The lights go out, the door of the room is “locked” and a time clock appears. Suddenly, 130 people who don’t know each other have to solve an escape room in half an hour. This was the second kick-off session for the 3rd edition of Rock in Rio Innovation Week. Through an immersive experience, the session showed how people can learn in unexpected situations and what this can teach companies.
Learning can take many forms: reading a book, attending a lecture, doing exercises. You learn a lot. But when you burn your hand on the stove or fall off your bike because you use the wrong brake, you also acquire new knowledge through experience.
So let’s focus on this second modality, which was the focus of the second Rock in Rio Innovation Week meetup, which invited Carlos Moreira, one of the co-founders of the company Immersis, to give a session on immersive experiences and their potential.
The first meetup, held on January 16, showed attendees “What jazz can teach you about dynamic leadership”. In this second one, however, the cards were shuffled again, and those who attended the Casa do Desenho, located right next to LACS Conde d’Óbidos in Lisbon, were subjected to a totally different experience.
Between conversations and toasts, those in the space were accompanied by a performance by Michel William, a former contestant on The Voice. However, any semblance of normality came to an end when Carlos Moreira took the reins of the event.
To the 130 or so people in the room, Carlos Moreira explained that Immersis “designs immersive, high-impact experiences that always have a profound pedagogical purpose”. The focus of these, he said, “has to do with learning through experience”, in other words, how exposure to certain situations makes people acquire skills or be able to analyze later how they behaved in that scenario.
To the sound of the song “I’ve Got a Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas, giant balloons began to be placed inside the room, but these announced hard work and not partying. Immersis’ demonstration was not going to be merely theoretical. In fact, given that the motto would be immersive experiences, that would be a kind of betrayal of its purpose of learning through experience.
That’s why Carlos Moreira turned down the lights, pretended to lock the door and put on a countdown clock. Anyone expecting a normal presentation would have to play an escape-room, an interactive game where participants have to solve puzzles and challenges spread across one or more rooms in order to “escape” from the place where they are trapped.
“The game has already started, you just don’t know it,” said Carlos Moreira. Half an hour of confusion and cooperation followed, with 130 people having to work together to solve the challenge in a fight against the clock. And it all started with the giant balloons.
Inside each of them was a message telling you to remove some scratch cards that were stuck to the wall. This was the first challenge, as some of them contained a letter that completed a word. As the game began, we immediately noticed the imposition of natural “leaders”, participants who were taking the reins of the game and directing others to try and solve the word.
Throughout the game, three different suitcases had to be unlocked through mathematical and logic puzzles, using different parts of the scenery, using photographs to locate hidden letters that could only be detected with ultraviolet light, decoding Morse Code or joining cards that had been given at the entrance to form QR Codes that gave access to a phone number containing a clue.
Being a group of 130 people, there were many who gave their all, others who didn’t try so hard and even some who preferred to just watch, so much so that Carlos Moreira joked about the situation, saying that “if this were a real company, they’d be bankrupt”. Unity almost made strength, as those present couldn’t resist counting down and time ran out. Still, there was a party, with the last suitcase containing a safe, which in turn contained a button that activated two confetti cannons.
Learning by doing
Once the game was over, Carlos Moreira explained where the playful nature of the activity ends and the innovation that gives this Rock in Rio initiative its name begins.
“What happens when you’re playing a game like this is very similar to what happens in an organization or a company,” explained the co-founder of Immersis, and it’s possible to observe factors such as “communication” or “collaboration” between the participants in a scenario of pressure, time limits and results to be achieved.
Although those present at Casa do Desenho were not a “natural team”, i.e. colleagues who work together on a daily basis, Carlos Moreira demonstrated that, as happens in an organization, “within the 130 people, some did nothing, some were very involved. Others tried to get involved, were very willing but didn’t know how, and there were those who took charge of some operations and took them from start to finish.”
“What we do in these kinds of experiences is quite possibly an amplification of what we do in our day-to-day lives,” explained the speaker, pointing out that when Immersis is hired by companies for activities like this and they fail to complete the challenge, it’s possible to see that “there are problems” in that team.
“What always happens is, if you could now go back and start the game again after having had this experience, what would you do differently?” asked Carlos Moreira, adding that the behavioural change that results from this experience is “the moment when we capitalize on the learning”.
Carlos Moreira explained to SAPO24 that there has always been a problem with the traditional training that companies request. “It was applied to everything and sometimes it wasn’t necessary, sometimes absorbing a set of information in a room through a powerpoint is good for acquiring knowledge, but you won’t feel what it’s like to apply it in practice, even with exercises in the room.”
According to the speaker, a North American study showed that only 10 to 30% of all investment in training results in real behavioral changes in companies. “The trainer can even measure satisfaction, it can be spectacular and the training was great, but then people go back to the company, which has invested thousands of euros, and continue to complain that there has been no transformation, no behavioral change,” says Carlos Moreira, who points out that the chapter where training fails is in transferring these acquired skills to everyday life.
One of the key elements, he points out, is the motivation to learn, which is more easily enhanced when there is a change of context. Carlos Moreira gave an example of this in public, when he suddenly started speaking in English while giving his presentation, which caused some awkwardness. Those who asked him – in Portuguese – why he was speaking in English were ignored, but those who lined up and started talking to the speaker in the same language were answered.
Carlos Moreira explained the reason for this choice to SAPO24: “If you start speaking English unusually and asking people to ask questions, and when you refuse those who ask in Portuguese and accept those who ask in English, you are at that moment forcing a behavioral change,” he said. “We start speaking in English and there starts to be a social contagion because someone starts, someone repeats, someone chases and someone does and does and does again, suddenly we have a routine,” he adds.
From the gaming world to the business world
Founded in January 2010, Immersis was created to apply immersion to the way companies can diagnose their operations. But the origins of this concept go back a long way and took place in a completely different context.
“It was the areas of information technology that started working on this issue, because they took immersion and brought it to the gaming environment, making them more immersive, because you have virtual reality glasses, environments that are built around you that allow you to almost transport yourself there,” says Carlos Moreira.
From games, the potential of immersion has begun to spread to other areas, such as the military, where you can train in war scenarios without the soldiers being there, or health, to simulate surgery in a safe context.
Looking at these examples, Carlos Moreira wanted to transport the same ideas, but not using technology but the real world as an immersive environment, applying immersion to training logic.
“We took the real world and immersed people in some unusual experiences,” explains the co-founder of Immersis. These experiences include options as diverse as being a co-pilot for a blind person driving a car or having to manage a restaurant with real customers for the first time.
“Immersis was born 10 years ago with the intention of applying this idea of immersion to three moments: the motivation to go and learn before, during and after, because we know that the latter is the rest of the iceberg,” says Carlos Moreira. The next step, he concludes, is for the company to focus specifically on the skills transfer aspect.
The third edition of Rock in Rio Innovation Week will take place between June 23 and 26 at LACS, with close to 120 hours of content expected, including workshops, talks, networking sessions and musical shows.
The full line-up will only be revealed on February 19, but Patrick Boltje, Rock in Rio Innovation Week project leader, announced some news before the session began, including the use of the Évora Boat as a venue, which will have daily departures to Terreiro do Paço, as well as the partnership with Malaysian personal development platform Mindvalley.
In this 3rd edition, Galp continues to be the founding partner of Rock in Rio Innovation Week, and Randstad Portugal, Sociedade Ponto Verde, EiMigrante (already a repeat participant in the second consecutive edition) and BLIP join the group of promoters.
The next meetups in Lisbon are scheduled for March 19, April 16 and May 19 at LACS.