Story of Billion Minds
It was always about doing great, meaningful work. But somehow that got lost.
It was the Winter of 2019 and Paul Slater was finishing up after a long week at the Microsoft Office in Bellevue Washington. He would have probably stayed longer, but he had promised to meet his colleague Ryan Tubbs after work to debrief. “I remember at the time I was a bit annoyed to be pulled away, but part of me knew I wasn’t getting much done anyway” Paul said. “It turned out those after-dinner drinks changed both of our lives”.
That evening started in frustration, as Paul and Ryan compared notes on how how difficult it was to focus and how challenging it was to switch off at the end of the day.
Something was changing about work that was affecting our ability to thrive
It shouldn’t have been that way. Paul and Ryan were working on something incredibly rewarding at Microsoft – co-founding an internal startup to help patients get access to life saving therapies faster. They had tons of autonomy, knew how to do their job well, and were working on something that could have an impact on millions of people.
They started to wonder if something deeper was going on, related to how work was changing. And they really wanted to know if this was just a challenge they were experiencing, or if it was a broader issue. So they began to research the topic.
It Was Supposed to be a Book
But turned out a book wasn’t going to be enough
After a ton of secondary research and over 300 interviews, what they found was perhaps not surprising, but it was shocking. “We discovered that almost everything about work has changed – the what, when, where, how and why of it.” Paul said. “The pandemic was shining a light on aspects of it, but actually these changes had been happening continuously and rapidly for about 20 years. Many of those changes free us up and allow us to fit work better into the rest of our lives, but it doesn’t mean we have the skills to work in this completely new way. Why would we be?”
The results of the interviews were particularly eye-opening. “Over 90% of people we spoke to had deep frustration on how ineffective they were day to day, not just in the workplace, but across their whole lives” said Ryan. “Some interviewees were sharing deep challenges – admitting to depression, relationship problems, even suicidal thoughts. These issues were affecting everyone from kids leaving college to CEOs in larger organizations, and almost nobody seemed immune.”
Within weeks, they had a passion project – a book to examine the root causes of burnout in the digital age.
We were going to call it “Unsustainable” – We started in earnest fleshing out the chapters, but as we learned more, it seemed like a book wasn’t going to be enough” said Paul. “I love writing books, but let’s be honest, a lot of them get left on people’s shelves and very few of them lead to any meaningful change. This is an issue affecting millions, probably billions of people, and all we could do is pontificate about it? That seemed wrong.
“And there was something else, too. For a couple of years, I’d been working on the coming impact of AI, including serving on some AI think tanks. I kept thinking, if people are struggling now to keep up, imagine what will happen when AI, robotics and automation become truly democratized? A book just seemed an inadequate response”
After a lot of consideration, Paul and Ryan took the leap, and left Microsoft to form BillionMinds, with the mission of upskiling humanity for the future of work.
Paul’s background in learning and development gave him insight in what employees needed – a solution optimized for how people actually learn and adopt new behaviors. “The data shows that around 70% of information from offsites is lost within a week, and 90% within a month,” Paul said. “There is only one way that works when you want meaningful change – short learning experiences combined with hands on practice. We had to democratize that”
Ryan brought a wealth of experience in organizational change management allowed him to see what employers need. “Employees cannot solve this alone,” he said. “Organizations have to create the right environment to encourage and reward changes in behavior, which involves focusing on creating the right infrastructure, policies and culture to grow and nurture a flexible workforce that is ready for the future”
We’ve built our services to help employees learn and grow, and to help employers foster an environment where that is most likely to happen
Coming out of the pandemic, the team saw the need for their solution only increase. “So many more people are working from home, and it’s blurring the lines between work and the rest of our lives even more” said Paul. “Many of us who started thinking they were working from home now just feel they are living at work.”
In other words, the future of work is here. And we need to be ready for it.