end of the world, how can we look at this as a value proposition?

Jay:
And what we gained in reality was time. We gained so much time in that space, which can be just as critical of a resource as revenue or anything else, that it gave us the chance to go back to the design thinking and start innovating new programs and to position ourselves. That when we came out of this, we knew it eventually come out in whatever the capacity, the new world was going to be, that we had the time to actually think through these things and to really put some plans together. And it was during that time that we took one of our programs, our behavioral elements program, and we had been utilizing that in one way, but we really innovated a number of different products and services. And now today, that program is literally global.

Jay:
We’ve got 50 certified guides all over the world delivering that program, making huge behavioral changes. And when I think about the failure, honestly, the failure wasn’t Covid, it wasn’t the loss of revenue. The failure was, for me, getting into that sort of like, down and, oh, gosh, everything’s over, rather than getting into. So one of the things that I teach in the entrepreneurs is wifio moments. WFIO.

Jay:
And that can really mean two different things. It can be the moment that we say it’s over, or it can be, we’ll figure it out. And in a failure, and especially from an entrepreneurial mindset, we need to get into that. We’ll figure it out faster. And I’m so grateful that my team was able to help pull me out that we could actually take steps moving forward to really position ourselves to the global impact that we’re having right now.

Rob:
Sounds amazing. And Jay, thanks for that, because this has so many applications. Know when you’re thinking about games and gamification and changing behaviors, there’s so much lessons here. Like you said, this mostly focused as a company, as an entrepreneur, but it also has so many applications. This applies so well when you’re thinking of a gamified strategy, because you’re constantly failing.

Rob:
It’s literally a game of what’s the next failure going to be, and what am I going to learn from it, and how is whatever design I’m creating going to be better thanks to that failure? So getting out of that mindset, as you were saying, of, oh, this is terrible, I didn’t want this to happen to what am I going to do with this? What did I gain? And how is this going to make me better is exactly what you need when you’re building something where you’re doing iterations, and that’s exactly what we should be doing when we’re creating our behavioral designs. So, Jay, thank you very much for that story, and let’s turn it around.

Rob:
How about we go for actually a success, and if we can focus this one a little bit more on behavioral change, behavioral elements and the kind of things that you do, it would be amazing. But I’m sure we’ll get a lot of lessons either way.

Jay:
Sure. So I’ll take a behavioral success and kind of approach realistically, and even kind of taking it from that gamification. I am a competitor. I was a junior hockey player up to the time that I was about 1819 years old, very competitive. So junior hockey is about two to three levels below the professional national Hockey league that most people have heard of, at least.

Jay:
And after that, I decided to go into debate. And I was a competitive debater in college. I actually had a scholarship, so I argued with people for money, which was fun. And then from there, I went into mixed martial arts and trained in about seven different things. And one of the things that all of those experiences as a competitor has taught me is I thrive in environments where I am perpetually testing myself and I’m perpetually trying to set the next high score.

Jay:
So my element and behavioral element is actually a fire element, which is associated with the drive to acquire. And ultimately the successes that I have found are really when I put that sort of competitive nature into play. And one example of that was at the end of the book, drive, essentially, by Paul Lawrence and Nitin Noria. At the end of their book, they said, one day somebody’s going to come along and learn how to map and measure these different drives. So that’s the science that’s behind behavioral elements, our flagship program.

Jay:
I took that as a challenge, and I took that as a, all right, yeah, game on. Let’s do this. I’m going to figure out how to do that. It took me two full years of trying to perfect that methodology, to be able to do those types of measurements. And during that process, and as a competitor, I want to see the score.

Jay:
And it just felt like there were some points in times when things weren’t moving as fast as I wanted to or things weren’t going as fast as I wanted to. But that competitive spirit of I will not be deterred. I’m going to win this game is really what kind of kept us on that pathway that ultimately led to the development and the design of this program. So that success was really driven by that competitive nature, that gamification of, okay, I just need to win this. I need to win this next round.

Jay:
I need to win this next round. And going 1 mile farther, 1 mile farther. So that was one that I can really look back and say, game mechanics and behavioral mechanics propelled the results that we wanted, but it was done through that motivation, through. All right, game on.

Rob:
Amazing. And when you say that, it’s easy to think, and the first thing that people think when we’re talking about gamification is definitely competition, which is a fantastic element. It has all sorts of uses. There’s all sorts of great ways to use competition. So don’t get me wrong with what I’m going to say here, but it’s easy to forget that not everybody is as competitive as you are, Jay.

Rob:
And when people are designing, this is the top thing that I help them remember. But a key lesson that I definitely see here is if you had tried to do this exact same thing and used another behavioral element, as you were describing, you probably wouldn’t have had such a great time. You wouldn’t have done such great things because it was not your element. So keep in mind, again, when you’re designing for you, you usually or should be at least knowing what that element is. If you don’t figure it out, it’s a good time to start thinking about that, but think that there are different people and that different people have different motivations.

Rob:
So maybe do what Jay did, maybe do something different. Right.

Jay:
Well, then, if I can jump on that real quick, Rob. So the four elements that we have is, I’m a fire element. That’s my primary element. The other three elements, air, earth, water, are associated with different behavioral drives. So we use the elements just as sort of like an easy way to remember and everything else, but they are associated with the science from Paul, Lawrence, and Nittenoria.

Jay:
So the water element, if they were to do the same thing, that’s really associated with our drive to bond. That’s the socialization aspect of ours. And I know a lot of gamers really game because they enjoy that social interaction. So there were members of my team who just enjoyed coming to the office and collaborating. There were members of our team who are high air elements, really driven by the desire to learn and to experience.

Jay:
And for them, it was tinkering and it was playing, and it was, let’s try this, let’s do that. Other element is our earth element, and that’s really associated with our drive to defend. They were the ones that kept the trains on track and put us on process and systems and, okay, if I do this, then this will happen. If I do this, then I can predict this will happen. So I love what you said there.

Jay:
Yes, it is all about leaning into what those sort of core drives or motivational aspects are, and gamification and game mechanics really opens up the door and associates really well with the elements. One of our guys, Tynan Mariano in Brazil, is a gamification specialist and is using the behavioral elements to actually create systems and create opportunities where all four drives are being activated by the participants. So really cool stuff there.

Rob:
Amazing. Good to know that there’s, because when you talk about gamification, there are sort of different people who approach it, of course, in different ways, but especially a very gross differentiation I make, which, again, I’m not pointing any fingers, everybody does it their way. When people say, we’re doing gamification and they have it as a big flag or flagship program or skill or whatever they’re doing, and there’s the people who are, they might be doing gamification consciously or not consciously, but they will never mention the word game or gamification in what they’re doing because they’re afraid of, oh, maybe some clients don’t like this gamification thing because it has games and I want to make sure that they take me seriously and that kind of stuff, which, again, I completely accept and understand. But of course, being a podcast that discusses gamification, I really like it as well when people upfront say, look, this is something that we use as well, or this is the main thing that we definitely do. So thank you for that also, Jay.

Rob:
And you jumped in and you mentioned the four elements that you have, which.

Jay:
I love, by the way.

Rob:
It’s good to understand what are your main drivers, your main drives to behave certain ways and whatnot, if you were to solve a problem, because in the end, all these frameworks and all these things tend to spin around, what is the next problem that I’m going to solve? What is the process? How do you do it? Or maybe we can start with what are the kinds of problems that you solve? And of course, then how do you do that?

Jay:
Sure. Great question. Well, we kind of use two major methodologies. Number one is many of the problems that we encounter are human related. So the one thing that I’ve said as an organizational consultant is no matter what your business, no matter what your product, it’s still going to have that human capacity.

Jay:
So we do use the elements to better understand what are the actual behaviors that are either driving success or failure, because ultimately, behavior is the choice. So in some cases, if we’re working with leadership and maybe they’re not making the best decisions, or maybe they haven’t made the best decisions, helping them to better understand where those decisions came from, how they came to those decisions, and what the impact of those decisions are really related to that behavioral drive framework, that’s one of the most powerful ways that we help organizations sort of advance and overcome some of those human issues. The second framework and methodology that we use is design thinking. So I do a lot of different design thinking workshops and supporting teams in innovating new solutions to some of the complex problems that they have. I love the empathy stage because it’s so related to behavior and being able to step into that other person’s shoes or really step into some kind of challenge or whatever challenge they’re facing, getting people to think like somebody else or to really take that step back and behaviorally analyze what is actually going on here.

Jay:
We hear some things, maybe we see some things in data sets, but the reality is, can I observe certain sets of behaviors that are perpetually creating the conditions for either our success or failure? So when we get into that empathy stage of design thinking, that’s really where we thrive. And moving that forward. Like, even our programs, all of them, have gone through the different five stages of design thinking. We prototype, we get something out there very quickly, and then we test it.

Jay:
We make those modifications as necessary. And if you looked at the iterations of whether it was something like our online training programs, whether it was our behavioral elements program, we’re on like, edition number 56 of all of those, because of that design thinking process and constantly seeking to be better. So whenever we’re trying to help somebody solve problems, we start with that, empathize and defining, really getting to the core of what is the real root here. What’s the issue? Is it a behavior?

Jay:
Is it a system? Is it something that’s culture related? And once we get to that stage, that’s when we start putting in some of those behavioral science backed interventions. I’ll call them to give them an opportunity to test this out. Sometimes they’re super simple.

Jay:
Sometimes it’s as simple as getting somebody to change their culture by their leadership team, meeting somebody at the door on Fridays and saying, hey, thank you for being here and creating that connection and seeing how many of the leaders can actually get out there. How many people can you meet in your factory? Today and giving them some of those little challenges to test that intervention, and we see what the results are, and then we go back and we modify and tweak. Did this work? Did this create the conditions for more connected people, et cetera?

Jay:
So I would say the behavioral elements and design thinking are probably our two biggest models for developing solutions to some of those complex organizational and human problems.

Rob:
Amazing. Thank you for letting us sort of pick into your organizational brain and see what are the things that you and your team are actually doing. So, Jay, if there was a. Again, when I say this, people tend to think of a silver bullet, but it’s actually the opposite. It’s more of a best practice, something that do this and your process, your results, will actually at least benefit a little bit.

Rob:
Whatever you do is going to be a little bit better. Can you have that kind of thing? When you’re thinking about these behavioral elements and helping people change? As you were saying, maybe the leadership of the company or these things, is there something that you would say, well, this small or not so small thing can actually really help?

Jay:
Yeah, I would say. And they kind of relate to each other. First is taking a moment to step back and recognizing that behavior is a choice. All of us have thoughts and feelings that run through our head, and I always make the joke when I’m doing training, like, yes, more than likely, at some point in time, you’ve wanted to punch your boss in the throat because he was being a complete pain, and you know what? And giving you way more work than you ever could do.

Jay:
And we get these thoughts and feelings, and sometimes they’re not very tasty. Sometimes we are like, oh, my gosh, I can’t believe I thought that, or I can’t believe I felt that. But recognizing that is not the endpoint. The endpoint is the behavior that we actually take action with. And being able to step back and recognizing that behavior is a choice.

Jay:
So we don’t have the luxury of being able to say, well, that’s just how I am. No, that’s how you’re choosing to be. When I can get a leader to really take ownership, and that’s one of the things I focus on, is ownership. Taking ownership of those different situations, taking ownership of their behaviors, whether they’re successful behaviors or whether they’re behaviors that have led to failure, once that awareness of it’s a choice comes to fruition, is really where we start to see actual transformative change. So bringing that awareness, but then not just that awareness, it really is accepting and saying, okay, in situations even some things such as Covid, while I couldn’t control Covid, I could control my reactions to it.

Jay:
I could look at this and say, I’m going to take ownership over these four things, and that’s really going to propel me forward. And sometimes it’s so much easier to just blame the external or it’s a human nature to defend ourselves by saying, well, I would have been able to do this if blank would have. And one of the things that we really coach in culture is, no, if that person didn’t do what you needed them to do, it’s not because they didn’t do it. It’s because you failed to communicate the importance or how to do it. And helping them to understand and take ownership of each of those individual pieces is one of the fastest ways we can get leadership teams to really elevate themselves and to elevate their cultures.

Rob:
Wow. Behavior is choice. Definitely. I’ll keep that one. Might even go in the it.

Rob:
I love it. Thank you for that, Jay. And after listening to these questions, now you know a bit more about the vibe of the podcast and so on, is there somebody that comes to your mind that you would say, well, this person could be an interesting guest that maybe even you would like to hear on a feature episode in professor game?

Jay:
Yeah, I’d love to recommend my colleague Tynan Mariano from Brazil. He is a behavioral element certified guide, and like I said, he’s doing some really incredible things in the game and gamification. He’s run a number of different conferences, just an absolutely incredible and talented individual. So I’ve learned a ton from Tynan. I think he’d be great as a guest.

Rob:
Sounds definitely like a fantastic guest for the future. And another recommendation, how about a book that you would say, again, direct inspiration or completely lateral inspiration? I don’t know, whatever you want to go for.

Jay:
Well, I hear that engagers is a pretty compelling book, so that one’s made it to my audible list, and we’ll be having to check that out. But one of my favorites is the book by Dr. Paul Lawrence and Dr. Nitin Noria out of Harvard University, and it is called driven, and the subtitle to that is how human nature shapes our choices. So that’s a book that is sort of the base science behind the behavioral elements.

Jay:
It really gives a fantastic exploration into why we do what we do and where those behaviors come from, from a neuroscientific as well as psychological and anthropological history of our human existence. So it’s a fantastic read to really give a better understanding of why we do what we.

Rob:
Huh. Very good book, for sure. At least sounds like it. I haven’t read it yet. Jay, what would you say is your superpower?

Rob:
What’s that thing that you do at least better than most other people?

Jay:
I think one of my superpowers is the. This is always a difficult question because I never like to think that I do anything better than anybody else. We’re all human. We all have the same capacities. But I would say that maybe one of the things that has served me very well throughout my career is the ability to relate very complex behavioral or complex psychological, complex neuroscientific information into something that is very usable and something that is very accessible to generally anybody, whether I’m working with frontline factory workers or whether I’m working with the executive leadership team at Ford.

Jay:
It’s one of those things where the behavioral science that backs what we do can be really dense. And I think one of the things that I have done pretty well in my career is making it real world and making it very easy to implement. So easy to implement solutions utilizing complex science.

Rob:
Good. Simplifying things. It’s something that we need more of in this world, that’s for sure. Talk about going to the doctor, right?

Jay:
Yeah. If it’s not simple, we won’t do it. And that’s one of our premises for any of our transformation stuff, is how can we create these tools in the most simple and easy to implement ways. And that’s really been something that has actually elevated and accelerated a lot of our impact that we have with our clients.

Rob:
Amazing. Good stuff. Now we get to at least one that I find, and I would find if they asked me, it would be very difficult as well. What would you say is your favorite game?

Jay:
So this is a tough one for me because I’m going to maybe say in two different ways. All right, so I was. I, you know, I’m 42 years old now, so, like, I grew up with older brothers playing the Atari and playing Nintendo, the original Nintendo. So if I was going to go to an online thing, the original Legend of Zelda was my favorite. That was definitely something that I spent probably way too many hours on.

Jay:
But if I was to stay off of the online or the digital or any of the actual things, I am admitting this out loud. So hopefully you’ve got some people that support me here. But I was a Dungeons and Dragons player. I loved the imagination, the open world, the creativity, the immersion into a character, and just all the fun things that you could do. With simply a set of dice and maybe a couple of books.

Rob:
Absolutely. And there’s all sorts of people that we’ve had. There’s some people that actually go more for the tabletop rpg kind of designs rather than going for online apps and that kind of stuff. And that can work wonders when people do this in school classrooms. I think there’s a big element to that, especially when you start looking at research and realize that kids should literally just not be watching interactive screens until way later than we’re allowing them for sure.

Rob:
So I think it’s a great place to start. And you have all the elements there as well, and some of them are even stronger, like the storytelling there has to be fantastic. The choices have to be super meaningful. There’s all sorts of things that you have to do to make sure that these tabletop rpgs are exciting for the people who are there. No matter how much of a fan you are of these kinds of games, if it’s not well done like any other game, of course, but you’re not going to like it.

Rob:
Absolutely. It’s not an easy one. And you spent hours and hours and hours on end.

Jay:
I remember a long time ago playing, and I was asked to be the dungeon master, and I put together this entire campaign and I was like, oh, this is so clever. It’s going to be so difficult, and so on and so forth. And that was my first realization of failure in design. I think the group that I was playing with solved the problem in like eight minutes, and I was like, well, all right. A lot of energy put into not thinking through everything.

Jay:
They’re like, why don’t we just do this? Yes, that works well. Let’s adapt and modify. Here we go.

Rob:
Yeah, absolutely. So that’s an interesting one for sure. And the experience of being a dungeon master or game master, if it’s not dungeons and dragons, I think is a pretty close thing to actually being a game designer, gamification designer, because you have to go through quite a few things on that one to be able to make a successful. I mean, Jay, it’s been fantastic having you on the podcast. Let us know if there’s any call to action.

Rob:
You have any place where we can find out more about you? Any final piece of advice that you might have for the engagers? I don’t know, whatever you want to go for.

Jay:
Yeah, so you can take the behavioral elements assessment for free@www.behavioralements.com. And you can learn what your primary drive is, your primary element. So that would be my call to action is. Go find what your primary element is and learn a little bit more about the behaviors that probably drive your everyday interaction. And I guess my final piece of advice is, what you did yesterday doesn’t mean you have to do the same thing tomorrow.

Jay:
And by bringing awareness to your behaviors, you’re going to be able to essentially create the conditions for your future success by better understanding what it is that drives each of those. So learn about yourself and always keep playing. It is a human condition. Play is an absolute necessity from our ancient ancestors to today. So always keep playing.

Jay:
And that will help drive.

Rob:
Absolutely, absolutely. Let’s do that. However, Jay and engagers, as you know, at least for now and for today, it is time to say that it’s game over. Engagers, it is fantastic to have you here. So thank you for listening to this episode of the Professor Game podcast, and I hope you enjoyed this interview with Jay.

Rob:
And if you have any future questions or current questions actually that you would like to ask future guests, please go to professorgame.com slash question and ask that question. Once it is selected, it’ll come up in some future episode and you will get your answer by a guest who’s actually qualified to answer your question. All right, so professorgame.com question. And remember, before you go on to your next mission, remember to subscribe or follow, which is absolutely for free, using your favorite podcast app, and listen to the next episode of professor game. See you there.

End of transcription

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