70. The Future of Work and peak employee performance | Dr. Erik Korem, Founder of AIM7


Dr. Erik Korem | Founder of AIM7


Our guest this week is Dr. Erik Korem, a high-performance coach who is bridging the gap between high-performance athletes and knowledge workers. 

Finally, in Episode 70 we investigate the practical implications of peak performance and the grey area of who owns our health data and how it can and should be used to help us and our colleagues work better and smarter. 


Erik Korem Pic


Erik has introduced sports science and athlete tracking technologies to collegiate and professional (NFL) football. He has worked with the National Football League, Power-5 NCAA programs, gold-medal Olympians, Nike, and the United States Department of Defense. It is this work and his insights that he is now using to help businesses and their employees work at their peak. Erik is an expert in sleep and stress resilience and he is the Founder and CEO of AIM7.




[00:00:00] - Erik Korem
I think meetings are the killer of productivity. You lose people really quick on these meetings that could have been an e-mail, the duration of meetings are stupid long, and then also because we're digitally engaged in a meeting. Have you ever been on a meeting when you know somebody's looking at another website or doing something else?

[00:00:27] - Doug Foulkes
Hello, and welcome to Episode 70 of Chaos & Rocketfuel: The Future of Work Podcast.

[00:00:33] - Doug Foulkes
This is the podcast where we look at every aspect of work in the future. It's brought to you by WNDYR and Pattyrn. And my co-host Claire Haidar is the CEO at WNDYR and Pattyrn. Claire, this is our final get together with Erik Korem. We're talking about peak performance. Give me a bit more detail as to what we're talking to Erik about today.

[00:00:53] - Claire Haidar
Erik is an incredible human. He has done some really profound, truly scientific work with the NFL in the USA, as a peak performance coach for the players. And he has recently started his own company called AIM7.

[00:01:12] - Claire Haidar
What he's essentially doing there is taking all of those learnings from his work within the NFL and actually applying it to the general public, which is why we invited him onto the podcast to specifically talk about how does the concept of peak performance and the importance of sleep actually play into, not just the future of work, but work today?

[00:01:34] - Claire Haidar
And in this specific episode, what we're uncovering with him is this very interesting place where work and employers find themselves in. It's a greu territory that we're navigating. So if you consider the NFL, it's matured. And not only the NFL, this applies to all major sports leagues around the world.

[00:01:54] - Claire Haidar
It's matured to a certain point where there's a baseline set of statistics according to which players are measured before they can actually enter these really, really top level leagues. Work hasn't yet reached that point. We're still at the basic skills assessment, like, "Can you just do the job?" If you look at where sport is now maturing to.

[00:02:16] - Claire Haidar
So it's beyond those baseline statistics and it's moving into health data and the accessibility of that by companies and sports teams. Where is work going? Because we now have accessibility in this remote working world that we never had accessibility before, with regards to data and how people are working.

[00:02:36] - Claire Haidar
It's a really interesting but very important conversation around health data and how it is moving completely out of that confidential protected space into the public space. And what is the application of that in work, and the implications on the individual employee, but also on the employer as the steward of their data.

[00:02:57] - Doug Foulkes
It's a fascinating conversation and interesting how well it translates from sport into the future of work and into industry. Let's catch up with Erik for the last time.

[00:03] - Claire Haidar
Bringing this all back to the really practical applications with regards to the future of work, everything that you've shared here with us is directly correlated to our work outcomes.

[00:03:23] - Claire Haidar
Going back to that peak performance definition that you've shared with us, which I think is really important, and then now this, that you've shared with us around actual sleep and how we should be sleeping and where we're not sleeping properly and not getting enough hours, et cetera.

[00:03:39] - Claire Haidar
This leads to a very gray area, health data. Moving from the confidential protected space into a public space. I know that there's people on our own team who find this whole concept very uncomfortable and violating, and yet there's a very real movement that's actually saying this data should be released, should be open in the public space. How do companies navigate this?

[00:04:09] - Erik Korem
I can just tell you personally, I think you should steward people's data well. My company, AIM7, that's actually one of our core values. Because you shouldn't have to share health data that you don't want to share. And so right now we are in an opt in climate for sharing health data.

[00:04:28] - Erik Korem
For instance, if you sign up for and you buy an Apple Watch, right, you can opt to share your health data to HealthKit. I'm just thinking of it like a general environment. Then it's there for you, and then Apple's got access to it. If you wear a Fitbit, you can opt in. I think that it's really important that we consider keeping it an opt in environment.

[00:04:54] - Erik Korem
I do think that there are opportunities to share cohort data, if that's an opt in that you want to do. And I'll give you an example. When I was in the NFL, National Football League, the Players Union did not require athletes to engage with tracking technologies, either in practice or sleeping at home, because the players didn't want to get cut because they didn't sleep enough or whatever, which I totally get. But if you don't know, you can't help.

[00:05:28] - Erik Korem
So we drew up legal documentation that only myself and the director of sports medicine could view individual data, and the teams and general management could only see cohort data, so that if we saw something that could be detrimental to somebody's health, we could help them fix it. And if we didn't stick with this, it was big legal troubles for the team, and it lowered all the temperature in the building and a lot of players engaged.

[00:05:55] - Erik Korem
Because we were protecting them legally, but we were also showing that we actually cared about them. And there was a number of players that we were able to help with crucial health issues like obstructive sleep apnea, which people can die from. We were able to identify that and help. And so there was a lot of athletes who were very thankful that we did what we did.

[00:06:14] - Erik Korem
And I think it transfers to the business environment too. You should have the right to opt in. And I think from a corporate standpoint, if you want to help people with their health, if you knew the global exercise volume that your employees are engaging in, if they're only getting in 60 minutes a week, that's really bad.

[00:06:35] - Erik Korem
If they're only sleeping 6 hours a night, what can we do to help them be healthier, to improve their own health and wellness, and in turn, it's going to help improve productivity and performance.

[00:06:47] - Claire Haidar
Okay. But Erik, I want to play a little bit of devil's advocate here with you, because if you think about it, going back to your exact example that you used on the NFL, you guys are almost at version 2.0 of health data, really. Because if you think about it, people who are at that level already have basic stats behind them. You know what I mean?

[00:07:07] - Erik Korem

[00:07:07] - Claire Haidar
They're coming in on a whole bunch of data, which work isn't even at that place yet. You know what I mean? Work doesn't have... For an engineer or a sales rep, there aren't basic metrics in place that are being tracked, like in an NFL environment. So we almost in work, particularly around knowledge workers have to get to version 1.0 before we can even get to the health data side, which is the version 2.0.

[00:07:31] - Erik Korem
It's a good point.

[00:07:32] - Claire Haidar
That's the thing that I really want to dive into here with you. What is that baseline set of 1.0 statistical type of data that actually allows somebody to be at that starting gate? If I'm just really blunt from an employer perspective, if I had the option, as an employer, to employ somebody who I know is taking their sleep seriously, I know I'm going to get better outcomes.

[00:08:00] - Claire Haidar
So I definitely want to employ somebody who's sleeping better. And this is where we get really great. This is why I'm putting it out there. So if you look at the equivalent of those NFL statistics that allow somebody to even just be in that place in the first place, what are those things in work?

[00:08:19] - Erik Korem
I'd have to toss this back into your court as far as what metrics are. So you have to look at the accessibility to gather data. In sports, it was easy. Every game has statistics. Did they make a tackle on defense or not? Did they catch... So these were open source data.

[00:08:36] - Claire Haidar

[00:08:36] - Erik Korem
Anybody could watch the game, and record this from home. So there was no privacy issues around it. Does that make sense? You basically forfeited your privacy.

[00:08:47] - Claire Haidar
Yeah. Well, if you think about it, that's the world we're working in now in remote work, because everybody's on Zoom. Everybody is in these SaaS applications, which is tracking what people are doing.

[00:09:00] - Erik Korem
I haven't thought, yeah.

[00:09:01] - Claire Haidar
Yeah, we have access to this data, but nobody's actually calling it out. And you saw the same progression in sports. People were showing up and watching the data unfold in front of them. But, for example, in baseball, the movie Moneyball, and those other types of movies that show us where some of these coaches came to the forefront and said, "Hey, we're not looking at the data. We're not studying the data."

[00:09:29] - Erik Korem
Data without insight is useless.

[00:09:33] - Claire Haidar

[00:09:34] - Erik Korem
So let me just say this. There are stats from a game that show productivity. Somebody caught the ball X number of times or had this many tackles. And then we had tracking devices on the athletes, measuring their speed, how fast they ran, how far they ran, okay. There's a difference between running fast and running far and running in the totally wrong direction and actually accomplishing things that actually change the game.

[00:10:00] - Erik Korem
So here's the problem with Moneyball. Moneyball is great, but what data is actually aligned with performance? And so if I'm just tracking somebody's time there in Word, I don't know, or on Slack, you could say, "Oh, they're not productive because they only spend 10% a day on Slack."

[00:10:18] - Erik Korem
Yeah, but maybe they're sitting there and their job is to think over very complex scenarios, to come up with a solution. And they spend 50% of their day thinking and they only write 500 words in the entire day, but then they come up with a solution that saves your organization millions of dollars and allow you to scale. To me, it goes back to the conditions for success. Are you creating the conditions for success?

[00:10:47] - Erik Korem
I could see an environment where people proactively share their data in a competitive situation to get a job. I'm healthy, I sleep, I eat nutritious food, et cetera. Because I know right now there are companies that are actually incentivizing, and I'm actually looking at using this as part of my solution.

[00:11:08] - Erik Korem
Is like if you hit certain thresholds for the government sets of standards for health, we'll actually incentivize you with money. And then, if you want to, you can provide that information to your insurance company to lower your insurance premiums. For instance, what do they ask you when you apply for life insurance? Do you smoke? Yes or no?

[00:11:29] - Claire Haidar

[00:11:29] - Erik Korem
Okay. What if you could say, "I hit the government standard of 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week, my average sleep is 7.2 hours per night, and I actually track my nutrition too and I eat an anti-inflammatory diet."

[00:11:43] - Erik Korem
Oh my gosh. Not only if you could validate it, you're a healthier person, you're probably going to live longer, you're not going to cost us as much on health insurance premiums, and we could offer all these other bonuses, incentives, right? It could be to your advantage. It depends on, now, are you going to give them your medical data? Probably not. You don't want them knowing certain things, right?

[00:12:09] - Claire Haidar

[00:12:09] - Erik Korem
But if you walk 10,000 steps a day or 7000 steps a day, you may be like, "Sure, I'll check that box." I could see it as being an advantage, and just like anything else, I could see somebody using it in a very twisted way. So there has to be wisdom regarding how this data is used.

[00:12:28] - Doug Foulkes
My follow up question was literally that, could you see in future that this health data would become publicly accessible? And I like what you said there around, if you incentivize it, then there's a bigger chance of it being used for the right reasons.

[00:12:45] - Erik Korem
Yes. I'm working on this right now, because anyway, it makes so much sense, how to improve somebody's behavior. Internal motivation is one thing. Another thing is like, "I'm actually incentivized. I'm going to receive money or lower this or improved that or have access to these rewards that are actually beneficial for my life and my family, just to do the thing I should do to help myself. Why not?"

[00:13:09] - Claire Haidar
What are your top three tips for employers today to improve employee health outcomes? Because as this conversation has just revealed, we're in this very interesting gray area where work is still considered to be one of those places where there's this hard line, no medical data, no private confidential information.

[00:13:30] - Claire Haidar
It's evolving, it's changing, but it definitely isn't anywhere near as evolved as sport yet. So in this great time that we're operating in right now, top three tips for employers to improve health outcomes today.

[00:13:45] - Erik Korem
I'm going to give you one big tip.

[00:13:48] - Claire Haidar
Okay. I like that.

[00:13:50] - Erik Korem
I think you need to help them become more adaptable through education, resources, technology, and creating a work environment that approves adaptive capacity, which we talked about is the ability to handle more stress with less cost.

[00:14:03] - Erik Korem
It's really centered around five things. If you want to improve adaptability, there's five things that the literature supports that improve your ability to adapt to stress better. One is sleep. Two is exercise. This is going to sound so simple. Three is nutrition. Four is mental resilience or psychological flexibility. And five is fostering and maintaining healthy relationships.

[00:14:25] - Erik Korem
And I want to double click on psychological flexibility for a second. [inaudible 00:14:29] and colleagues define it as this, psychological flexibility is defined as being in contact with the present moment, fully aware of emotions, sensations, thoughts, welcoming them in, including the undesirable ones, and moving in a pattern of behavior in the service of chosen values. It's the ability to act on your values.

[00:14:54] - Erik Korem
And if you can help people in sleep, exercise, nutrition, developing psychological flexibility, being able to be resilient in the moment with uncomfortable situations, and then fostering healthy community and relationships, you are going to have an employee that is happier, healthier, able to adapt to difficult life and work circumstances better, and they're going to be more productive.

[00:15:19] - Erik Korem
You're going to help them as a human being, and I would say that the lag of work productivity will not be long. If you had the right model in place, you could see returns on investment within months. You do user interviews, right, Claire?

[00:15:36] - Claire Haidar

[00:15:37] - Erik Korem
Okay. I was talking to one of our users, she was a mental health professional. This was totally random. She was taking the recommendations from our app to deal with these five things, and she was giving them to her patients. And within one month, she was able to quantify changes in their outlook on life. And I was completely blown away. I was like, "I wish this was a paper that we could publish."

[00:16:04] - Erik Korem
But the point being is, create the conditions. It's like a plant. If you put a plant in crappy soil with no sunlight and poor water, the conditions for growth are terrible. If you create the conditions, your employees will succeed. If you recruit the right talent, if people have the baseline level of talent that's needed, and they're just decent human beings that like to interact, and then you provide this, I think you'll see explosive growth.

[00:16:33] - Claire Haidar
This has been an amazing conversation, seriously. I want to keep inviting you back, because each question that we ask you, I just want to go down 100 rabbit holes into that. Erik, that brings us to the end of this. Thank you.

[00:16:46] - Erik Korem
Thank you so much for having me. It was a pleasure.

[00:16:48] - Doug Foulkes
Yeah, thank you, Erik. It's a very interesting hour we've just spent. Thank you very much.

[00:16:53] - Erik Korem
Thank you, Doug.

[00:16:55] - Doug Foulkes
And that is the end of Episode 70, and our last chance to pick the brains of Erik Korem. Erik has certainly given us a lot to think about. If you've missed any of this conversation, or if you're new to the channel, catch us on Spotify, Google and Apple Podcasts, or on WNDYR's very own website. That's W-N-D-Y-R.com. From Claire and myself, bye for now.

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