MP chatted with Edward Jason Beltran, the architect of the app “Pulse by Fierce,” due to be released in the fall of 2022, about the Metaverse.
As CEO of Fierce Inc., Beltran has transformed the company into an innovative firm in the communication and leadership training space. He built off the company’s 20-year foundation grounded in the iconic book, “Fierce Conversations,” which sold nearly 1 million copies, written by its founder Susan Scott to release a series of innovative solutions: 3D training, Metaverse initiatives, and multiple apps designed to disrupt the industry.
Since joining Fierce in 2017, first as CFO and later as CEO, Beltran has leveraged his love for technology, finance, and communication and his education. He developed an integrated approach for Fierce that has garnered award-winning recognition. Fierce has worked with over 60% of the Fortune 500 companies, won multiple awards, and secured several strategic partnerships.
What barriers prevent businesses from entering the Metaverse, and why?
Many businesses become very late adopters because they lack the internal processes to test and learn new methods to be innovative and stay relevant in highly competitive markets. I’m a huge fan of disruptive innovation, developed by Harvard professor Clayton Christensen.
The central thesis is that most businesses are burdened by instilled processes, mindsets, power, and comp structures contrary to innovation.
Businesses that embrace disruptive innovation initially may have lower margins and cannibalized core offerings but better position the company for the future. These companies also can support disruption if they create “rogue teams” that develop new products and services without impacting the core business.
Secondly, I have run into many companies, CEOs, and boards that are not technically in “tech” or in the technology sector that have reiterated the same story: “We aren’t a technology company,” which limits their thinking on what is possible.
I believe every company should be a technology company and incorporate these competencies just like any discipline like HR, finance, logistics/delivery, and customer service.
You don’t hear companies saying, “We aren’t a finance company,” as a reason not to have a CFO or accounting.
Regardless, they look at traditional competitors in their industry without accepting that the innovation comes from start-ups actively employing technological innovation in all phases of their operations, products, and services.
Metaverse and the Augmentation of Human Potential
How will the Metaverse augment human potential, and at what speed?
First, the “Metaverse” buzzword has been amplified into our everyday nomenclature and consciousness very recently. However, the underlying technologies such as Virtual Reality, 3D / gaming-like worlds, and augmented reality have been available for some time.
Just like “The Cloud” or “Cloud Computing” became a general reference, we had been saving files on remote servers for many years. The adoption arc sometimes takes a long time until the cost to develop, the cost to deploy, and applications become richer.
The Metaverse will create richer interactive environments than the current flat internet engagement. Specific to our industry in learning and development, the potential is vast.
Accenture has stated that these mixed reality modalities are a way to augment training and preparedness and increase learning retention by 75% over passive approaches. This makes complete sense if you stand back and analyze the experience.
In traditional L&D approaches, you are in a classroom for hours or days at a time, and although there may be exercises, you are largely passively consuming content.
We have deployed Metaverse technologies and are using a gaming-like environment with an everyday challenge a leader or employee will face in their workday. Like a game, it allows them to learn from their mistakes and, more importantly, build the confidence and behavior retention to play it out in real life.
The retention is rich because the user must make decisions in the scenario that will take them down desirable paths (promotion, tackling their most demanding challenges, enriching relationships) or undesirable (employees quit, relationships are damaged, goals are missed).
What potential drawbacks may be associated with using the Metaverse to augment human potential, and why?
The drawback is that instead of looking at it as an “augmentation” tool, people become too reliant upon it, hide behind it, and miss the fact that nothing will be able to replace human-to-human connectivity and the power in it. Many research studies speak to the health benefits of human-to-human connectivity.
I can’t reinforce enough the word “augment” versus “replace.”
Metaverse and Leadership and Development
What scenarios will the Metaverse help leaders recreate, and how will such recreations lead to better results?
As mentioned above, in L&D, we create rich game-like environments that put learners in the environments they are familiar with in scenarios they will face. Simulations have been used for a very long time in traditional high-risk scenarios, such as for law enforcement and equipment/hazard training.
However, in office/business environments, the risks are high and can lead to turnover, missing financial results, legal exposure from inappropriate behavior, reputation/brand damage, etc.
Compliance training of “checking the box” is not enough.
Businesses are finding that they genuinely need to empower their workforce with the skills to be successful and creative, thriving cultures free of toxicity. Metaverse-based scenario training has proved to be very effective and deployable at scale – reducing costs and quicker.
One example that we have focused on is within the DE&I space. We have created scenarios around microaggressions.
We have two-sided scenarios to train one side to be empowered to provide feedback and educate and the other to build the skills to listen and learn. The critical aspect of this training is to assume good intent, clear your context, and go in to enrich the relationship and provide critical feedback to someone who may not be self-aware.
A Harvard Business Review study highlights Tascha Eurich's work: "95% of people think they are self-aware, while only 10-15% really are.” These are very tough situations to experience.
The Metaverse environment provides a safe modality to make mistakes and learn, so when in the real world and faced with a similar scenario, employees are prepared and confident, enriching the relationship and increasing collaboration and the impact on the organization.
How will the Metaverse enable leaders to communicate with their teams more effectively?
The Metaverse from an L&D perspective will allow leaders to learn more effectively and impactfully. Specifically, you must absorb the skills that make a confident, empathetic leader required in our workforce today.
Do you think the Metaverse will one day be able to help different branches of the military better prepare for high-stakes missions?
I can’t speak to our armed forces' hard work and duty in combat situations. I can speak to our work on stress, resilience, and tackling your toughest challenges.
Our Chief Behavioral Science Officer spent over seven years with the Naval Center for Combat and Operational Stress Control, helping our armed forces with stress management and high performance. He has continued his work as an IO Psychology/Ph.D. with Fierce. His research, drawing from the success of Fierce Conversations, has made the connection between conversations and how people can tackle their toughest challenges and lower stress. We are very proud of our work and see the opportunity to continue using the Metaverse and some of our other innovations to help our armed forces with stress management and performance optimization, especially regarding applications in the business world after service.
Metaverse and Relationships
How will the Metaverse serve as a medium through which people develop stronger bonds with each other, and what are the potential downsides of such bonds?
The Metaverse is more interactive than a two-way screen like video conferencing or other video modalities and more engaging than email or instant messaging.
The ability to create rich virtual environments also lends collaboration and exploration.
The downside is that the technology is used instead of human-to-human interaction. For example, the metaverse is not a replacement for sporadically having coffee with two people you work closely with.
However, as mentioned above, the ability to have richer interactions is a plus for those geographically apart.
The other downside is time on technology.
Much has been written about how constantly being on video conference calls or in front of a screen can cause a different type of fatigue. There have also been studies around the physical impact of having VR goggles and being physically tied to electronic devices for long durations of time.
I’m not an expert on this, but I can speak to the video conference call fatigue, having taken my company remote during the pandemic.
Do you think that the Metaverse has the potential to promote racial, gender, and economic divides? If yes, what steps can be taken to promote an equally safe space for all, and why might they be the most effective?
Yes, just like any other anonymous modality that does not promote accountability, bad actors will emerge.
It all comes back to how those who manage or own the platforms create a safe community with clear policies and accountability.
We have already seen many examples of a lack of accountability by platforms claiming they are just providing a forum. I don’t believe that is good enough in our society. In the real-world, physical brick-and-mortar locations are responsible for what happens on the premises and the safety of their constituents.
Do you think the Metaverse has the potential to increase catfishing for those looking for love? If yes, why and how can people protect themselves?
I’ve been married for over 12 years. I don’t even know what catfishing means.
Regardless, going back to the accountability that I mentioned, you must be able to validate identities to manage interactions and safety, especially for children.
What three key Metaverse safety issues should people be aware of, and why?
- Impact on being retracted from the human-to-human connection (i.e., replacement versus augmentation).
- Accountability for behaviors within these environments (i.e., ability to validate ID).
- Access for children.