Sharon Sloane, How I Learned to Sell a Rainbow (#226)

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Sharon Sloane

Sharon Sloane is the President and CEO of WILL Interactive, a company that for the past 30 years has been designing cutting-edge instructional products for behavior modification and performance improvement, making Sharon a true pioneer and leader in the educational software and serious games industry. Her work has been featured in the most recognized newspapers and magazines, including NBC, CNN, Forbes, Time, and the Washington Post, and she holds a U.S. Patent for creating computer-based interactive movie software to help improve human performance.

Sharon Sloane grew up in an entrepreneurial family and learned great lessons from his father, who was able to become a very successful entrepreneur starting from nothing. Sharon always felt she would have created something of her own too, but that took time to manifest. After completing her education in Counseling and Education, she started working as a teacher but soon realized her true calling was educating and training adults. This was in the ’90s, and while exploring the different options the market had, Sharon noticed a pattern. All the training programs were providing skills, knowledge, and information, but were not effective at influencing people’s behavior, greatly reducing the positive effect of training.

That’s when Sharon Sloane and her team set out to answer the question: what does it take to engage people emotionally, as well as intellectually at a level that truly influences what they do?
The answer was interactive training.

The Interactive Behavior Modification System

Sharon’s idea was very promising, and the only viable way for creating something that would truly work was to rely on systems. That’s what led to her creating and patenting VEILS®, WILL Interactive’s proprietary interactive behavior modification process, which is at the foundation of every training the company creates:

  • Research-Based: Every interactive training combines literature reviews, expert interviews, and focus group meetings to make sure every every product reflects real-world events. This is key to engaging with the audience, because it allows them to experience something that they recognize, making training more effective.
  • Science-Based: Another important factor is levereging the power of science. WILL’s staff combines elements of Bloom’s Taxonomy together with neuroscience to increase knowledge, and most importantly, to improve real-life attitudes, critical thinking, decision-making, and on-the-job performance.
  • Evidence-Based: Testing is key, and for this reason, the interactive trainings have been the subject of seven independent studies, each of which demonstrated that they do have an influence on how people behave in real life while increasing knowledge.

Under Sharon’s leadership, WILL Interactive has received over 40 industry awards, including the Software Information Industry Association CODiE for “Best Workforce Training Solution”, The Communicator Awards “Award of Excellence”, and the Institute for Financial Literacy’s “Excellence in FinancialLiteracy Education: Education Program of the Year.” In 2009, Women in Film and Video chose her as a “Woman of Vision”.

And now here’s Sharon Sloane.

Show Notes

[3:03] How’d it happen for Sharon Sloane
[6:37] Did Sharon choose the path of becoming a CEO of a software company?
[8:37] What she thought she’d want to become growing up
[13:17] The golden nuggets Sharon learned from her father and the development of training
[20:36] On dealing with people who don’t think training is necessary
[25:57] Diving deeper into e-learning
[31:02] How Sharon marketed herself and her “crazy” idea
[37:37] The process of putting the training together
[41:23] As a learning and assessment tool
[46:34] How Sharon has grown and developed as a leader and on persistently improving herself
[49:29] Let’s talk about the platinum rule vs. golden rule, beam holder, chair time
[55:39] Sharon’s quiet time
[57:45] A difficult situation Sharon’s company went through
[1:01:45] Where to connect with Sharon

Full transcript below

Video on How Sharon Sloane Learned to Sell a Rainbow

Introduction to Interactive Training

Visit WILLInteractive.com to Learn More About Its Interactive Movies

Try Out a Demo

Explore the Interactive Training Catalog

Connect with Sharon Sloane on LinkedIn

Follow WILL Interactive on LinkedIn

Get Motivation, Inspiration, and Ideas to Level Up Your Life.

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Podcast with Sharon Sloane. How I Learned to Sell a Rainbow.

Mike Malatesta: hey everybody welcome back to the how to happen podcast i’m so happy that you’re here with me today as I am with every episode.

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Mike Malatesta: And today I’m fulfilling my promise to you with another amazing success story. I’ve got Sharon Sloane on the podcast. Sharon, welcome thanks for coming on.

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Sharon Sloane: My pleasure delighted to be here.

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Mike Malatesta: So, let me tell you a little bit about Sharon.  Sharon Sloane is the President and CEO of WILL Interactive.

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Mike Malatesta: She has 30 years of experience, designing leading edge instructional systems for behavior modification and performance improvement she holds a US patent for creating computer based interactive movie and software to help improve human performance.

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Mike Malatesta: I love that human performance her work has been featured on NBC CNN npr as well as in forbes magazine Time Magazine the Washington Post Washington times.

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Mike Malatesta: and on more than in more than 50 other newspapers she’s received over at awards for her work, including the woman of vision award given by the women in film and video New York festivals world metals, a platinum COM award and software information industry associations cody award.

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Mike Malatesta: Sharon has worked with many of america’s most prestigious organizations and touched some 30 million users her company partners.

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Mike Malatesta: With companies like AIG Yale new haven health system US Department of Health and human services all branches of the US military the nfl the FBI law enforcement agencies in the US UK Canada, Australia, Japan and Israel as well as a host of others across the globe.

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Mike Malatesta: she’s a keynote speaker at multiple conferences, including revolutionary learning the American Medical Association annual meeting.

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Mike Malatesta: National reconnaissance office offices annual conference on visual media and a ton more Sharon it’s such a pleasure to have you here, I start every show, with the same question, and that is how that happened for you.

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Sharon Sloane: Well, thank you again for having me it’s delightful to be here.

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Sharon Sloane: So, how did it happen for me well this really started back in the 1990s, my background is in education, training and mental health.

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Sharon Sloane: And I was looking at the landscape at that time of what was passing for training from corporations hospitals nonprofits universities and so forth.

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Sharon Sloane: And it just seemed like all of the training provided knowledge, information and skills, but did very little to actually influence behavior change what people did in real life.

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Sharon Sloane: And that is really the holy grail of learning it’s the application of what you know, and so we set out to answer the question, what does it take to engage people emotionally, as well as intellectually at a level that truly influences what they do.

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Sharon Sloane: And we did a lot of research and we came up with this idea that if we could combine the neuroscience of learning how people actually.

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Sharon Sloane: make decisions in real life, with the power of story, which is what we all remember, and is sticky.

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Sharon Sloane: The appeal of movies or video and the interactivity of games, we might have a shot at doing something impactful and that was the beginning of the work and that’s what led to the patent in the late 1990s.

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Sharon Sloane: And then the uphill battle began.

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Mike Malatesta: And then the uphill battle began, I wasn’t just smooth sailing from having the idea hmm amazing.

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Sharon Sloane: Well, you know in those days, it was crazy.

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Sharon Sloane: Because I talked to believe today Mike but people were saying things like well, no one will ever play video on a computer.

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Sharon Sloane: What do you people thinking.

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Sharon Sloane: And so, when we tried to show the work there was no bandwidth there was no software to support this, we were having to do everything ourselves, and when we wanted to do a demonstration.

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Sharon Sloane: My partners and I actually carried the one of them carried a desktop monitor.

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Sharon Sloane: One a desktop computer and I opened to close the doors in order to take this into an office to show people these interactive movies, that we had created the good news is that there were some very visionary people back then.

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Sharon Sloane: Including a former chief of staff, the United States army some healthcare executives and others that really wanted to move the needle and they embraced it.

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Sharon Sloane: And they gave us that footing that we needed, and now you know over 25 years later we’re doing this on our phones.

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Mike Malatesta: Okay, so let’s um let’s let’s explore a couple of things first you what were you doing.

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Mike Malatesta: First, you know where you were exposed to this poor training and sort of the idea started germinating inside of you, because this wasn’t the path you had chosen right you aren’t you aren’t you hadn’t been like oh here’s what I want to do revolutionize or you know transform training.

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Sharon Sloane: No way, as a matter of fact that anyone has ever told me back then I would be the CEO of a software company, I would have started laughing.

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Sharon Sloane: Because i’m not the technology person and I i’m still not, but I have brilliant people around me, but what happened was that I was doing a lot of curriculum development instructional design stand up training a lot of the traditional kinds of things that people did and.

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Sharon Sloane: I just kept feeling like something was missing, because the translation of that into the organization really wasn’t making much of an impact, and I was raised in a very entrepreneurial family.

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Sharon Sloane: My dad was really empty held several patents, he lost his own mother, when he was eight years old grew up in a very poor environment and really just was a self made man in every sense of the word, and an amazing father and and a brilliant entrepreneur.

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Sharon Sloane: And I was talking with him and he said, you know Sharon, if you see a problem and it’s not solution out there, I suggest you find some really bright people work with you and invent something better.

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Sharon Sloane: And so the combination of the voice that I saw and that support from my family and then I was fortunate enough.

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Sharon Sloane: To meet through a mentor of mine wills co founder then McCall and he and I started the company together okay.

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Mike Malatesta: and got so I want to dive a little bit into your dad a little bit further into your dad but before I do that the.

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Mike Malatesta: The you have chosen a path to become a do I have this right, you have chosen a path to become a counselor Nikki I know you got your masters and I think you got your masters in counseling.

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Mike Malatesta: And you had an undergrad degree in English and education, I think right.

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Mike Malatesta: Where was your head when you were coming sort of out of high school, maybe, or maybe even as you came out of College as well.

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Sharon Sloane: I thought it would be a teacher.

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Sharon Sloane: Okay, I figured out English teacher and then a high school guidance counselor, both of which I did for a while, but I early on realized that although I certainly love kids and I have to have my own and now two grandchildren, all of whom I adore it wasn’t for me to work with children.

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Sharon Sloane: That I really wanted to work with adults and that’s what took me into the adult education training.

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Sharon Sloane: So that is kind of how it morphed and went out of the classroom into more of the business world okay.

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Mike Malatesta: And so, let me thank you for that and let me go back to your dad I i’m an entrepreneur myself, but I did I wasn’t raised in an entrepreneurial family so i’m always interested in people who.

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Mike Malatesta: Who were because I want to understand what it was like for you to see and talk about and maybe even on some levels experience what your dad was into and how that sort of.

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Mike Malatesta: You know either did or did not leave an indelible kind of mark on you, because your career path initially was certainly one that wasn’t.

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Mike Malatesta: What most people would call you know, the road to becoming an entrepreneur, and then you but you had this this revelation about training it along the way, and.

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Mike Malatesta: A lot of people have that and they don’t do anything about it, you know it’s like an ideas worthless right unless you actually do something with it so i’m just curious.

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Mike Malatesta: To understand him for for my listeners to understand what it what it was like to grow up in in in you know with the with your dad being influenced, it was.

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Sharon Sloane: Well, it had an enormous impact on my life, as did my mother, I was blessed with two amazing parents, she was the kindest sweetest most incredible woman, I had still ever known.

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Sharon Sloane: and extremely supportive of what my father was trying to do, which was really create business from scratch now he was in the manufacturing industry and the garment industry specifically and.

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Sharon Sloane: was always inventing machines that would make things go faster or work more smoothly, but the thing that I remember most about the entrepreneurial environment.

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Sharon Sloane: Was that after dinner my father would figure margins on the back of a napkin now in those days, it was literally on the back of a napkin because this was a long time ago.

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Sharon Sloane: And so, how much fabric, do we need how many zippers do we need to buy or buttons how long will it take it to the folks to so these garments together and I thought that’s what everybody did after dinner they figured margins on the back of a napkin.

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Mike Malatesta: yeah, why not.

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Sharon Sloane: I sat there was a young child.

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Sharon Sloane: That was the conversation now, of course, as I got a little bit older I realized that parents are very different families have very different conversations.

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Sharon Sloane: But I I think I always knew that I wanted to build something unique that I wanted to create something um The other thing, my father would often say to us to my brother, and I was.

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Sharon Sloane: Take the path that’s best for you, but try to be the person that signs the check not waits for the paycheck.

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Sharon Sloane: And this was interesting because.

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Sharon Sloane: They struggled for many years, my parents to build the business he became incredibly successful at multiple factories, but it was a lot of hard work.

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Sharon Sloane: It was a lifestyle, but there was so much love and humor in our House that I never felt like there was a struggle I just felt like there was warm than support, even though there were certainly challenges to overcome.

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Mike Malatesta: Okay, and so far you’ve shared to you know really good nuggets from your dad that one you know, try to be try to be the person who signs the checks, not the person who waits for the paycheck.

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Mike Malatesta: Great advice right because that’s destiny right if you sign the checks you control your destiny and now that now that’s a dangerous path can be a dangerous path, too, because sometimes it’s easier to sit back and wait for the check, at least for.

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Mike Malatesta: for a period of time, but when you’re out driving to make it make a business successful and you’re the person who’s writing the checks there’s just.

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Mike Malatesta: there’s a lot of meaning and a lot of satisfaction to that, along with the danger, so that was one thing, but then the other thing you mentioned when he said, if you don’t like what you’re seeing find some brilliant people and change it, or something like that.

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Mike Malatesta: I mean that’s like.

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Mike Malatesta: I don’t know that six super I mean it really hold your feet, to the fire right it’s like sharon’s got an idea and yeah you can have a great idea or you can complain about it, or you can do whatever, but not, you can easily not take action on it, and he was basically saying hey.

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Mike Malatesta: You got a great idea Sharon you got a good head on your shoulders, you know people who can help you or you can find them, this is really what you want to do go do it.

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Mike Malatesta: Right yeah yeah I was um so yeah your father is very wise is he is is he still with us your father.

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Sharon Sloane: Now he’s passed away.

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Mike Malatesta: Okay that’s too bad.

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Mike Malatesta: So let me talk about training now you saw you saw this void about.

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Mike Malatesta: You know, training being something that wasn’t changing behavior which I, you know I love, how you connect that because, even today.

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Mike Malatesta: I think all of us have all of us listening have had training at let’s say at work we’ve all had training at work and.

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Mike Malatesta: I would say that the majority of it, you wouldn’t walk away from and say that was amazing training, I am so inspired to activate change in my life, based on what I just learned, which is why you were saying it was.

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Mike Malatesta: back when you had this idea for you know video movies and software and have you seen besides what you are doing.

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Mike Malatesta: And I want to get into that pretty deeply because it’s so cool but have you seen much of a change outside of that in the way that training is developed.

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Mike Malatesta: Provided implemented that kind of thing.

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Mike Malatesta: During the you know your your career or is there’s 2021 a lot like you know 1991.

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Sharon Sloane: Certainly, there have been changes the whole E learning industry as it’s called grew up, there are a lot of courses and training programs delivered online now that you know that was not the case, back then, the thing that hasn’t changed nearly enough.

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Sharon Sloane: Is the fundamental.

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Sharon Sloane: underneath that.

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Sharon Sloane: Is the training going to engage people in a way that will make an impact, as you just pointed out, most people hear the word training.

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Sharon Sloane: And they conjure up this boring experience that somebody requires them to take maybe it’s even dreadful or how they can they click through it if it’s online and do something else meaningful while they’re clicking through the training or the PowerPoint or the talking head.

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Sharon Sloane: And that’s not learning that’s a poor investment and there are millions and millions of dollars being spent on things that still do not have an impact, so we here at will, are on a mission to we call rid the world of stab me with a fork training, and I say that because.

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Sharon Sloane: that’s how people feel about it, I was on a zoom a few weeks ago with a chief medical officer of a hospital system, we were talking about clinician burnout well being.

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Sharon Sloane: and training, and she actually did that she said we sure don’t need any more of that step me with a fork training i’m excited to see you know that you’re doing something very different.

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Sharon Sloane: And so the question that I always ask of the people that make the decisions, around this is.

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Sharon Sloane: If you were asked to take this training, would you value it would you see it as a good use of time, because I think we need to respect the learner and I think a lot of the training out there is actually a waste of time and very disrespectful.

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Sharon Sloane: And what i’m feeling and seeing now more than ever.

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Sharon Sloane: Is in regard to culture, you know technical training, there are things that people simply must know how to do procedures to follow and skill based training that is necessary to do the job technical work that’s one thing.

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Sharon Sloane: But just look at this world we’re in now every day there’s something else around sexual harassment abusive conduct racial issues, gender, sexual orientation, mental health, I mean.

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Sharon Sloane: These are not silos.

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Sharon Sloane: when somebody shows up to school or to work they bring their whole self so it’s not about getting the report done.

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Sharon Sloane: If you’re dealing with all of these other issues, and I think that’s where.

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Sharon Sloane: Things are severely lacking and that we’re working hard as our others to take that on and really change the environment, change the culture make things okay that should be okay and make things out okay that shouldn’t be okay, but it has to come from inside, you can mandate certain things.

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Sharon Sloane: But I guess what we want to do is change people’s default change their muscle memory, to make different different decisions, and do you think that.

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People.

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Mike Malatesta: Are self aware enough in general that they want to change their behaviors Sharon when they when they when they’re getting training or do.

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Mike Malatesta: Or does that kind of so what comes to mind is sort of your you know the person that everybody knows, is a jerk let’s say everybody knows this person is a jerk the only person who doesn’t know this person is a jerk is the jerk.

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Mike Malatesta: example, so you do jerk training.

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Mike Malatesta: And everyone’s like Oh, this is for the jerk and the jerk sitting there doing the training and he or she is like I don’t know why i’m in this class, you know I don’t need this training, do you how do you.

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Mike Malatesta: How do you think about or how have you really experienced that kind of thing, where people.

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Mike Malatesta: Just don’t think the training they don’t think they’re the reason or one of the reasons that the training is necessary.

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Sharon Sloane: Like you’re absolutely wrong point.

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Sharon Sloane: In the beginning, before all of this, I used to do stand up training and in a case like you just described.

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Sharon Sloane: You know, an instructor would get up there and talk, maybe about sexual harassment and everybody in the room, would kind of look over at Joe or Mary or whoever it was and that person would be just you know mood to do to do.

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Mike Malatesta: This.

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Sharon Sloane: So what I think happens now is that some people are self aware, but many or not, and what you can’t do is put something out there that causes their defenses to go so high.

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Sharon Sloane: That the brain shuts down and there’s no way to even open up dialogue, what we have found is critical and we do this in our interactive movies, are two things one two views the same events through the eyes of different people what we call multiple perspectives.

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Sharon Sloane: And if it’s something that’s authentic and all of our movies, are based on actual events and real stories so you’re watching something.

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Sharon Sloane: It looks like your environment, the people sound like the people you work with but it’s not you so it’s real enough to resonate but not so in your face that it can’t be well the character, she should do this or he should do that.

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Sharon Sloane: And then I feel things the way you’re perceiving them and you feel them the way i’m perceiving them because I get a chance to make the different choices in the interactive movie.

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Sharon Sloane: The flip side of that is the opportunity to see ourselves as another see us, and I think that goes directly to the point that you just made.

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Sharon Sloane: Those are Aha moments, and when people realize that, even though it’s a fictional character like oh that’s what I do is that really help people see me no wonder i’m not getting X fill in the blank.

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Sharon Sloane: The promotion invited to this committee, whatever it might be.

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Sharon Sloane: And then there’s a self awareness that takes place that’s the first step.

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Sharon Sloane: But you can’t beat people over the head.

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Sharon Sloane: Because you actually are counterproductive and I think, unfortunately.

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Sharon Sloane: A lot of what we see is really hokey and people just roll their eyes and they say well Okay, I guess, I get the point, but nobody would ever say that nobody does that well let’s just finish this training and get on to the meeting okay.

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Mike Malatesta: So, in other words you’re saying that a lot of times it’s the behaviors that are in some of the training or so over the top, that you couldn’t miss.

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Mike Malatesta: You could miss that and everyone’s like no yeah that that’s a movie there the note nika fictional movie no one’s really.

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Mike Malatesta: like that, but most of the things that are happening that people don’t see are clear to some but they’re still subtle enough where people you know, the people who are doing it Maybe you can miss it is that my on the right track.

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Sharon Sloane: Yes, yes, because the most important thing is to have dialogue and one of the things that we value the most in hearing back from you know our clients and our partners is.

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Sharon Sloane: After they’ve used the interactive movie training, whether it’s in a facilitated setting or online individually, they start talking about it with each other.

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Sharon Sloane: You know what happened well you know actually that kind of thing happened to my husband.

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Sharon Sloane: And then people start talking about it, we call that a dose response in psychology it’s the reinforcement of the message, because now it’s not the training.

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Sharon Sloane: Educating you it’s you talking with your spouse your friend your boss, whoever it might be about a shared experience and you’d be surprised how people will open up.

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Sharon Sloane: and talk about things that they weren’t comfortable talking about before.

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Mike Malatesta: I love what you said about making sure that you, you know, keep the defenses low because.

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Mike Malatesta: It seems to me in any kind of training or whether it’s training, like some of the ones you mentioned, or just giving feedback to someone as soon as you sort of breach that.

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Mike Malatesta: That my defenses are turned on spot, and I know that’s different for every person too so it’s not as easy as saying it, but once you breach that part.

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Mike Malatesta: The likelihood of you making any further progress is probably pretty small because the person’s like whoa wait a second and they’re not hearing anything they’re not listening anymore all they’re doing is protecting themselves right so.

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Sharon Sloane: Exactly yeah.

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Mike Malatesta: With the I want to get more before I get more into what you do specifically this E learning thing that you mentioned got my attention because I was thinking and i’ve done a lot of E learning and we’ve we’ve done a lot of.

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Mike Malatesta: programs through E learning and.

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Mike Malatesta: As as the business owner.

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Mike Malatesta: I look, and I say oh my gosh This is great, because now I don’t have to take everybody off their shift or bring them in early.

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Mike Malatesta: Or you know have or Miller, God forbid, one person doesn’t show up so they missed the training and now I have to do a makeup session and I brought this resource in and they’re very expensive and I could just go on and on.

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Mike Malatesta: And so it’s like okay well, if I can deliver it through the computer i’ve got all kinds of flexibility.

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Mike Malatesta: And ultimately, I convinced myself with the same thing and sometimes I think to myself well, is it really the same thing.

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Mike Malatesta: Or is it just a way for me to take a shortcut to check a box that satisfies the requirement, but, as you said earlier, maybe doesn’t help change behavior maybe it doesn’t help the person that’s actually taking the training, maybe it doesn’t help my company, but I can say.

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Mike Malatesta: i’ve i’ve checked the box and it was you know.

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Mike Malatesta: And I did it in a way it didn’t cost me any you know downtime or stuff like that is that something that you.

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Mike Malatesta: that’s how I have thought about these things and I just wanted to see if that’s something you’ve encountered you, what do you think about it, or how people deal with it, especially on the people who write the checks.

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Sharon Sloane: Well, I think, certainly stand up training has its place and again it depends on what kind of training, it is.

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Sharon Sloane: But I think that online training is extremely effective if it’s done really well, and if there is something around it, if there is discussion.

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Sharon Sloane: If there are places embedded into the online training, where you can raise a question or contact HR or whatever it might be that it’s part of the business operations it’s not tagged on.

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Sharon Sloane: And the fact that it is a synchronous that people can do it at anytime 24 seven allows the flexibility for organizations.

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Sharon Sloane: who have people working globally in different time zones or in different shifts to you know, to take the the training when they can best do it and it’s best for.

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Sharon Sloane: For the business, I certainly feel there is a place for stand up training, but, honestly with the covert and the pandemic.

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Sharon Sloane: The bar has been raised so much higher on what is acceptable for online training now and the younger generation that people used to think Oh, you know the talking head check the box PowerPoint click click click.

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Sharon Sloane: That is not useful that does not accomplish anything except you can say you met the compliance requirement.

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Sharon Sloane: But if you want to do anything beyond that around culture.

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Sharon Sloane: That is really just not effective, so I think what it’s not so much the delivery modality.

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Sharon Sloane: it’s also being able to do it at scale, because if you have every large organization people in different locations.

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Sharon Sloane: Then you need to have a standardized message, so if you bring in a trainer for this group today and next week, someone else they may not even be.

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Sharon Sloane: Equal not anything wrong with either of those people for the business hiring them and then where’s The reinforcement if it’s online and you have access for a year, or whatever it is.

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Sharon Sloane: Our you know partners use the program for reinforcement if they get a new hire a few months later, we just add another license and somebody else can use the tool, so you have a lot more flexibility, and again I would ask.

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Sharon Sloane: Anyone making the decision, how would you feel about taking the training, if you feel would be valuable your own personal time great and if not, you might want to rethink your decision good point to throw it back because the.

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Mike Malatesta: that’s a great question to ask me like what so is this training good enough that you are not distracted you’re not.

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Mike Malatesta: Doing other things, when you think nobody’s looking while you’re getting the training and if the answer to that is yes, then it’s probably worth.

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Mike Malatesta: Doing for the rest of the team and the asked if the answer is no it’s not working for you how Why would you think it’s going to work for the rest of the team.

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Sharon Sloane: yeah so.

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Mike Malatesta: let’s go back to the very beginning, you have this sort of breakthrough idea, and you surround yourself with some with some smart people, and that was funny you hold the door for them, as you bring bring the gear in but how did you.

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Mike Malatesta: How did you how did you market yourself how did you get out in front of people with this crazy idea.

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Mike Malatesta: And what made them say yes, initially, and then we’ll get into why they’ve continued to say yes for for such a long time.

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Sharon Sloane: It was very difficult we ate a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in those early years because it was like trying to sell a rainbow you know it people just didn’t understand where it fits and what it was why they would ever want to use it.

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Sharon Sloane: and

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Sharon Sloane: We basically kept knocking on doors.

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Sharon Sloane: And one of our major breakthroughs came.

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Sharon Sloane: With the United States army.

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Sharon Sloane: Back in the late 1990s, they were facing come a public relations crisis.

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Sharon Sloane: Around some inappropriate behavior by drill sergeants and young female recruits sexual harassment.

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Sharon Sloane: And a number of issues related to that.

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Sharon Sloane: And my partner Lynn is a retired marine corps Colonel.

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Sharon Sloane: And had.

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Sharon Sloane: An opportunity to bring this to the marine corps and actually the Commandant of the Marine corps at that time said, this is really fascinating.

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Sharon Sloane: it’s not really for us, but let me make a phone call, because I think the army could use this.

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Sharon Sloane: And we thought Okay, you know that was very kind and very gracious but nothing was ever going to happen and a few days later, we get a call from the.

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Sharon Sloane: Chief of Staff the army’s office, and he really was is an amazing person he’s the visionary still a visionary and amazing individual and he looked at what we had.

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Sharon Sloane: And what’s really funny now in this time is the only product, we had to show back then, our first product was on HIV, AIDS prevention for college students so of all the topics to take into the Pentagon in the 1990s, to demonstrate your technology that was all we had.

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Mike Malatesta: and sell them that you can sell them anything I guess yeah it was kind of like what you go with what you’ve got right.

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Mike Malatesta: Yes, sir.

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Sharon Sloane: And he immediately got it and he said Okay, can you do this for equal opportunity, sexual harassment personal courage, the basically the army values, and of course we said yes, and this was a room of four star generals.

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Sharon Sloane: I mean very senior people and with a broad arm sweep said let’s do it.

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Sharon Sloane: And that.

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Sharon Sloane: gave us a tremendous opportunity, not only with the army, but it gave us a lot of credibility with others that we were working with the army.

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Sharon Sloane: And again, we did by computers at that time it wasn’t like it is today, where you just click a few buttons and you’re good to go this was back in the day when it was CD Rom COMs probably most computers don’t even have CD Rom drive snow.

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Mike Malatesta: I don’t think they do anymore.

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Sharon Sloane: But this was you know whoa like we really going to do this, and he said yeah we’re really going to do this and.

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Sharon Sloane: And we did.

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Sharon Sloane: And it just that was the beginning of the trajectory the the other pivotal event, interestingly enough.

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Sharon Sloane: unrelated to that, and it was tragic for all of us was you know 911 and when 911 hit.

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Sharon Sloane: We were.

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Sharon Sloane: contacted again by the Pentagon because they wanted to develop and deploy anti terrorism training around the glow to all the services and they had seen our work.

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Sharon Sloane: And they engaged us to really work around the clock for months, so what really happened like is that it took a long time it was difficult.

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Sharon Sloane: But we learned that if we could get to the leader, the person who’s up at night about something who really wants to make an impact about something and and get to that individual access was the hardest thing.

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Sharon Sloane: Then the rest was paperwork.

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Mike Malatesta: Okay got it so yep start at the top get the person’s attention and then the rest of it handles itself right.

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Sharon Sloane: Right so.

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Mike Malatesta: I I would love to understand how, so I watched one of your films, or one of your training.

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Mike Malatesta: productions that you were kind enough to share with me and it was in a.

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Mike Malatesta: hospital setting.

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Mike Malatesta: and

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Mike Malatesta: What occurred to me, as I was watching it was OK so there’s.

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Mike Malatesta: And I, and I didn’t make the connection at first, but i’m making it now there’s you know in that particular kind of setting there are.

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Mike Malatesta: i’ll call it a class structure, there are people that are are or think they are you know here and there’s all different kinds of layers underneath that.

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Mike Malatesta: And when I was thinking about that as you’re talking, I thought to myself Oh well, that’s probably the account a lot of companies actually a lot of organizations are So how do you so i’m curious how you.

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Mike Malatesta: What goes into making something that’s powerful enough to effectively change behavior because i’ve heard you talk about you know, keeping the defenses down i’ve heard you talk about.

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Mike Malatesta: You know, engaging i’ve heard you talk about.

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Mike Malatesta: The.

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Mike Malatesta: Oh, what was the last thing I was gonna say the but doesn’t matter i’ve heard you talk about ticket psychology yeah.

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Mike Malatesta: So so i’m wondering like when you get in and you start writing a script that say for this, I imagine, I don’t know if that’s where it starts writing a script or what, but I want to kind of get into like you’re the producer.

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Mike Malatesta: And this is what you do, how do you put it together in a way that makes it so different special impactful.

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Sharon Sloane: Well, first of all, I have an incredible team that actually does all of that a chief creative officer who’s been with us from the beginning is brilliant.

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Sharon Sloane: And an amazing team under him but uh we start with the question to the organization, as we did with Yale on the thriving clinician, which is the program that you looked at.

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Sharon Sloane: What is the issue here, what are we trying to accomplish what would be a gold star at the end of the day, what do we want to make happen.

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Sharon Sloane: And then we do extensive focus groups we do interviews we do research so that everything is real and it’s the actual issues that people are confronting.

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Sharon Sloane: And then we create a document with that messaging which, of course, goes back and forth, and it gets iterated then we decide who the characters are in this fictional world.

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Sharon Sloane: doctor nurse, whatever it might be in the different settings at what stage in their career about how old should this person be what other demographics.

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Sharon Sloane: Should we include and then it’s an interactive script so it’s the storyline but where are all the choice points, and as you each come to those decisions.

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Sharon Sloane: If you choose a it takes you down a different path B, C D and so forth, and it’s the amalgam of all of those because, as in real life.

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Sharon Sloane: it’s not one decision usually that determines the outcome, unless it’s a catastrophic one.

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Sharon Sloane: or a brilliant one but usually it’s a combination of decisions that you really go down a slippery slope and end up in a bad place or.

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Sharon Sloane: you’re making positive decisions that are improving your lives and then a lot of things happen that are out of our control and we build those into the movie to.

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Sharon Sloane: The some things just happen some decisions we make really don’t matter you know, should I have a chocolate donut or jelly donut for lunch, I mean that’s.

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Sharon Sloane: I probably shouldn’t have either one of them, but yeah in any case, you know that’s not a monumental decision.

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Sharon Sloane: So all of this gets built into the software, the software team is doing all the technology work while the creative team is building the scripts.

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Sharon Sloane: So all of the technology is working, all the algorithms are being produced and then, when people play the program all of that gets recorded.

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Sharon Sloane: So it’s the combination of the choices that they make that lead people to different outcomes.

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Sharon Sloane: And you can go back and see okay it’s didn’t turn out very well, most people don’t want to be losers, it will go back and see where they messed up and what combination of choices would have taken them to a better place.

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Mike Malatesta: And due to the information you capture on the experience of the individuals as they go through the training does that lead to.

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Mike Malatesta: sort of a report or some next step thing like you see oh so a lot of people got tripped up on this, for example.

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Mike Malatesta: So what what do we do to address that it seems like it’s a it’s a issue that maybe needs more reinforcement or better different policies and procedures or something like that.

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Sharon Sloane: Exactly all of those analytics get collected and report it back to the Organization for precisely that reason so it’s it’s a learning tool but it’s also an assessment tool.

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Sharon Sloane: And, just as you said, oftentimes people will see to everybody seems to be fine when it comes to this situation that this situation is really problematic, maybe we need another initiative.

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Sharon Sloane: On different policy more dialogue and so yes that’s all part of the solution that the software delivers okay.

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Mike Malatesta: And from the time with.

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Mike Malatesta: No, I don’t even know if I want to go all the way back to the first first.

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Mike Malatesta: You know first trainings you produce but i’m curious how your business itself in it.

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Mike Malatesta: Whether through technology or whether through learning or whatever has morphed and changed, you know, in the 25 plus year period you’ve been doing this because you’re still at the core is still this sort of.

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Mike Malatesta: You know very niche but deep.

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Mike Malatesta: I don’t know blue ocean of sorts.

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Mike Malatesta: But you’ve had to have you know I mean you’ve had to have evolved tremendously over over time so have you have you remained sort of.

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Mike Malatesta: I don’t know you just tell me what what’s happened.

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Sharon Sloane: Well you’re right about a blue ocean, some people put us in the E learning category and I guess, we are to e learning what the horseless carriage was to the horse and buggy we’re not a faster horse or a better buggy we’re an automobile.

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Sharon Sloane: And that’s how different it is.

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Sharon Sloane: But certainly the technology has evolved tremendously we’ve talked a little bit about that from you know CD rounds on a desktop computer that had to literally be carried around to now using it on your phone, but from the broader perspective.

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Sharon Sloane: We tend to work on issues of national concern and it’s really interesting because we’re small company little engine that could people have called this that.

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Sharon Sloane: If you look at your news feed or go back through the headlines of the newspapers chances are that the issues that were on the headline on the front page above the fold.

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Sharon Sloane: are the ones we’re working on, and I think the reason that that has happened is because those issues are so crucial to so many people that the leadership of major organizations says, we need to find something different than what we’re doing and what has happened is that.

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Sharon Sloane: Whether it’s the sexual harassment or its amount mental health or the.

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Sharon Sloane: dni diversity equity inclusion.

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Sharon Sloane: Those issues have gravitated toward us and we’ve gravitated toward those issues, because they are the most difficult to make an impact.

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Sharon Sloane: And that’s our core capability, in other words, if someone came to us and said we want you to build an interactive movie on how to change a tire on this truck.

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Sharon Sloane: that’s really important because the tire has to work on the truck where the truck could.

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Sharon Sloane: Harm someone or not move, but that’s not anything that we would do we would suggest that you might want to talk to so, and so, but the human behavior piece and elevating culture, it has to be at three levels, in my opinion, the individual, the organization and then society writ large.

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Sharon Sloane: And we work in those three areas continually to make an impact we’re also very mission driven here the team, many of our people, been with us from the beginning and it’s a little bit of a cliche but.

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Sharon Sloane: Are you know culture is to do well, by doing good, we are a business, and of course we have to make a profit but there’s a huge commitment on the team to the values.

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Sharon Sloane: Of the fact that everything we do here has to help somebody or some organization make better decisions and we’ve actually had a few people come to us over the years, with messaging that we didn’t feel was appropriate, and so we just declined those opportunities.

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Mike Malatesta: So, in other words a potential client came to you with something they wanted you to do and it didn’t whatever it was it didn’t align with you, with how you feel about the work you want to do, or the impact, you want to make that kind of thing.

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Mike Malatesta: Right okay it’s always tough to turn down stuff right it’s like.

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Sharon Sloane: Oh yeah it was.

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Mike Malatesta: yeah.

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Sharon Sloane: You know cuz here’s somebody you know that wants to pay you fairly to do a piece of work, but the content and the purpose of it just didn’t align with our mission here okay.

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Mike Malatesta: And what about.

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Mike Malatesta: You like what.

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Mike Malatesta: You see you’ve been doing this for a long time.

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Mike Malatesta: How have you.

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Mike Malatesta: grown.

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Mike Malatesta: You know yourself as a leader how have you.

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Mike Malatesta: Educated yourself to become something more than you were you know yesterday or last month or last year i’m curious what your what what you’ve done as you’ve come, you know come along as the.

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Mike Malatesta: The CEO or you know co founder, or whatever you like to call yourself.

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Mike Malatesta: Or what other people like to call you maybe that’s a better way to say.

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Sharon Sloane: Well, first of all, when we started out, it was this would be really fascinating I think this is really important, and I hope it will work.

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Sharon Sloane: And so validation over the years, has helped.

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Sharon Sloane: me grow up arm, but the main thing is nobody does anything major, no, no one, no one achieve success sets alone success is always achieved.

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Sharon Sloane: Through the people with whom you interact.

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Sharon Sloane: I of course had my dad and my mother.

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Sharon Sloane: i’ve had mentors along the way, that have been extremely helpful to me very influential partners and clients that have been really have become friends.

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Sharon Sloane: and

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Sharon Sloane: Just always trying to learn and grow.

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Sharon Sloane: But I also try my best to be a servant leader, because I see my job as helping everyone else excel.

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Sharon Sloane: And we believe in what we call mission type orders here, so we you know tell people what we think we need to do, and we asked them if they agree and how they think it should be done, but I learn every day from my staff.

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Sharon Sloane: So we are very.

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Sharon Sloane: almost like a family in that regard we care a lot about each other Kobe has tested that and i’m truly blessed because everyone on our team leaned in even when the going was really hard and we all had to work remotely and no one knew it was around the next corner.

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Sharon Sloane: They are so adaptable and really just incredibly talented so.

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Sharon Sloane: I just try to be the facilitator and also the conduit between what the market is asking for, and I think that is needed and what my team says in terms of how we should go about addressing it.

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Mike Malatesta: And you you’ve.

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Mike Malatesta: mentioned a few things so far that are sort of unique to your the way you approach things, whether it was this declining this work, because it didn’t align with your values or this mission type orders, I read a couple of other things that I thought were interesting.

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Mike Malatesta: And reflective of your culture and I just wanted to run those by you and get your sense of what, but they are the three things that I that I wrote down or platinum rule.

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Mike Malatesta: which I hadn’t heard platinum rule I heard what it was, but I hadn’t heard it called platinum rule beam holders, I thought that was really cool and Chair time and could you could you just take us through those three things and tell us what those mean to you.

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Sharon Sloane: The platinum rule, I think, is so important, and that is top of mind, for me, all of the time I often say to people.

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Sharon Sloane: Having a master’s degree in counseling I think has served me better than an MBA because it’s all about the people, the platinum rule is do unto others as they would have you do unto them, which may or may not be as you would point people to treat you.

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Sharon Sloane: Of course, the golden rule is always important you never want to harm anyone disrespect anyone, but just because something is a priority to you.

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Sharon Sloane: Or the most valuable thing to you doesn’t mean that that’s where the other person sits So if you can understand.

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Sharon Sloane: What is the most important thing, or what is a priority for that individual you want to deliver up what is most important to them.

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Sharon Sloane: And that was something that my mother was gifted at that’s really where that came from my mother actually suffered from vision physical I problems for most of her adult life, but what she lacked in physical sight she more than made up with his sixth sense of knowing what people needed.

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Sharon Sloane: And serving it up with authenticity.

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Sharon Sloane: And so.

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Sharon Sloane: People loved her up from all walks of life in many different ways and i’ve always thought that was so amazing because if you can read between the lines.

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Sharon Sloane: oftentimes what people are saying is sort of the party line, but the platinum rule is really understanding what makes someone else tick what’s really important to them, which may not all be what they’re asking for.

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Mike Malatesta: I love that distinction that it’s subtle, but really meaningful between the golden rule and the platinum rule it’s just a few words different right and it’s but it’s but the meaning is significantly different okay cool.

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Mike Malatesta: How about the other to.

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Sharon Sloane: The beam holder um that’s all about people that feel that their growth and success aligns with the company’s growth and success, and if the ceiling is falling down they’re going to put their arms up and try to hold it up.

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Sharon Sloane: If there’s a problem over here it’s not well that’s that department it’s Okay, what are we going to do to help to fix this to strengthen it or improve it and.

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Sharon Sloane: The interesting part of that is that it’s a two way street, my doors always open, I want to know what people are thinking how I can support them better what we can do is from the leadership to help the world.

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Sharon Sloane: And at the same time, when I need something on a weekend and it doesn’t happen that often, but it has happened.

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Sharon Sloane: there’s never hesitation.

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Sharon Sloane: Everybody is.

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Sharon Sloane: right there, because they care because it’s their baby too, and so we really try to make will their baby also.

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Sharon Sloane: And the people that have stayed with us and that are most valuable to us will actually come and say hey you know the ceilings falling down a little bit over here it’s not my department, but I have a thought i’m going to go talk with so and so they’re proactive.

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Sharon Sloane: So, you know that, and then the the third one was.

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Mike Malatesta: chair time.

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Sharon Sloane: The Chair time well that began care for my mom I am a huge believer in the power of silence.

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Sharon Sloane: We teach people communication how to speak.

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Sharon Sloane: How to listen, not nearly enough about how to listen, but.

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Sharon Sloane: I remember my mother was very active philanthropically and in the household and so forth, but usually late afternoon early evening before my dad came home.

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Sharon Sloane: She would sit down in the living room and she would always say i’m not sleeping So if you need anything, let me know often her eyes would be closed.

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Sharon Sloane: I don’t know, to this day, of course, she’s gone to if she was meditating the way we talked about meditation today, maybe it was something like that, but it was she would just say i’m just reflecting on the day.

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Sharon Sloane: You know i’m just i’m and I, someone said this beautifully the other day and I can’t remember who it was but they said, we are human beings not human doors that we have to be as well as do, and I find that if I take that time to just let the day wash over me.

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Sharon Sloane: Without judgment, not necessarily focusing on a specific problem.

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Sharon Sloane: it’s both rejuvenating and sometimes my best insights come from doing that.

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Mike Malatesta: Just a comfortable sort of clearing way for you to.

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Mike Malatesta: Just.

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Mike Malatesta: Take it all in reflect upon it, whether it was good bad indifferent.

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Mike Malatesta: And and calm your you know, maybe put it put it away.

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Mike Malatesta: reflect on it put it away.

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Mike Malatesta: With your life.

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Sharon Sloane: yeah so you know, rather than a relaxing by you know watching TV or reading or gardening or you know all of these things are great.

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Sharon Sloane: I find that silence quiet time your time.

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Sharon Sloane: is very replenishing.

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Sharon Sloane: and very, very important, I think it’s just important part of the day now sometimes you get fewer minutes, sometimes you get more minutes to do that, but I think it’s it’s it’s important to just let let things set level set a little bit.

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Mike Malatesta: I really like that I know I don’t do enough chair time, but I do one thing I am good at is silence, while it’s kind of it kind of scares people sometimes or they think.

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Mike Malatesta: I don’t know they think if i’m silent i’m.

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You know.

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Mike Malatesta: i’m you know not being social or something and it’s it’s, not that I just like to.

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Mike Malatesta: think sometimes.

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Mike Malatesta: or just maybe there’s no thinking going on it’s just.

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Mike Malatesta: me but I like it being yeah right yeah nice so and I read a New York Times article.

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Mike Malatesta: about you, and this was from several years ago, so maybe, things have changed, but you said in that article that you’ve noticed.

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Mike Malatesta: And i’m not quoting directly but ethical misconduct and loss of integrity amongst among people we do business with something you are basically saying this is this was in the mid.

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Mike Malatesta: You know, I was 2015 or something like that, so a few years ago, but recent and and you, you mentioned in there, that it was different you were noticing this and it was different and i’m wondering.

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Mike Malatesta: How that made you feel and whether you’re still seeing that and what and what what its impact is on you why you think it is.

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Sharon Sloane: Well, I know exactly what you’re referring to.

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Sharon Sloane: And at the time that I did that New York Times interview, we were going through a very difficult situation, fortunately, was the only situation like that up until that time and, since that time, so clearly an outlier but what had happened was that.

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Sharon Sloane: In order to work with a very large client, we had to work through what they called a prime contractor this other company in between us and the client.

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Sharon Sloane: And just to make a long story short, what was happening was was a very significant project using our proprietary technology and in our interactive movie methodology.

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Sharon Sloane: And there were a number of deliverables along the way, and we would be providing these and we were not getting paid.

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Sharon Sloane: And after this went on multiple times and we were incurring significant expenses and this company that was between us and the client.

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Sharon Sloane: kept saying well they weren’t paid, therefore, we couldn’t pay you, and then they came up with all of these other excuses, well, it turned out that, in fact, they were always being paid they were just taking the money.

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Sharon Sloane: And when we got to seven figures.

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Sharon Sloane: Unfortunately, we had no alternative, except to engage legal counsel.

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Sharon Sloane: We have got it resolved, was a very painful experience it was very.

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Sharon Sloane: Not only financially it jarred me because everyone we had worked with up until that time and all the values that were instilled in me.

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Sharon Sloane: were so contrary to that type of behavior that I didn’t want to believe that anything like that could be going on, I want it to believe the excuses that were being given to us.

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Sharon Sloane: And what that experience left me with is.

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Sharon Sloane: being more self aware of red flags that if something really doesn’t seem right repeatedly.

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Sharon Sloane: check into it and, as I say, fortunately we’ve never had another experience like that.

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Sharon Sloane: But it really jolted us to the core because it was so bizarre and so out of our experience and out of our values.

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Mike Malatesta: It is strange, how you can have something bad like that happened to you in in life or in business in it, if you’re not careful, it can change the way you think about humanity.

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Mike Malatesta: right because it’s so you’re so close to it it’s so raw and it’s meaningful, I mean seven figures, this is a big big deal and you go through that and you think.

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Mike Malatesta: Who are these Who are these people, how can there be people like that out there and it can really can really change you at least temporarily, it sounds like it did temporarily man at least.

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Sharon Sloane: yeah it was it was a very emotional experience very, very difficult.

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Mike Malatesta: Did that company wake up and and come to you for some customized training on how to do business.

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Sharon Sloane: Oh, they had other problems to deal with that.

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Mike Malatesta: might have been.

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Mike Malatesta: might have been a good circular end to that.

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Mike Malatesta: That story well share, and this has been so much fun talking to you and getting to know you and you know learning about your experiences and and the wonderful work that you’re doing at will interactive and.

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Mike Malatesta: You know the amazing impact that your parents had on you and and how you just approach every day and and and your team I.

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Mike Malatesta: yeah it’s really inspirational I learned a lot and I want to thank you for coming on How do people connect with you, if they if they’d like to what’s what’s your favorite way for people to connect.

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Sharon Sloane: email me i’m at Sharon at will interactive COM i’m also very active on linkedin people can write to me there or through our website will interactive COM there’s a way you can get to me through the website as well, and we still answer our phones.

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Sharon Sloane: On the website, we answer them and i’d be happy to talk with anyone that wants to talk with me perfect.

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Mike Malatesta: And Linkedin is how I connected with Sharon through a mutual introduction, it was Justin Breen, and maybe Jeffrey Feldberg; I can’t remember — maybe both.

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Mike Malatesta: But anyway.

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Mike Malatesta: Thanks for sharing your email address and and encouraging people to connect with you on olinkedin and I hope you have a wonderful day thanks for being on the show.

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Sharon Sloane: Thank you, it’s an absolute pleasure, and I really enjoyed it appreciate it so much like.

Mike Malatesta

Mike Malatesta

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