Alison Bryant

Alison Bryant

Alison Bryant

June 3, 2024

June 3, 2024

June 3, 2024

How does storytelling, content creation, research, and social impact intersect?

How does storytelling, content creation, research, and social impact intersect?

Join Alison, an innovation leader, and a self described “experience unicorn," having been an academic, media/tech leader, entrepreneur, and non-profit exec. Today, she is the Chief Research, Education, Data, and Impact Officer at Sesame Workshop.

Join Alison, an innovation leader, and a self described “experience unicorn," having been an academic, media/tech leader, entrepreneur, and non-profit exec. Today, she is the Chief Research, Education, Data, and Impact Officer at Sesame Workshop.

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Episode Transcript

Alison Bryant 0:00

Look at were completely different areas that may just be of interest to you, right? Maybe you're a science person or engineering person, but you're just you're really inspired by art. Always thinking about how do these things intersect—where might there be that little nugget of a venn diagram that nobody else is seeing?

Liz Gerber (host) 0:29

Welcome to the Technical Difficulties podcast. I'm Liz Gerber and a design professor at Northwestern.

Lauren Lin (host) 0:35

And I'm Lauren Lin, and I'm a student who has also worked in the design industry. Each week we speak with women leaders in design and technology.

Liz Gerber (host) 0:43

Today, we're excited to welcome Dr. Allison Bryant. She's an innovation leader, a self described experienced unicorn, having been in academia, media tech, started her own company, and a nonprofit executive. Today she's the Chief Research Data and Impact officer at Sesame workshop. Previously, she's worked with children's media organizations such as Nickelodeon, Disney, Girl Scouts, and even led digital equity research at the American Association of Retired Persons. We can't wait to hear from Allison. Allison, thank you so much for joining us today.

Alison Bryant 1:19

So excited to be with you guys today. Thanks so much, Liz and Lauren.

Lauren Lin (host) 1:22

Great so to get us started, we have a couple of fun warm up questions. The first one is, what is your favorite way to start the morning?

Alison Bryant 1:32

Oh, see my favorite way to start the morning? Well, I have five alone. I usually make sure I wake up a little early, get a shot of espresso and try to do a little bit of reading or sort of, you know, collecting myself before the kids wake up.

Lauren Lin (host) 1:49

That's amazing. I'm glad that you get that time early in the morning. How early is early when you say early?

Alison Bryant 1:55

Oh, that's a good question. Um, usually it kind of depends depends on if I'm commuting to New York that morning. But usually between about 4:30 and 5am, typically. But I'm also in bed by 7:30, or 8 or 9. Like I'm an early to bed...I've always been like that. Even when I was a teenager. I was the one up at 5:30 in the morning. So that is my natural rhythm. And I'm leaning into it.

Lauren Lin (host) 2:19

I'm actually jealous of that. Okay, and our last one, what is your favorite creativity tool?

Alison Bryant 2:26

Yeah, that's such a great question. I would say for me, I want to actually say Pinterest.

Liz Gerber (host) 2:32

Okay, now we'll jump into it. Allison, thank you for sharing a little personal moment. We want to know, how did you get your start in media and technology? And in particular, was there a moment when you said, this is the moment I should be in this field? Or was it more in retrospect...

Alison Bryant 2:51

You know, I'm sure everybody says that they you know, they had a bit of a winding path. But I did not want to be in kids in media and technology. That was the last thing I wanted to do. Because I grew up in a household with my father was a professor and one of the things he focused on was kids in media. He'd been a Spencer Fellow at Sesame Workshop in the 70s. So that was the last thing I wanted to do. I failed miserably. And I even went to do my Ph. D. program. And I specifically went to the USC Annenberg School, because at the time, there really wasn't anybody who was one of the big names in kids and media. And I was like, I'm gonna get out of it. I'm not gonna go do this, even though it was in the same field that my father is in. And I ended up studying organizational communication, focused on network analysis at macro levels. I was studying terrorist networks and all sorts of stuff. And I just could not get myself away from kids in media, and just really, always was interested in it and writing my dissertation on the evolution of the children's media community. So I took all the organizational stuff, and then brought it back to kids media. So when I started my career, I was a professor at Indiana University, ended up of course, teaching the kids in media class, it's what they really work. So it's also took social, social network stuff, but they really wanted me to do kids in media. And I just kind of fell in love with it all over again, I've always been really passionate about it, and then had an opportunity a few years into being a professor to leave and go to Nickelodeon to build out their digital research practice. And I remember I went to my chair at the time, and I said, I don't know what to do. I love being a professor. I love working with students. I was doing a lot of service learning in my classrooms and having students working with kids and media and said, I really love this. I don't know what to do. And he looked at me and he said, Alli, if you were my daughter, he goes, I tell you, of course go to Nickelodeon. Think about all the people we want to hire right now. And as people who have this mix of academic and you know and real world experience, go to Nickelodeon and go do something and I was like, Well, okay, you know, check mark, you know, and I don't think it was because I wasn't gonna get tenure, I think it was just literally he was like, why not go do this? And I was young as well, I didn't have a family, why not move to the city, but both of my siblings had just moved there. So I did. And it was funny, because I'd say, probably two years later, I was still going to academic conferences, I actually published more once I got to Nickelodeon than I did as an academic because I had more interesting things, I thought to say, right, you have to be inspired about what you're writing. And so it was that academic conferences, still, I was still the editor of the journal, Associate Editor of the journal of children in media, and I was leading the children media group for the National Communication Association, and we saw each other and he goes, sooo remember that conversation we had, because we've got an opening? You want to come back? And I just very nicely said, not yet. And it hasn't been yet.

Liz Gerber (host) 5:53

Many years later, okay, I have to dig back a little into what was... Why were you so against going into the field that your father was in?

Alison Bryant 6:02

Oh, I think just oldest child syndrome.

Alison Bryant 6:06

Yeah, I, I'm a lot like my father. And I think you always, you know, when you're in a teen early 20s, you just sort of rebel against usually the parent, you're probably the most like, and of course, you know, he passed away recently. But, of course, we ended up being best buddies and actually writing, you know, editing books together. So we ended up ended up forging an even closer relationship between the two of us, but there's always that challenge. Like even even when I came to Sesame, and I had worked with sesame on my own as a professor in my professional life for many years before I got here. So I had a lot of connections, either because people I've worked with while they're at Sesame, or they've been at Nickelodeon, or I'd worked with them and other other places, because kids media, and tech is still a relatively small space. But I remember the first week when I was actually on site, and the CEO who I'd known at Nickelodeon said to me, he goes, so apparently, your father is like this big name and kids media, how did we not? How did I not know that? He goes, when I heard you, half the people knew you because of you, and half the people know you because of you, and happened to know who your dad was. And I was like, and that is why I didn't want to go into kids media. I'm in a different place. Now. I've made my own name. It's all good. But, you know, uphill battle.

Lauren Lin (host) 7:31

Thank you for recounting that whole journey. And from academics to now Sesame. And I want to know more about what you do at Sesame now like as a Chief Research, Data and Impact officer? Like, what does that mean? And how did you find that intersection of like data and storytelling and impact, because I think that's really interesting. And maybe not apparent to, you know, college students who are like just picking one major, but this feels very interdisciplinary and fun.

Alison Bryant 8:01

It is both, both both. We're all of those things, Lauren. I'll start with where I am now. And then I'll sort of go back to maybe a couple of key moments for me and sort of how I found my way here. So I really wear two hats right now at Sesame. On the one hand, I lead our research and data teams. And so that's so sesame is built on a foundation of three core pillars, right? So research, education, and then creative and production. So since day one, we've always been grounded in research, formative summative evaluations, everything that you see that comes out of Sesame Workshop is tested, and we're in 150 countries around the world. We have obviously immediate programs, we have direct service work. We're in right now, the past 10 years, or really five years we've spent and a lot of work with children who are displaced because of conflict and crisis. We're with Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, where the Syrian refugees in the Middle East. So we are literally in every context everywhere on the world on every platform, right? Whether it's toys, or we have our own theme parks called Sesame Place in a couple of places. So we're everywhere. And we test everything, right, and we make sure that we understand how kids are learning how parents are engaged. And and that we're meeting the outcomes we've set for ourselves in the core four impact areas that we focus on, which I'm happy to talk about in a little bit. So that's one side of our hat. And within that also, we have something called the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, which is a separate nonprofit that does just incredible work around innovation and design and engaging with industry, and often sort of older kids and technology that was founded by our founder, Joan Ganz Cooney. So that rolls up under me as well. So that's one hat. The other is really working across the organization and saying, what is the impact we should be making in the world, aligning us around these sort of core impact areas that have outcomes that we can measure, measuring those things, and then telling that story back out into the world. but also internally to ourselves, right? Like, where were things working? Where are they not really helping to create more of a learning organization to have more of that, always on innovation mindset. That's really what I would say, my team and our engine drives for the organization, which is really exciting. And we have been under a lot of transformation as well, which, you know, I could talk a little bit about when I came in Sesame has always been an impact. 55 years, we've been around making an impact, and is the most studied program in the history of television, you know, and again, this is academic, this is third party studies on Sesame Street. So, you know...

Liz Gerber (host) 10:44

Allison may just make a moment to say, over 50 years of relevancy?! I mean, that is just unheard of. It blows my mind. The reach, and the relevancy of the programming just blows my mind. I can't even think of a point of comparison. Please push back. If there is it's, it's unheard of.

Alison Bryant 11:07

No, I mean, we're talking about a unicorn, like we are a unicorn, you know, out there. And I would say also due to, you know, as mentioning sort of global reach, being able to reach, you know, we crossed between informal and formal learning, right. So we're meeting the kids at home with the parents, we're in schools. We're building curricula. So we really, and I think it's because we've always put the child at the center. And then we may we get into this a little bit later, when think about design, we've always thought about designing at the edges, right? If you think about, you know, the distribution, we've always thought about how do you reach those hardest to reach kids that need us the most. And when you do that, you end up creating incredible products that work for everybody. Right? I mean, that is universal design. That is that is I think, the hallmark of that kind of work. And Sesame has done that from the beginning. The other thing that we've done, and this was what drew me to Sesame, other than just, you know, the Muppet magic, and the history, and all of that, is we've we are one of the oldest social enterprises, we don't necessarily call ourselves that out in the world, we have a double bottom line impact model. I will also say that's how I ended up at AARP is that...I was running my own company..I wasn't planning to leave. But I was fascinated with organizations that have a double bottom line, that really think about social enterprise, and social entrepreneurship, which was I know, you and I have a lot of deep feelings about. And I believe that that is the future of impact. In our world. I don't think it's not that nonprofits don't do great things. It's not that companies can't do great things. But if you're not really looking at the intersection of those two, and I would say and also bring in academia, and that's what sesame does. So Sesame brings together the nonprofit world, the academic world, and the industry world into an intersection of saying how do we solve for problems that kids are facing around the world? Around education, right? How do we leverage scalable technology and media to do that? But also, how are we hyper contextualized into the location where those kids and families are to understand what they need? So we have for almost a one, right, so day one was Sesame Street in the US. But then we quickly went into Brazil and Mexico and Germany, always co-productions.

Liz Gerber (host) 11:07

Allison, can you illustrate—this is wonderful. I'm blown away. I'm blown away by the Syrian refugees work you've been doing with the Syrian refugees—and I'm wondering if you can illustrate, like really concretely, what does that look like? Day to day especially?

Alison Bryant 13:51

Yeah, so when we go into a new context, and the Syrian refugees is a great example, we were the first recipients with our partner IRC of The MacArthur 100 and change award. So $100 million. And the problem that we set out was, we have more displaced children in the world now than we've ever had. There are more displaced people since World War Two, half of them are children. How do we address comfort and care, education, when all of the consistency of daily life for them has been destroyed? And I will say unfortunately, five years later, it's even worse, right? So that was that was the problem we set up to. To do that we went in to context. So we do a needs assessment every time we're going into a new context. And we go in and we work with local parents and teachers and providers and clinics and say, Hey, what are the problems we should be solving? Right? This is not a we do have core impact areas that we you know, want to focus on of outcomes. We're always conceptualizing and saying, What is the most important problem we need to solve for children and families? And then we, I will say mesh that with okay, what are we actually good at Sesame? We're not getting diapers on the ground, right? Like, where what is their lane? And who should we be partnering with? In this case for those Syrian refugees, we already had IRC as a partner going into sort of developing the problem set. And then how do we go and solve this problem together leveraging what we're really great at and what you're great at? What are the educational outcomes we need to be reaching? What again, are the contexts are we in high or low tech? You know, what, what is the right model, and let me give you an example of both how we plan but how we have to pivot to with the Syrian refugees. So we went in and partnered with IRC, and we were creating curricula IRC has these on the ground preschools and obviously have lots of services for refugees in context. And so we had created all this content with a new program called Ahlan Simsim, which was whole child curriculum, but really focused on emotional well being knowing that these kids, like that's what you have to address the beginning, if you don't have emotional well being and mental health and social emotional skills, you can't do the rest of it, right. And that's, of course, what they're dealing with. So we went in, and we said, Okay, we've created this program, again, with a partner in Jordan co-produced. We had local advisors for education, right. This is really thinking about being it's hyperlocal. Even having conversations around, like what language should be using, I mean, these are all the things that we spend so long working on before we ever put anything that's on screen. And so we're going and we're gonna put this in this in the preschools and then COVID happened. Couldn't go into preschools. And we were lucky that MacArthur as a funder, which is not always the case, trusted us and was flexible and said, All right, how are you going to pivot? And we went back and we said, Okay, we're going to take the content we've created, we're going to leverage these teachers that were supposed to be going into schools, can't go into schools now, right? And we're going to take these families that we we knew that communities, and we're going to go low tech, we're going to use WhatsApp. And we're literally just going to create a virtual program, right? So the teachers were had like small parent groups, the refugee families, and again, everything's contextually based. But we do think that there's interesting learning years, we can bring into their contexts. In families, this was super important. This was their child's learning. It's not like this is supplemental, this was their education. And so we brought this content we brought them on, and the teachers worked with the kids and parents, I think was three days a week for 30 minutes. So pretty low dosage, and they did it over 11 weeks. And in 11 weeks, we were working with NYU, they were doing a summative evaluation for us. And 11 weeks, we were able to show outcomes equivalent to a year of in person preschool. So these refugee kids who normally would have been left behind, actually leap forward, because we were able to partner and have the resources to get this. So we're looking at this and going oh my god, what else can we do? Right? Like this is it may not completely replicate somewhere else. But okay, so we leverage the teachers, we leverage the parents, we have the kids, we have the content, we found some secret sauce. So now we're looking and saying how do we take that next? That's just one example of how we go in. And, you know, we were thinking always about, again, sort of scale sustainability, the the impact model that I've developed as I came in as the impact officers to say, All right, we always need to measure ourselves on reach, right? Because for us reach is super important. We're a media company, or an education company engagement. Because lots of people can reach a lot of people, but they don't necessarily have engaging content. I'm sure we've all experienced that with educational media, right? So engagement is critical. And then efficacy, right. And for us, it's almost like a funnel, right? You have to reach to teach, you have to engage. And then you have to show that the work you're doing is actually moving the needle on the outcomes that we've set out. And so that's how we measure ourselves, which is not easy, but we think is probably, in some respects, the most important thing we do.

Lauren Lin (host) 19:19

Wow, that was like an amazing story. I also really appreciate how thoughtful your organization is around partnering with people on the ground and contextualize it in your research and work and, like co-producing because I think that's so important. Like when we think about co-design and designing with people like they are the experts, but you bring the resources and all that support. So I think that's such a great like case study and story for young designers to learn from. And I really want to get into designing at the edges because you brought that up earlier and it sounded really interesting. So if you want to dive into it now? The floor is yours!

Alison Bryant 20:00

Yeah, you know, it's funny, thinking about the themes I mentioned already sort of social enterprise and thinking about things as a double bottom line, right? That things have to be efficacious for sustainable. So that's one through line for me. And the other is this idea of designing at the edges and spent most of my career in the kids space. And that's a really special population, they have very unique needs. So even across the population of people, I would say they're at the edge, I spent five years at AARP on the other side of the age edge. And one of the things that drew me there was because again, it's a special population, if you think about whether it's, you know, conducting research or designing technology, or you think of this idea of inclusive design, if you design at the age edges, for older adults, and for younger kids, you end up creating content that or platforms, or whatever they ended up working, right, whether that's because of you know, content abilities, because it's in development, or you're dealing with lack of cognitive development abilities at the older age of the age spectrum, or, you know, gross and fine motor skills, right, there's a whole range of things that sort of come up with as ages. I think that's one thing. The other thing with designing at the edges is again, and this is where sesame has always had an incredible, and I should say AARP to is meeting those people who have the lowest resources, or who were in the context that have the least resources, or the biggest barriers, right. So sesame was designed for in the US at the time, inner city, black Latino kids, right. It's why they had the cast that was diverse that they did, that caused a lot of upheaval. But they were designed because those kids at the time, were not this one, universal preschool, and Headstart and things like that were being created in that sort of era. Those kids were not meeting the benchmarks that they needed, right, they were not ready to learn when they got to school. That's why sesame started. Same thing when we're going into, you know, refugee crisis we're going in, and we're saying, These are the hardest to reach kids, if we can create something, and actually going back to Ahlan Simsim is another great example that was created for the refugee crisis. But that program, ended up getting picked up by NBC 3, in the Middle East. It is now viewed our latest viewing data showed that almost half of kids in our in our age range, are watching it, almost half. And three quarters of those are watching it five days a week, like basically every day of the week. So we're not just getting those refugee kids that we were developing the content and the programming for right. We're also getting the whole region because that programming, all kids need emotional well being. And importantly, when you especially with remote refugees and host countries, you're able to represent experiences of the other right of someone like a refugee kid or somebody or or a minority in a country that then the mass audience sees. And so you're developing empathy, right? So you're really creating this beautiful sort of virtuous cycle by designing at the edges, where you're working for everybody. Another good example of that, I think is and this is a very tactical one. But when I was working at Nickelodeon, and leading their digital research practice, we were in the process of redesigning And what we were doing at the time was the producers had done sort of like a parent facing And then there was like, more resources and you know, things for parents and information. And then they did the kid facing one that was keep in mind, this was 15 years ago, right, like the button iconography with the characters on it, right. And we tested it. And what we found, the parents wanted the same interface as the kids why it was easier. It was intuitive, who's pictorial? And so one of the things that we sort of built in from our design practice from then it was like that aha moment, right? Where we go, Oh, right. If we design it for the kids, the parents are gonna be able to navigate it easier to sew, we started saying, let's design it for the younger kids, and bring it and bring the adults into that experience. So I think those are just a couple of examples. AARP is another great example. So there I was leaving the research center, but I was also leaving all of our social impact work around technology and digital equity. And so there we were really focused on working with organizations whether you know, it was big tech companies or somebody else to say are you including, okay great, you're doing we are you're doing whatever Are you including older adults, as part of your use case? Because often what happens is they want the market because it's the biggest market. The 50+ is the largest market. It's got the most money, but they would never design for that. those those stereotypes, the age discrimination, which by the way is one of the first things we have, especially in Media Tech right now is really inherent in those workforces who tend to be younger. They wouldn't be designing for them. So they would create something, they'd want the market, but they would never design for it. So, but if they designed for it, it would have actually probably done pretty well in the broader market. So that was sort of our that was our value proposition to a certain extent.

Liz Gerber (host) 25:31

So much to think about there, Allison. So we've talked about the present, look for it a little, what's something you personally want to still learn work on, you've done so many things, what else is still out there that intrigues you?

Alison Bryant 25:48

I'm always really interested in the Win Win Win, meaning any problem has to be solved, always has at least three. It's never a win win, right? So if you're solving for...and I'll give you an example. One of the things I'm really excited about right now is our work in thinking about how we solve for assessment, in early childhood, which is just broken on every level, right? It's broken for kids, because it's boring, it's hard to get their attention, kids coming out of COVID can't pay attention anyway, right? They've been on screens, and all these concepts have broken for kids, broken for teachers, those teachers are so strapped, there's fewer of them, they're underpaid. They're under resourced. They've got all these kids, they don't have time for this, right? parents aren't running to the process. And administrators, it's hard to see the data and what does it actually mean for them? Right. So that's, that's for people it's broken for. So we're really excited about taking that taking the depth of research and background and the work we do in playful learning and, and play based work. And bringing that into solving that problem and actually productizing it. So my big thing right now is how do we take all this incredible knowledge that we have not just assessing me as the creative early childhood as academics? And how do we start to bring that more and more into productized innovation that actually shows up in the marketplace? That's it, that's my sweet spot, I've always helped organizations do that. I want to be even more, and the hands on side of that. So we're doing some of that, at Sesame, and really thinking about solutions at this intersection of both global and hyperlocal. So how do we solve for something like play based assessment in a way that you can have a global product, so it's sustainable, right, you can actually make something that works. That's play based, that it's intuitive to kids that solves all these other problems, but then will actually work within very local context. Because often the decisions are made, you know, on what people are going to adopt, or what they're going to use in a really local way. So that I'd say those are the problems right now that I'm trying to solve. I think that's where I think Sesame is so uniquely positioned, is because all these things, right social enterprise and zoning at the edges, and all these things make us this unicorn that can solve problems in ways that nobody else can. There's no buddy who's out there like us. And so I think we're uniquely positioned. I know, we're uniquely positioned. I know that we like, for example, we're really looking right now, because we get both corporate commercial funding, and we get nonprofit funding, we have licensed products in the market, right? So we literally have revenue that's commercially generated, or is coming from licensed for use from our programming. And then you know, we get $100 million from MacArthur, which was followed on by $100 million dollars from LEGO right. So we have those, by the way, don't always happen. But but so we have this dual revenue stream. And to be honest, as an organization, because of that, we've sort of gotten pushed into two different groups. And so part of my role at one at Sesame has been we've been calling it One Sesame, is how do we bring us back together into this view of social enterprise? Where all boats rise when you work closer together, that organizations even if they're commercially driven, if you give them the choice of doing well, for kids, and not with the same revenue and the same, you know, financial, they're always going to pick doing well, no one doesn't want to do well. So how do we create those solutions that are the option they have? So that's a lot of what I'm working on internally, but also externally? How do we like on the assessment side? How do we leverage nonprofit or grant funding to build something, but always have an eye towards productizing? And having a commercial market or even solving commercial market? Issues? Right. In that particular case, we're looking to build an ecosystem of assessments. We're not actually building the assessments. But we know there's tons of people who are doing incredible work, whether it's an AI or AR or VR, but they can't scale. Right. So how do we solve their market issue? We solve the problem that we know is there for kids and teachers and parents and the whole circle of care for children. And we're you know, so solving problems and again for sort of like the teachers, administrators. So anyway, that's, that's the, I'm a complex systems thinker. That was actually what I was working on in grad school. So I always see things as complex systems. And I, and I'm an optimist. And I firmly believe we can solve things. We just have to look at them a little bit differently than we necessarily have. And I think design thinking. And I think the way that you approach things where you bring consumers and their problem to the center, as opposed to the other way around, is the way in for doing that.

Lauren Lin (host) 30:33

Okay, well, I just have to say this is so incredibly inspiring also to hear from someone who's worked at a like unicorn organization where you blend, research and insights, storytelling, content creation, that is just so incredibly exciting. And for me, personally, that's like a lot of my passion. So hearing that it can come together, and you can work cross functionally in an organization like this, and also partner with academia is really cool. So I'm wondering, for young students who are excited about all these areas, and maybe hope to work in an organization like yours one day, what are a couple of pieces of advice do you have for students either in school are recently graduated, who are looking for an experience like yours?

Alison Bryant 31:16

I think what has really led me down my very winding path, is that I have always, one just taken any open door that came that isn't actually changing organizations, but you know, I'm always looking for what's that adjacency? What's another thing that I can bring out who's that other person that I could collaborate with? And what that has meant is over time, as an executive, you know, they put more they put different kinds of roles under me because they're like, Oh, well, she she's gonna learn, right? She's a learner, she can, she can take that, or she has a big visions, she can see how these things fit together. And so I think, trying to always look at adjacencies, and also look at were completely different areas that might just be of interest to you, right? Maybe you're a science person or engineering person, but you're just you're really inspired by art, always thinking about how do these things intersect? Where might there be that little nugget of a Venn diagram that nobody else is seeing? Right? I think that's where we're seeing incredible innovation happening. And even if it doesn't show up in your professional life, it's going to help you in your personal life, because it's going to help keep you inspired, right, in a lot of different ways. So I think sort of having that open aperture is really important. I always, always, always recommend internships, fellowships, anything you can do to get work. Even if it's, again, tangential to what you want to do. I always say an internship is just as good for finding out what you don't want to do is what you do. So not being sad, if you are in an internship and realize it's not what you really wanted to do. Great. That's one thing you've checked off, right? I would also say, and this is going to be my bias as a researcher. But even if you're not a researcher, finding opportunities to engage in research, or even doing research kind of internships are so important. Because research is always working across an organization, they have eyes on, you know, depending on what kind of organization and you know, marketing and communication and product development, whatever. That's really unusual. There's not a lot of groups that tend to service, the broader organization. So you get a sense of what people do. And then the last thing I think, is always think about your audience. And you know, I say this as a student, but I think that storytelling is one of the most powerful, or one of the biggest superpowers you can have. I always said that my superpower early on in my career was speaking producer, that even though as research when I came from academia, I didn't give them a 20 page white paper on the user experience of their game. I literally gave them screenshots with circles that said, like, here's your game do this. And that was really new. But it's because I knew a there was that attention span. They were visual learners, like, who am I speaking to? And that could be your professor, that could be your students, you know, that could be a lot of different people that think about what that looks like. And then anytime you're communicating with someone, and today may not have been my best example of that, by the way, what are the three to five things you want to leave them with? Right? And I know that sounds trite. But, you know, I was very lucky that I had an executive early on in my career, who, by the way, is currently my CEO when he hired me to Sesame, but he really trained me. You know, I would be gone for two weeks doing all this work, and I come back and he'd be like, you've been gone for two weeks. What are the three things I should know? And at the time, it was painful. But now I'm so thankful, because I am constantly synthesizing and I can walk in any room and say the To the three things you need to know, pretty off the cuff. Thinking about that, not trying to always boil the ocean, whoever, you know, again, it could be, you know, not a random person on the street but the person the elevator, you know, who asked you a question? What's your elevator pitch? How are you always giving people the most important thing because we have attention issues, right as a society and information issues in society. I think the way forward is being able to be clear and concise, which that answer was not. But don't do it. Do as I say, not as I just did.

Liz Gerber (host) 35:33

I'm going to give you a an opportunity to be very concise. I thought that was brilliant. I first want to thank you for sharing your time and stories with us, Allison. And my concise question for you is or opportunity for you is which Sesame character do you find most inspiring today, and as you're thinking about that, I'm going to share mine. Mine is Oscar the Grouch. And I think Oscar the Grouch for me always represented the possibility that you could be in a bad mood and still be accepted and welcomed by your community. And so with that, hopefully you've had time I'm curious which character is most inspiring to you?

Alison Bryant 36:12

Do I do I get to ask Lauren first before I reveal mine?

Liz Gerber (host) 36:16

Yes. If while she has didn't know she was going to be asked, so yes, Lauren, who's yours right now off the cuff. And why?

Lauren Lin (host) 36:24

I will say Elmo, which is basic, but I grew up watching Elmo. And I think the way that you're able to be welcomed into the Sesame Street world as a kid, so graciously, and in a very playful way, by Elmo was, it was like a comfort creator for me, and there's like comfort creators on Tik Tok now, but like, pre TikTok Elmo was the OG.

Alison Bryant 36:47

Elmo is OG Tiktok. So mine is absolutely Super Grover is my spirit animal. Because he always sees the positive. He has such tenacity, he does not always get it right. Sometimes he has a problem admitting that so maybe that he really is my spirit animal. ButI love Super Grover. I really love how he wants to constantly try and try and try again, to solve a problem. And I think that if we all had a little more Super Grover in us, including a very unrealistic ego, we'd probably all do a little better.

Liz Gerber (host) 37:26

Thank you, Alison, for sharing that with us. Your stories, your insights, your expertise.

Lauren Lin (host) 37:33

That was Allison, and you can find out more about her work in the show notes. And you can learn more about this show by going to drop us a note at or leave us a review on your favorite podcast app. It really helps people discover the show. We're especially curious to know what stories and insights resonated.

Liz Gerber (host) 37:53

This show is produced by Lauren Lin and Liz Gerber, and made possible by the Center for Human Computer Interaction and design at Northwestern. Thank you so much for listening.

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