The Remote Show

Show Notes:

Mike's links:



Grain Website

Tyler's links:

Steve Jobs "
Bicycle for the mind"


Tyler Sellhorn (00:02):
Hello everyone. My name is Tyler Sellhorn, and welcome to another episode of The Remote Show, where we discuss everything to do with remote work with the people who know it best. Thank you so much for listening. The Remote Show is brought to you by We work Remotely, the largest community of remote workers in the world. With over 220,000 unique users per month, We work Remotely is the most effective way to hire.
Tyler Sellhorn (00:21):
Today, we are blessed to be learning out loud with Mike Adams. Mike is a three time founder with 10 years of experience as a pioneer of fully immersive cohort-based education. He founded Degreed and MissionU, which have both grown on to wild success. He is currently building Grain, a communication platform for teams to turn everyday video meetings into shared team knowledge. He and the team at Grain are on a mission to help teams to share more understanding with each other and the people they work together to serve. Mike, welcome to The Remote Show. Tell us, what problems are you trying to solve with Grain?
Mike Adams (00:53):
Hey. Great to be here, Tyler, and great to meet your audience. The big problem that I'm trying to solve with Grain is to make every minute that we spend working together and trying to understand each other to solve problems as effective as possible. I identified this massive opportunity building online schools with this recognition that conversation is data too. It's just not written down. It's not structured. It's not particularly useful. Most of the time, it's not even accessible unless you record it.
Mike Adams (01:22):
So after about two years of experimenting in an online school, recording every single lecture, every single admissions interview, every all hands team meeting, we found that we were much more effective and made better decisions and our students could learn better from leveraging this source of really untapped information that has historically just kind of subject to the game of telephone if you're kind of going backwards in time.
Tyler Sellhorn (01:46):
Really, really cool. One of the things you said there is maximizing the effectiveness of every minute. I'm really curious to think more deeply about that with you as you think about Grain. When you're spending time recording things, what are the ways that make that more useful? You're talking about spending time recording and then making that time more effective, what are the ways that we can do that by making use of digitizing conversations that we're having?
Mike Adams (02:19):
Yeah. I mean, the first thing is to recognize that our memories are straight up terrible and not designed for the world that we live in. So therefore, we're really inefficient. As soon as communication moves to this live spoken world, we think we remember something accurately and then you go back and you look at your notes and you're like, "Yeah, that's more or less what I remember." But if you were to go back to the game film, the actual recording, your memory of what someone said or what happened could be completely different than what actually happened.
Mike Adams (02:50):
So the best way to maximize the time you're spending in conversation is to anchor those conversations in objective reality that you can go back and reference, but even more importantly, and this is the thing we kind of discovered building Grain is using that form of data to actually convey the information itself. So rather than being like, "Here's what they said. Here's my gist and my summary of it, which is biased and you probably won't believe me." Instead, I can just cut out the 30 seconds in realtime, "I know that what you just said was awesome and I know I want to share it with my co-founder."
Mike Adams (03:27):
So I can just take a note in realtime. That note turns into an independent piece of video that lives on a link and that link can be shared and embedded and you can even create automated workflows to push content as it happened from a video meeting and turn it into a video to send it over to where you want that information to go and it becomes an alternative, more effective and more efficient way of communicating rather than the old analog world where we didn't have a way of really doing it any better.
Tyler Sellhorn (03:58):
Podcast nerd moment, right? When you said you heard somebody say something that you wanted to make sure lived on past that synchronous moment, right? One of my favorite podcasters and content and people in the world generally is Brene Brown. She'll say to her interview guests on her podcast, "Oh, say that again," or, "Oh, wait. I'm that back." Those moments happen to us all the time in conversation, right?
Mike Adams (04:24):
All the time.
Tyler Sellhorn (04:25):
Letting those things live on in a way to not just have someone say it back to them, but have that person say it in the exact way that they did, that was powerful, right? To have it be that same tone and cadence and facial expression and having that live on past the individual moment, that's one of the things that is the power of today's structured data moment where we can say, "Okay, not only is this a great conversation for you and I to have, but this is going to be recorded and kept in our archive for as long as We work Remotely as operating, right?
Tyler Sellhorn (05:03):
So it's one of those things where we can say, "Okay, this is useful," right? We know that Grain, we know that Mike has a really awesome experience of working really well in a remote space, but we're wanting to hold on to that moment and to keep it and to share it as many times as we can.
Mike Adams (05:19):
Tyler Sellhorn (05:19):
I learned how to be a remote worker using The Remote Show Podcast before I was the host, right? There's lots of ways that we can get that information and that needs to happen inside of teams too is what it sounds like you're saying.
Mike Adams (05:30):
Totally. Yeah. I mean, there's really two main ways that people leverage Grain to this benefit. It really comes down to the audience of who is speaking that I want to share and the audience of who I want to share that information with. So if it's only people on my team that are in a meeting and the only people we'd ever share that with are other people on the team, that becomes a pretty safe space for the most part. But there is a lot of behavior change. It's not super normal to record all your internal team meetings, but there's not like a lot of permissions that are required there because you're not sharing it across onto a public channel or across boundaries. It kind of stays in the company.
Mike Adams (06:10):
Sources in the company, stays in the company. It's just an internal team meeting. So we find Grain is used quite a bit in that capacity and it's really awesome, especially for remote teams where you're trying to work across the boundaries of time because you now don't have to... There's this democratization that occurs that normally doesn't if you live in the ephemeral world of historical meetings where nothing gets recorded and nothing gets shared and nothing is useful afterwards. It's almost like FOMO. It's like you were there or you weren't, you got it or you didn't.
Mike Adams (06:40):
It becomes very difficult to create a, I would say, leveled playing field in a remote world when you don't have access to the same information because it disappeared, or when you have a remote first world where something's happening in person and then not online, then those people have access to the information that other people don't. So in a hybrid remote world, or really for right now, it is almost an entirely remote world, it's just much more natural and organic because everybody's digital anyway. You don't have to worry about setting up your conference room with a microphone or pressing a record button. It's just part of the medium itself, because it went from analog to digital.
Mike Adams (07:14):
So that's this huge opportunity that has emerged that Grain has been able to provide a service around to help people to communicate more effectively. The second one is a lot of customer conversations, almost all customer conversations have gone online, whether it's a prospect you're trying to sell to or a customer that you're trying to serve and help improve, whether it's a prospective employee that you're hiring and you want to make sure gets the best shot at being fairly evaluated and not just biased by your memory, there's a bunch of different types of conversations that happen with people outside your organization where you're then sharing that information inside your organization.
Mike Adams (07:51):
That comes with a certain level of trust that I'm not going to take that quote that you said and go and blast on the internet without your permission. So we're in this kind of like bastion of this new world and this new opportunity and there's-
Mike Adams (08:03):
Of like bastion of this new world and this new opportunity and there's boundaries. And one of the most important things that we think about at Grain, and we think about it on a deep level is privacy, consent to record, consent to share. Because the only way that we can leverage this new world of opportunity is when people feel comfortable doing so because they believe that their privacy is going to be respected by all parties involved in leveraging these new types of tools. So we bake that privacy as a first class priority into every workflow that we do to make sure that that respect is first and foremost for privacy of all participants involved.
Tyler Sellhorn (08:35):
Lots of different branches there. You mentioned that you think about the two main ways and the two kind of audiences that Grain has started building for is for teams, internal teams. Especially remote teams you mentioned just because of the ways that we are working across time zones now together in globally distributed organizations. And then also with customer conversations. Can you go deeper for us inside of that first set of audiences? Obviously we're talking together on The Remote Show for we work remotely. Tell us what are you seeing people do really well with Grain when you think about working asynchronously or working across time zones in a remote team?
Mike Adams (09:18):
Totally. And I would just point out that I think for remote workers, both of those use cases are equally applicable. We oftentimes almost bias ourselves towards thinking, oh, we want to learn about remote work and so let's make our team meetings as efficient as humanly possible. And Grain thinks about it in this kind of bigger bucket of let's make our conversations as productive as possible because you might spend four hours on your day on video calls and only one of those is in a team meeting, hopefully if you're lucky. And the other three is spent with customers or with prospects, with other people who are outside of organization. And that mix depends entirely on your job, entirely on your company. But both of which are equally an opportunity to improve the efficiency and the effectiveness of communication across your entire team by leveraging that content as a means of information transfer and a means of increasing understanding around truth and reality.
Mike Adams (10:13):
And so I'll give an example of both types. And so one example in an internal team meeting is documenting decisions. We said this is what we're going to do. So now it's three weeks later, we can go back and say, this is what we said we were going to do. Or brokering information and saying, this person is not in the room right now, but they totally should be. Let me clip out the 45 seconds that's relevant to them and @ mention them and send it over to them in Slack and they can just view it right there. We can collaborate asynchronously. I can actually get their input based on what we're talking about. And they don't even have to be in the room right now. Like you can pull those moments out in real time. I've done that a few times. It feels like superpowers.
Mike Adams (10:49):
You're like, hold on, let me grab what we just said. Let me select the text in the transcript from the live transcript. Let me create a clip. I'll drop it over in Slack, let me ask my co-founder what he thinks. Oh, we're still on this meeting by the way, it hasn't even ended yet. This is what Jake thinks about that topic. And Jake never had to jump into the meeting. He never had to join in with us. And so you're like blurring the lines between synchronous and asynchronous happening in parallel during post hoc. It's pretty crazy stuff when you can communicate with precision around moments of conversation.
Tyler Sellhorn (11:21):
Shout out Jake. Thanks for answering that question during the meeting even though he was away. So thank you Jake.
Mike Adams (11:27):
Totally, exactly. And we actually do that. We document all of our shoutouts during all hands meetings. I have, there's a little emoji in the live notepad of Grain where you create video clips in real time. And I have a little megaphone. That's the shoutout. And so whenever we do shoutouts, especially if the person isn't there, I'll just document that moment and make sure that they get it so they don't have to go and like find, they would probably otherwise never even know that someone expressed gratitude and appreciation to them. But for me it was really easy to be like this person's getting shouted out. They're not here right now so if I can just use this little button, it will send that moment where they got shouted out to them and can help increase the gratitude culture that we're trying to build in our company.
Tyler Sellhorn (12:08):
Yeah, yeah. So Grain's got the megaphones. The audience will know that I've got the air horns. So yeah, very cool that you guys have built that into a way to celebrate one another even asynchronously.
Mike Adams (12:21):
Totally. And I can get to the second use case example of customers. So what happens when we're talking to these users is we're all trying to be customer centric. We're all trying to be prospect centric. We want to build something that people want. It's this idiom from YC that goes way back in time, which is build something people want. And the best way to do that is to be able to collaborate in a way that is around the reality of what the user or the customer or the prospect actually thinks and actually says and actually wants. And that can also be super useful from a marketing perspective too because you're not approximating their language. You're actually hearing it in their own words and driving a marketing campaign around it.
Mike Adams (13:02):
So what ends up happening is you are able to leverage every customer facing conversation that uses Grain and turn it into data that can make the rest of the team who doesn't have the opportunity to talk to the customer all day, every day. Or it makes it more of a lean and accessible way of doing research, turning a sales prospecting call into research instead of forcing all research to be a formalized structured process that's on the calendar in advance and won't see the light of day until it's been through a bunch of analysis. A lot of us are trying to move really, really fast. And if instead we can just pipe the voice of the customer from these conversations with the people who are having them usually one to one and then making sure that information that's good, not the noisy 98% of it, but the really good 2% of it increases the reach then you can start to have collaborative synchronizing moments around what was actually said.
Mike Adams (13:56):
And you're far more likely to be able to build something that people want when it's rooted in reality. You're far less likely to waste time debating whether or not something is true. So it's like, here's the objective truth of what they said. You can interpret it in a different way if you want to, but rather than they're having to be two layers when I'm trying to persuade someone to advocate for the customer of like, okay, this is what they said and how I interpret it. But then is that actually what they said? You remove at least that one layer where it's like, yep, this is objectively what they said. And you can really make it more of a continuous process of turning these conversations you're already going to have because you got to sell, you've got to serve, you've got to have these conversations anyway, turning those into data that can help drive team alignment which goes back to the mission and purpose of the company you mentioned at the beginning.
Tyler Sellhorn (14:44):
Yeah, really cool to hear the experience of Grain rhyming with my own. My day job I work in customer success. So talking about using recordings of live customers saying the things that you've been encouraging the product team to be prioritizing in the past. The only way we're going to know is if we ask the customers and the only way that the organization is going to know is if we tell. That's one of those things that your product is helping enable. One of the things you mentioned earlier was one of the inspirations for what you're building was your work inside of the cohort based education model. And you were talking about using recordings of admissions type interviews as being one of the recordings that you were using to kind of inspire your work here with Grain. We are an audience of remote job seekers and remote hiring managers. What have you seen be really effective in those admissions interviews or in your hiring or what are the things that you're seeing be useful there?
Mike Adams (15:50):
Objectivity and removal of redundancy I would say those are the two big benefits. Whether it's admissions or hiring, it's basically the exact same thing. It's a judgment call. It's a judgment call on a qualitative set of data that we're trying to gather.
Mike Adams (16:03):
... on a qualitative set of data that we're trying to gather, and we, as human beings, know how biased we are. And so one of the things I did at MissionU, I had worked at a place called Hack Reactor, I was part of the executive team there and we built one of the first online coding boot camps, and the biggest thing for us were outcomes based. So we have to help these people get jobs. You have to learn. It's great. It's a great alignment between the school and the outcome, but that also meant that a false positive for us in an admissions process is equally catastrophic as a false positive in a hiring environment. There's churn, and you really don't want false positives.
Mike Adams (16:42):
So I wanted to make sure that the admissions process that included a coding interview, that included these qualitative conversations to make judgment calls about whether someone was above or below at admission standard, that was as objective as possible. So what we did is we created these standalone video interviews that got recorded and groups of people would actually collaborate together completely unguided with a prompt that we sent them, and then we would have three different people evaluate the same objective 30 minute interview, and then make their evaluations on the criteria that we cared about, which was how good are they at communicating? How good are they at listening? How good are these soft skills that are going to be really important to their success in this program and that are super important, according to employers, for success in their future? So we just did this really interesting data-driven process that helped us to create a more objective admissions pipeline and then, when it all came down to it, we would record our committee decision meetings, because I knew six months later or three months later, when we made a false positive, which was inevitable, that a student wasn't going to work out, that I could go back to that information, I could understand, and I could get in a time machine and be like this is what the admissions committee decision was thinking at the time. Because we've all since long forgotten that, and that ability to go back to objective reality in time was just huge for improving our admissions process, and therefore saving the company and our students a huge amount of wastage when there just isn't a good fit, because we can pattern match and update our admissions criteria with a better understanding of what is really predictive in this admissions process. And the same is very similarly true of hiring.
Mike Adams (18:27):
At Grain, we use Grain to hire, and it definitely helps with the objectivity of looking at reality, and everybody's looking at the same information, but it helps so much for the candidate experience as well for redundancy or removing redundancy. They'll say, "This was the best interview process of I've ever had because I didn't have to repeat myself in every interview. Normally, I'll talk to this person, say my story, this person, say my story, this person, say my story." What we do at Grain is you'd say your story to the first person and then circulate a compressed version of that to everybody else who's going to interview you before they interview you, so they don't have to waste time getting an answer to a question that has already been asked, which creates more time to go deeper, to make sure they're actually evaluated fairly on the skills you're hiring them for, as opposed to the lowest hanging fruit of hiring, which tends to be, "Tell me about yourself and I'm going to make a very biased judgment call," and we just end up making better hiring decisions as a result.
Tyler Sellhorn (19:24):
That's so cool. I think one of the things that is really, really neat to hear you saying and has been a theme throughout these conversations with remote leaders is to say that not only is remote working an effort towards location independence in a working environment, but also, like you say, a time machine that work can also be independent of the moment in time that it's done. That's part of what Grain is doing as a product, that's part of your process and hiring at Grain is to say okay, when we compress this down to the best bits, if we keep it in a canonical place that other people can reference, this is a way for us to speed up by taking the time to remove redundancy, as you say, keeping things in a place that can be referenced in the future.
Tyler Sellhorn (20:20):
I can think back to your example of referring to a failure in your admissions process or a potential failure. It might have been hey, we did do the best we could with this decision at the time because look at the decisions that were being made, and this is what we evaluated on at that moment, and something happened in the interim that changed that situation. Is there anything more that you wanted to say about thinking of recording meetings as a way to reduce redundancy or promote objectivity? It feels like there's so much more there.
Mike Adams (20:53):
There's so much more there. And I think there's a lot that's been said there, but I think one other track that we could go down is recording or leveraging digital data as a means of staying more present in the moment and being a better listener. Performing at a higher level in the moment, not just afterwards, but in the moment. And so one of the primary insights to Grain is this recognition of cognitive overload. We were not designed to be sitting in these meetings all day, every day when we evolved out of the jungles. Our brain is short-term information processors, but it's extremely effective at that to the point that I do not believe in any near term that any AI machine learning algorithms can replicate the complexity of the cognition that participants in a conversation have to understand the significance of what was important, what was not important, et cetera.
Mike Adams (21:49):
So what Grain does is we just tap into the app that you already are used to. Right now, I can actually see you looking down and writing notes on a piece of paper, when those notes are representative of a moment of cognition that something was important. It's a signal noise differentiation. You're now all of a sudden saying that's a part of signal, and the rest of this is noise. So you might have a 30 minute conversation and have five moments of signal. What Grain allows you to do to stay more present, and especially in those high moments of signal, is instead of having to scratch and make sure that you've captured all the essence of what is being said in this note, you can just drop a bookmark. That bookmark has a timestamp, that timestamp becomes a 30 second clip that you can share independently and collaborate around, or you can combine the five best 30 seconds into a two and a half minute highlight reel and say, "Here's the essence of the interview. Don't bother with the rest. It's mostly just noise."
Mike Adams (22:45):
So I'm able to not only be more effective in this compression and getting that information across, but being in the moment I can maximize my time and I don't have to be a court stenographer in order to know that I can transfer that information, I can just hit a button. I can just drop a flag. I can just type a quick little note if I want some extra context around what my thinking was at the time as a summary of what's contained in that part of the video, and the ultimate result is just better listening. And just scientifically, we know that the more present we are, the more freedom of cognition that we have, the more we're going to be able to understand each other, which is really the whole point of why we get into these meetings in the first place.
Mike Adams (23:25):
There's a great academic research paper that talks about all communication is broken down into one of two things, you're either conveying information or you're converging on an understanding of that information with someone else. So is this what this information means? And the more time you have, the more cognitive freedom you have, because you can know that you can go back and get that information later, and cut it up and split it, the better conversations you're going to have because you're more in the present, in the moment, you can spend more time really converging with the other people that are in the meeting on the meaning behind what you're talking about, and then including even more people who aren't there, because you can communicate that precision-
Mike Adams (24:03):
Including even more people who aren't there because you can communicate that precision using video clips of reality.
Tyler Sellhorn (24:06):
Okay. What I'm about to say is very meta, okay? So, I'm kind of going ... We're going to go behind the curtain of podcasters, right? I'm trying to build a great recording for you all, the listeners, to learn from Mike and his experience, right? So, the things that I'm writing down, I'm not necessarily here to connect with Mike. I'm here to be a platform for him-
Mike Adams (24:27):
Tyler Sellhorn (24:27):
... to shine his knowledge, his ideas, and so I'm writing down some very specific things that he said like digital data, allowing us to be more in the moment, to reduce the cognitive overload, right? Then, I wrote down something from myself that really, what those things you're talking about is allowing the computer to be a bicycle for our minds to-
Mike Adams (24:48):
Yeah, I like that.
Tyler Sellhorn (24:48):
... to you to use the phrasing of-
Mike Adams (24:50):
I like that.
Tyler Sellhorn (24:51):
Well, it's not my idea. It's Steve Jobs that I learned it from.
Mike Adams (24:54):
Tyler Sellhorn (24:54):
He's got a great recording that I'll have to put in the show notes and send to you later, Mike, but-
Mike Adams (24:59):
Please do.
Tyler Sellhorn (25:00):
I think that really is the idea that what we're trying to build is tools that are going to give all of us an opportunity to be even smarter by offloading that cognitive stuff that I don't have to remember exactly the way you said it because Grain is going to do that for me, or I don't have to do it right there in the moment. I can think about this other thing because there's a backstop of understanding that's going to be there with or without me remembering exactly that way.
Mike Adams (25:27):
It's like contextualized documentation. I mean, most of our documentation is completely devoid of the context, and so then we have to put needlessly too much effort into the documentation itself as an attempt to try to preserve the context and the thing that it's trying to document, right, but if you can effectively in real time, while you're doing that work now, do that contextualized documentation, what it does is it prevents you from having to re-establish that context later, which is why these types of tools for communication have historically been restricted to people who have the time to go back and watch recordings, to go back and say, "Okay, well, that was an hour-long interview. I can spend four hours doing the ethnography on this to be able to pull out the points that are important and matter, and then I can present that to my team because that's my literal job. I'm a researcher. It's what I do."
Mike Adams (26:19):
So, Grain, by moving this work, this cognition into real time, allowing you to stay more present but also making it so you don't have to set up the context again in the future, so you can connect with your audience by getting the best parts of this meeting into a trailer or a little soundbite or whatever it may be without having to go back and relisten to the entire thing or establish that context, so you get orders of magnitude time-savings to get the same result.
Mike Adams (26:45):
What that really means is that most people just don't have the time to spend to do that in a historical way. So, what it really means is you get a democratization of the number of people who now do have the time because they're doing that work now because I'm here anyway and just a little bit of time afterwards to turn it into something that is shareable and can drive to this understanding with, in your case, your audience that you want them to take away the key points of this session. You know that if you can get the most punchy, potent parts in front of them, then you're going to increase your likelihood of being able to do so. So, the tools that you have that allow you to do that with efficiency and speed and get to that effectiveness are ultimately, in my opinion, the future of this kind of spoken video world that we live in. Grain is lucky enough to be building some cool stuff and in the middle of an exciting time.
Tyler Sellhorn (27:35):
Well, speaking of keeping it punchy, we're coming up on the time that we need to say goodbye. I want to say thank you, Mike, for coming and sharing your learning with us.
Mike Adams (27:44):
Of course.
Tyler Sellhorn (27:45):
Is there anything else that you want to say to the audience before we say goodbye?
Mike Adams (27:48):
Yeah. I think my last thing I would say is the more intention you take into your work, intention happens in advance. There's that quote about sharpening the ax and spending eight hours sharpening the ax to chop down a tree in one. Just that applies so much to the work that we do and the time we spend together in these video and virtual meetings, I would say even more so than it did in the analog world largely because now, we can use technology to have more efficient ways of getting what we want out of the reason we're even spending the time there in the first place.
Mike Adams (28:23):
So, before your meeting, think about, what's the connection I want to make? What's the goal? What's the objective of talking to this customer, talking to this prospect, talking to this team member, this colleague? If you have an understanding of what you want to accomplish before you go in and you equip yourself with the tools that can leverage the data of what's about to transpire over the next 30 minutes to an hour, however long it may be, the likelihood of you getting the results that you're looking for are dramatically higher.
Mike Adams (28:50):
So, that's just my one thing to share that I've had to just kind of learn the hard way over the last few years. I've been exposed to this idea of acting with intention and purpose before action. When we apply it to our conversations, you really can get an order of magnitude improvement on the efficacy and the enjoyment of the time that you spend, which is the most precious resource that you have.
Tyler Sellhorn (29:10):
It's so great to have that word has been popping up in our conversations here on the show-
Mike Adams (29:15):
Tyler Sellhorn (29:16):
... of really lean into and preparing for the times that we are together with intention. As you say, sharpening the ax.
Mike Adams (29:24):
Otherwise, we're calendar zombies and meeting zombies, and we just show up. I think everybody can relate to doing that when you're exhausted, you're tired. It's on your calendar. You show up, and you're like, "Why am I here?" You're not going to get what you're looking for.
Tyler Sellhorn (29:36):
Awesome. Mike, thank you so much for sharing and learning out loud with us today.
Mike Adams (29:40):
Likewise. Thanks so much.
Tyler Sellhorn (29:41):
Mike Adams (29:42):
Thanks, Tyler.
Tyler Sellhorn (29:44):
Thanks so much again for listening to the show, and be sure to check out weworkremotely.com for the latest remote jobs. If you're looking to hire a remote worker, We Work Remotely is the fastest and easiest way to do so. As always, if you have someone we should talk to, any advice you have, or if you'd like to advertise on the podcast, please reach out to us at [email protected]. That's [email protected]. Thanks so much for listening, and we'll talk to you next time. 

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