Read the Transcript Alix Spiegel and new co-host, Hanna Rosin, examine two grand social experiments that attempt to teach McDonald's employees in Russia to smile, and workers on an oil rig how to cry.
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Alix Spiegel and new co-host, Hanna Rosin, examine two grand social experiments that attempt to teach McDonald's employees in Russia to smile, and workers on an oil rig how to cry.

Read the Transcript

  • Download
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  • Transcript

ALIX SPIEGEL (HOST): This is INVISIBILIA. I'm Alix Spiegel.

LULU MILLER (HOST): And I'm Lulu Miller.

SPIEGEL: So let's begin in Moscow - Pushkin Square.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

IGOR KORGANOV (FORMER MCDONALD'S EMPLOYEE): OK, I'm Igor Korganov - Russian guy.

SPIEGEL: Russian guy, Igor Korganov was there. He was standing in front of a restaurant where he'd worked in the early '90s when he was just a teenager, a place, he said, that was so popular that his employer had to hire security to control the crowds.

KORGANOV: Two of them would stay here, two of them would stay there - at the entrance and at the exit. They were here all the time.

SPIEGEL: Had to be there because this restaurant was the beginning of a very unexpected revolution in Russia. Now, you've probably heard of this restaurant. It's pretty famous, and so is its logo.

KORGANOV: You can see on the building right behind you, a shadow of big M. You see?

SPIEGEL: The big M of McDonald's. In America, it's so common it feels as inevitable as sky. But the thing you need to know is that bringing the McDonald's M to Russia was the opposite of inevitable.

MICHAEL GERLING (FORMER MCDONALD'S EMPLOYEE): After my first trip when I was asked, can we open McDonald's in Russia? I said, no. It's impossible.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MILLER: Impossible, says Michael Gerling, one of the guys charged with opening that first McDonald's in Russia in the late '80s, for three main reasons. Number one - bureaucracy in Soviet Russia was so insane that getting even a single day's worth of yeast required massive paper work.

GERLING: You had to write an application and then an order and

then the delivery papers and then the invoice.

MILLER: You had to fill out applications for yeast?

GERLING: For everything you buy, everything.

MILLER: Number two - basic infrastructure in the Soviet Union was so bad that even if you wanted to do something small, like, say, call another country to arrange a shipment…

GERLING: You had to (laughter) - it sounds ridiculous - but you had to go to the post office and say, you know, I want to call this and this number in Germany or that and that number in the United States. They then said OK, you come back at 11 o'clock at night or 2 o'clock in the morning, whatever it was.

SPIEGEL: But both of those problems paled in comparison to the third major obstacle because as Russian guy Igor Korganov explained - to create a viable McDonald's in Russia, McDonald's had to reach deep into the heart of Russians themselves and change their very souls. In the homeland of Dostoyevsky, of Stravinsky, McDonald's had to convince its employees to be cheerful.

(SOUNDBITE OF MCDONALD'S AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) Put a smile on…

KORGANOV: We were all serious. We were all serious about life because life is struggle. We were all building the happy future, and we were not allowed to be happy in the process.

(SOUNDBITE OF STATIC)

SPIEGEL: What do you think, Lulu? Do you think that you can teach cheerful?

MILLER: Mm…

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SPIEGEL: Welcome to the second season of INVISIBILIA. I'm Alix Spiegel.

MILLER: And I'm Lulu Miller.

SPIEGEL: INVISIBILIA is a show about all of the invisible forces that shape human behavior, our emotions, our beliefs…

MILLER: …Our expectations.

SPIEGEL: And our question today is, can you take an emotional norm and transform it?

MILLER: Right. Are these large, invisible, seemingly intractable things like the emotional temperament of an entire nation, changeable? We have got two stories of people who actually set out to try.

SPIEGEL: But that is not all.

MILLER: We have something else. We have a new co-host.

SPIEGEL: We are expanding INVISIBILIA. We have invited the awesome and amazing Hanna Rosin to come work with the show.

MILLER: Yes, we have successfully stolen her from the world of high-class print magazines.

SPIEGEL: And today you will hear her very first piece. Hello Hanna Rosin.

HANNA ROSIN (BYLINE): (Imitating Russian accent) I was hoping you would call me Big H.

(LAUGHTER)

MILLER: (Imitating Russian accent) Big H - reporter, cast big shadow, though small woman. Should we stop doing Russian accents? Quickly. OK,

so lots to come, stick with us.

SPIEGEL: So we are going to circle back to the tale of bringing McDonald's to Russia. But first, we have Hanna's inaugural story, which is about a very unusual oil rig. Before we start, a quick warning, there's some very vivid descriptions of people getting injured coming up in the first few minutes, which might not be good for some listeners, especially children.

ROSIN: This is a story about an oil rig unlike any oil rig that came before it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

When it was built, it was the biggest, baddest rig in the Gulf of Mexico. A structure the size of a city block floating in 4,000 feet of water. It was set up to pump twice as many barrels of oil as traditional rigs at four times the speed. Think oil, racing through miles of pipe at the speed of a freight train. Dangers were everywhere. But none of this is what made this rig special. What made this rig special is that in order to handle all this potent new stuff and stay alive, they had to train the men on the rig to cry.

TOMMY SHAREEN (FARMER): Come on. How's that bull for you? I worked them this morning, and they're not happy with me.

ROSIN: This is one of the men from the rig, Tommy.

SHAREEN: Tommy L. Shareen.

ROSIN: I went to visit Tommy on his farm in southern Louisiana, and when I saw him he was covered in cow blood. He'd just spent the morning cutting horns off his cattle.

SHAREEN: See the horns?

ROSIN: Tommy started working rigs when he was 14, which means he'd spent many years in what, up until the early '90s, people called the old oil fields. And I wanted to know what that was like. Like, was it dangerous?

SHAREEN: Was it dangerous? Hell yeah, it was dangerous. Yes ma'am.

ROSIN: It wasn't unusual, Tommy told me, to see people die. He'd personally known seven. The worst story he told me involved a guy who had just finished his shift and was about to go home. The man was standing in front of an enormous pipe that was wound into the ground like a twisted rubber band and was held in place by a handle. And before the man left, he was fooling around with Tommy and he kicked the handle.

SHAREEN: And he looked up at me and said, Shareen. And I said, aye it's time to go. He said, I know. He said, I'm tired of this. And when he kicked the handle, the torque on the pipe spun and caught his ankle - like that's his foot - his ankle went into that handle. And in about three seconds it spun him around about 80 times.

ROSIN: About 3 feet away from the spinning pipe was a post.

SHAREEN: His head was hitting that post. And his head was like a rotten tomato. I'm watching this boy dying right there in front of me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROSIN: When the body finally stopped, Tommy went over and held the man's head. He said it felt like Jell-O. And then came, what in the old oil fields counted as a mourning period - 15 minutes.

SHAREEN: Well, he was lucky to get 15 minutes. I mean, that hole cost a lot of money. We've got to go to work.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROSIN: Most oil people I spoke to had a story like this.

MARC GATLIN (OIL FIELD WORKER): I mean, yeah, for someone to get hurt on the rig and to, you know, get maybe killed on a rig, it was not very uncommon.

ROSIN: This is Marc Gatlin, another oil field worker. Marc's best friend died on a helicopter that was taking him out to the rig. They never found the body. But the accident that haunts him most, it wasn't even a death.

GATLIN: There was a bug blower on the rig floor, like a big airplane blade, you know, (imitating airplane blade) flying out there, blowing. And the guy was up there throwing some chain around and somebody asked him a question. And I think he went to point somewhere and it went, pow - like that.

ROSIN: The blade cut off his fingers. Marc remembers the man standing, looking at his bloody palm.

GATLIN: And I remember him saying, what am I going to do now? That's what he said - what am I going to do now? And when I saw that, you know, it made me sick.

ROSIN: Could you tell anyone - I feel sick now?

GATLIN: No, not back then (laughter). All I did was just went on. You know, I let it sink in a little bit, and then went on.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROSIN: Rig culture back then - not for sissies. There were unwritten rules of macho everyone understood and enforced, like don't question authority. Tommy's boss was a guy with monster hands and a scar on his face from eye to chin that nobody asked about. His actual name was Buck. He called them flunkies, as in - flunkies, get me my coffee. And when they did, he would pour it out. If you make a mistake, hide it. If you don't know something, pretend that you do. And as Tommy would tell you, never appear weak. If, for some God forsaken reason, you feel an emotion rising, swallow hard.

Anyone cry?

SHAREEN: No.

FLOYD GUIDRY (RIG WORKER): We were a different breed of people out there. We did things that most of the rest of the world didn't want to do.

ROSIN: That's Floyd Guidry, another rig worker.

GUIDRY: So you don't want to show your vulnerability to anybody - to your friends, to your superiors. Or, you know, whatever I'm called upon to do, I'll do it. Helicopter went down, your best buddy got killed 10 minutes ago and I've got to get on? Well, yes sir, I'm ready to go.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROSIN: And this manly code of conduct - it worked fine for years - wells got drilled, money got made. But then in the late '90s, something big happened. Oil companies decided to try drilling in deeper water, nearly 4,000-feet deep. This might not sound like a big thing, but to the oil guys it was like going from Earth to Mars. So much of what they had to do was totally unfamiliar, really complex and also potentially dangerous.

Instead of 20 people on the rig, there would have to be well over a hundred. They had to pump 200,000 barrels a day using technology that hadn't even been invented yet. So many moving parts, so many potential explosions - real danger. Which brings me to the rig where this story unfolds - Ursa.

GUIDRY: The mac daddy (ph) - the biggest.

ROSIN: Ursa was two football fields' worth of metal in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. It cost Shell $1.5 billion to make. Tommy remembers walking onto the platform for the first time and struggling to take in the size of it.

SHAREEN: Huge columns that are massive and there's a big firewall, which is massive. You've got to remember, I'm a little country boy. I'm used to working on little platforms. And you go up there, and these huge things just sticking up through the middle. You're waiting for a UFO to come fly in.

ROSIN: Shell started building Ursa in 1997. It wasn't the company's first foray into deep water drilling, but it was, by far, its most ambitious. And there was a sense in the company that they were really not prepared to do something this complex and huge and dangerous.

RICK FOX (FORMER SHELL EMPLOYEE): We spent many hours agonizing over how this was going to work. And we had to look at the organization and see if we could do something better. And who knew what that was going to open?

ROSIN: This is Rick Fox, the man at the heart of the story, who was put in charge of planning Ursa in 1997. Rick had started out in the old oil fields at age 23 as a roughneck - scraping, painting and hauling sacks on rigs. But he'd risen through the ranks pretty quickly. And by 1997, he was a star at Shell. Rick fit into Shell's culture perfectly. In fact, even at home, Rick lived by rig rules. Don't ask questions. Never look weak.

ROGER: I would definitely not describe my dad as touchy-feely.

ROSIN: This is Rick's son Roger who told me that rig code infiltrated even the smallest interactions between him and his father growing up.

ROGER: So I remember the first time I heard the word Phillips head

screwdriver. He would say, you know, go get me a Philips head out of the shop. And I didn't even think to say - hey, dad, you know, I've never heard what - I don't know what you're talking about. So I went to the shop to look for something I had no idea what it was and felt stuck 'cause, you know, I didn't want to be vulnerable.

ROSIN: And there were much bigger things that Roger couldn't ask about. For example, one day, he and his family were vacationing in Lake Rabun, Ga. He was about 10 years old, and a teenage girl showed up.

ROGER: My memory is that she's there. It's very pleasant. She seems kind. And I want to know who she is. And through one question and one answer, I learned who she was. And that's how I got to know that I had a sister.

ROSIN: That first family was a part of Rick's life he never talked about. He didn't talk about a lot of things like how he never met his own father and how his mother struggled to raise him alone. He didn't like talking about how he was feeling or how anyone was feeling. And so by the time Roger was a teenager, father and son were at each other's throats.

ROGER: We're guarded. We're fearful. We're so angry at each other because we don't see each other, really.

ROSIN: Even Rick, through his haze of repression, could sense this.

FOX: I had this nagging dissatisfaction that things could be different and better. And I didn't understand why I couldn't make that happen.

ROSIN: So here's where Rick was in 1997, when Shell put him in charge of Ursa. He was stressed at home, barely able to speak to a son who was about to leave for college. He was stressed at work, in charge of a giant, really complicated venture that he didn't know how to tackle. Things felt like they were spinning out of control.

FOX: And then, out of the blue, this crazy lady calls me and says she wants to work with Shell. She wants to work with me. Would I be interested in talking to her?

ROSIN: This crazy lady was a leadership coach who had heard about Shell's new venture and wanted them as a client. Her name was Claire Nuer. And she was a teeny, tiny 64-year-old French woman who spoke very little English, wore bejeweled glasses and had a frizz of blonde hair. She wasn't your typical business person. But she ran a consulting group called Learning as Leadership. LAL, as it's called, was small at the time, and it was looking to expand its U.S. operations by cold-calling companies and trolling for clients. Claire asked Rick if she and her colleagues could fly down and meet with the Ursa team. And Rick said OK.

FOX: We met for coffee in the French Quarter at the Cafe du Monde about 9 o'clock at night or some craziness, you know.

MARC-ANDRE OLIVIER: And there was this moment where things became really real.

ROSIN: Claire died in 1999. But we talked to one of her co-workers, Marc-Andre Olivier, who went down with her to meet Rick. Marc-Andre told us that at the beginning of the meeting, Rick was talking drill schedules and oil production calendars and hardware. But then, Claire cut him off. She said he wasn't dealing the real problem - his fear.

OLIVIER: You're not talking real. And that's what you need. What are the things that you, in particular, Rick - what are the fears, anxiety, concerns you have about the challenges in front of you that you're not allowing yourself to be open with? Can we just, like, cut the BS? Because it's scary what you're doing. And it's normal to be scared. And if you just don't tell people you're scared, you're not going to create safety together.

ROSIN: This got Rick's attention.

FOX: And she said I want to help you. I can help you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROSIN: So who was this little French lady?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Claire, would you please tell us where and when you were born?

CLAIRE NUER: (Through interpreter) My name was Claire Nuer. I'm born in France, in Paris, in 1933. The date, you know, Hitler came to power.

ROSIN: Claire was 7 when her mother sent her into hiding. And she was 8 when her father was seized and taken to Auschwitz. But for most of her life, her son Noah Nuer told us, she didn't want to talk about it. In fact, she shut down any discussion of it.

NOAH NUER: My mother didn't talk to us very much about the war. Before she had a real switch in her life, she didn't want to face it. She didn't want to talk about it.

ROSIN: This switch that Noah's talking about - Claire's daughter, Lara told us that it happened when she was on a plane one day.

LARA NUER: We're in the plane and she rubs her eyes. And as she's rubbing her one eye, she realizes that the other eye that's open, her right eye, there's like this - it's fuzzy.

N. NUER: She has a dark spot in her eye.

L. NUER: It turns out it's a 12-millimeter melanoma. And she's given 3 months to live.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROSIN: The doctors recommended surgery. Most people would have listened, but not Claire. Instead, she took comfort in the human potential movement, specifically est. Est was a New Age therapy popular in the '70s, which was famous for these brutal, day-long encounter sessions where its founder, Werner Erhard, would stand on a stage and confront the audience members, yelling at them.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WERNER ERHARD (EST FOUNDER): (Yelling) Why do you have to look cool? Why do you have to come off as smart? Why do you have to keep it all together? What is it that looking good hides?

ROSIN: One of the main principles of est was that if you dug deep into your psychology, you could change the course of your life - that emotions were the key to everything. And so Claire experimented with trying to alter her mindset, even trying to contain her cancer with her mind.

Her son, Noah, told us that every day, she would visualize the cancer in her eye being wrapped up as if in a blanket, so that it couldn't spread to the rest of her body, which, he believes, is exactly what the doctors found many years later when she finally did have her eye removed.

N. NUER: They removed her eye. And they had it sent to different labs. And what they saw is that the cancer was surrounded by a ball of nerve, which was basically what she had visualized.

ROSIN: Visualization as a cure for disease is, of course, totally unproven and possibly offensive to people who think a persistent mass of malignant tumors does not represent a failure of will or imagination. But even before she had any proof, Claire felt certain her visualization was helping her. And she tried it out on all kinds of things. For example, she would bring Lara down to the beach, and together, they would visualize clouds disappearing. And the clouds, says Lara, did disappear. But are you speaking, like, metaphorically, or are you speaking like...

L. NUER: No, I am speaking literally. I am speaking we're on the beach. And there's a cloud, and we're looking at it. And we're - when we're visualizing it disappearing - and it's disappearing. That's what I'm talking about.

SPIEGEL: And you were able to make clouds disappear?

L. NUER: Yeah, yep.

ROSIN: There are lots of directions Claire could have gone with her newly discovered superpowers - meteorologist, most popular person in the city of Seattle. But instead, Claire and her husband starting holding their own encounter sessions in their living room with friends and neighbors, which eventually turned into Learning as Leadership, the group that cold-called Rick. LAL is famous for a particular kind of consulting. They take very straight business people and get them to strip off their corporate masks and look at what's really driving them - their anxieties, their deepest fears.

Sometimes, they'd talk about events in their own childhood or examine dysfunctional dynamics in their families. Sometimes, they might even bring a wife or a kid along with them. Claire would sit at a dais and prod people with questions that Lara translated. Two months after meeting Claire at the Cafe du Monde, Rick began attending these sessions. He was there, of course, to talk about challenges at work. But he was also interested in addressing the other major problem he was facing - his teenage son, Roger. So one day, he convinced Roger to come along with him.

L. NUER: Rick and Roger, are you there? Would you mind standing up? So tell me, Roger, what in what your father does is most unbearable to you?

ROGER: That I may have to be worried about being tense in a relaxed time.

ROSIN: Roger has trouble getting the words out. But eventually, he explains that his father is really demanding and intolerant of weakness and that he's always just issuing instructions.

L. NUER: It's hard to tell your father that.

ROGER: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

Yeah, his intentions are the best in the world. But it makes this atmosphere tense. So...

L. NUER: So what do you think about that, Rick?

FOX: So, yeah, instructions, instructions. Yeah, that would be me. That would be...

(LAUGHTER)

...Yeah, so, Roger, you know, I take this really seriously, though. It's ruined a lot of our good times together.

ROSIN: Rick told us that this encounter session completely transformed his relationship with Roger. That was all the proof he needed. If Claire could melt 18 years of family tension, she could do anything. She was what he needed on Ursa. So just to review, Rick decided that the key to making his complicated and dangerous new oil rig in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico work was a frail, one-eyed French woman who did not speak English, thought she could move clouds with her mind and make grown men cry. Obviously, that's a plan that's going to work.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MILLER: INVISIBILIA will return in a moment.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SPIEGEL: This is INVISIBILIA. I'm Alix Spiegel.

MILLER: And I'm Lulu Miller.

ROSIN: And I'm Hanna Rosin.

MILLER: And today we are looking at emotional norms and seeing if a person can get in there and change them. And if so, how?

SPIEGEL: So let's go back to Hanna's story about an oil rig, which totally changed things up.

ROSIN: So how do you convince a group of oil field workers to sit around in sharing circles and bare their souls?

Turn right on Park Avenue.

I couldn't totally imagine it either, so last fall, Alix and I drove through Louisiana and Mississippi, asking the guys how it happened.

This doesn't seem like the kind of place where there would be a Park Avenue.

The first thing we learned? Hypermasculine oil guys are not really into sharing.

GEORGE HORN (HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATE): We had no idea what this was for. We thought it was so silly.

ROSIN: This is George Horn, a high school graduate who grew up hard, as he put it, on a tiny farm with only one toy that was eventually crushed by a tractor.

HORN: Because I left it in the road.

ROSIN: George told us that when all this sharing stuff was first introduced, he was completely hostile.

HORN: Why did I need to share my personal life with these people? I don't know them. This has nothing to do with a oil field. What is this for?

ROSIN: A lot of the guys felt this way. But they were asked to do it anyway. For a year and a half, as Ursa was being physically built, Rick put George and a hundred of the other oil workers into an open space at One Shell Square, Shell's headquarters in New Orleans. He then invited LAL and a few other groups to put them through a series of exercises designed to open them up. The men told us that about 30 to 40 percent of their time during those 18 months was spent on emotional exercises like this one.

HORN: You were asked to draw a picture if you could or - you didn't have to - just of your family - you know, depict what your family is all about.

ROSIN: And so the men would pick up a pencil or a colored marker with their big hands and they would start drawing pictures of their wives or their daughters or their fathers, pictures that were supposed to somehow capture how they felt. The men were also asked to lay out a timeline of their life and then get up in front of the group and talk about it.

HORN: And they began to tell the story of their life. And some of them are not real happy.

ROSIN: They told stories about alcoholic fathers, about how they were hungry as children and about their failed relationships as adults - actually got up in front of the group and said these things out loud.

HORN: It felt vulnerable, you know. You put your personal life out there for everybody to hear and everybody to see. You know, you don't want to share every detail, thing that's happened in your life. And some of the guys did.

ROSIN: And George says, once one guy did, the whole dynamic in the room began to shift.

HORN: And maybe the next guy that - well, I'm just going to say the - just enough to get by. Well, he may say a little bit more than that.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROSIN: All these exercises - they brought up emotions in the men that they hadn't anticipated and didn't even really want. Floyd Guidry says that even Tommy - bad boy, big laugh Tommy - was overcome when he told the group that his son, then a teenager with a rare disease, was dying.

GUIDRY: Tommy, in a group of people, now - this is all people of his working friends and everything. And Tommy actually broke down and cried.

SHAREEN: I mean, I was weeping like a baby. And there was nobody ever said anything about it.

ROSIN: What do you mean?

SHAREEN: Well, nobody come to me and, you know, said, aw, you big crybaby or anything.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROSIN: Here's George.

SPIEGEL: Had you ever talked this way emotionally with men?

HORN: No. That's just not a manly thing.

SPIEGEL: And had the other men spoken like that?

HORN: No. It was new for all of us. We were all in the same boat, the Ursa boat.

SPIEGEL: Did you like speaking that way with other men?

HORN: No, I did not. I can't say that anybody enjoyed it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROSIN: In fact, there were plenty of outright dissenters to the bare-your-soul thing. Allow me to introduce one of them, Billy Ray, who worked with Rick.

BILLY RAY: You don't have to go and get softened up or whatever. You know, California - to get the work done and work esteem - what I'm saying, you know? You don't have to break everybody down to, you know, to get the job done. So that's how some of us saw it.

ROSIN: And so Billy Ray said no when Rick asked him to attend one of the LAL sessions. And Billy Ray said no when Rick asked him to share his personal story. And when Rick asked Billy Ray to chronicle his feelings in a journal?

RAY: No. Billy Ray didn't journal. (Laughter) He didn't do nothing like that. No (laughter).

ROSIN: Rick didn't push. He knew he wasn't going to convert everybody. But he took the men as far as he could.

In fact, some of the men, Ursa's team leaders mostly, he pushed them into doing even deeper work with Claire. At thousands of dollars a head, he had them put through a nine-day LAL personal mastery course, where they had them do things like stand face-to-face and ask each other direct questions.

GATLIN: You know, if you had one thing you'd like me to change, what would that be?

ROSIN: This is Marc Gatlin.

GATLIN: Or do I make you feel appreciated?

ROSIN: What were the kind of answers one heard to - do I make you feel appreciated?

GATLIN: I've heard people say, I don't even think you know who I am.

ROSIN: Mark says he himself heard some pretty tough things.

GATLIN: I had people tell me I don't listen. I had some people tell me you talk too much. I'd say tell me more.

ROSIN: And how did you feel when they - like, what's the...

GATLIN: Sometimes, you feel absolutely like this guys just don't understand me (laughter). So then you stand in front of somebody else. And they tell you the same thing. And you say - well, he don't understand me either. Right? No, you don't understand yourself.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROSIN: I just want us all to pause for a minute and imagine doing what these men were asked to do.

GATLIN: Let's say you had picked eight of your friends and you say, hey, let's get in a room and tell each other what we really think about each other. Would you want to do that?

ROSIN: So let me honestly answer this question. Hell, no.

GATLIN: You don't want to know the truth? You don't want to know what's really going on?

ROSIN: I'm going to let Tommy handle this one.

SHAREEN: No.

ROSIN: And let's be clear. It's not like the LAL process is just a couple of hours of soul-searching and then everyone knocks off for a beer.

GATLIN: You start about 6 and you go till 11.

ROSIN: That's AM to PM.

SPIEGEL: What?

GATLIN: And then you do that for about 9 or 10 days in a row.

ROSIN: Why? Like, what are you doing?

SPIEGEL: What are you doing?

(LAUGHTER)

GATLIN: Well, you listen to Claire. You do exercises. You listen to Claire. You do your noble goals. You listen to Claire. You know, you just - it was a very complex school.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROSIN: Which brings us to the question that really animated our quest in the Deep South.

GATLIN: So what was the deal with foot massage?

ROSIN: What was the deal with foot massage? Why was it that one day in the fall of 1998, a group of men who had spent their entire lives in the old oil fields were encouraged by one of Rick's consultants to pair off, remove their socks, take their neighbor's Middle-earthen (ph) toes into their hands, and gently rub?

GATLIN: You know, I think they were pushing the boundaries of trust in a way. You know, how far do you go to relax with each other? Can you actually relax around another guy? You know, can you relax and be confident?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROSIN: Most of the men managed it. But Marc told us there were moments where all this emotional work, it really pushed people too far.

GATLIN: Now this is absolutely off - no names.

SPIEGEL: No names.

GATLIN: A person completely forgot who he was.

ROSIN: Marc told us that during one LAL session he attended, one of the Ursa managers had a really strange episode.

GATLIN: I guess either through exhaustion, or the constant, you know, diving into emotion kind of thing. He absolutely forgot. He just kind of woke up and said - where am I?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROSIN: The guy literally went blank. He forgot his own name. He turned to the person sitting next to him and asked what city he was in and what he was doing there. So they sent him home to a doctor. Marc told me that this man eventually recovered and became a great leader at Shell. So he wasn't permanently harmed. But still, the story was really weird. And it really stuck with me. Like, on the one hand, I loved hearing these guys open up and talk about how this whole thing changed them. But on the other hand, this story creeped me out - to think about a workplace pushing you so far emotionally that you could completely lose yourself. Is it really OK for a workplace to mess with the emotions of its workers like this? What does doing that get you, anyway?

ROBIN ELY (HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL): These changes that they instituted resulted in an 84 percent decline in the company's accident rate. And in that same period, the company's level of productivity in terms of number of barrels and efficiency and reliability exceeded the industry's previous benchmark.

ROSIN: This is Harvard Business School professor Robin Ely. After Ursa was up and running, Robin and a fellow academic from Stanford named Debra Meyerson heard about Rick's experiment and decided to study it, see if it was going to work. They spent months documenting the rig's culture, watching the men talk, be vulnerable and open with each other.

And what Robin saw was that when the men became more open with each other, it wasn't just feelings that were being passed back and forth, but information, technical information that helps a platform run smoothly and safely. This was the kind of change that explains the 84 percent decline in accidents.

ELY: Part of safety in an environment like that is being able to admit mistakes and being open to learning - to say I need help, I can't lift this thing by myself, I'm not sure how to read this meter. That alone is about being vulnerable.

ROSIN: Robin says there's actually a name for what they created, a learning culture. And she wasn't the only one who noticed it.

HORN: We learned through a lot of the exercises, to, you know, ask for advice.

ROSIN: This is George.

HORN: You know, hey - I'm having - I'm going through some issues here. Have you ever - you got any experience with that? Can you lead me in the right direction? What do I need to do?

ROSIN: The way Robin sees it, in the old way of doing things, men spent a lot of energy trying to preserve this hypermasculine image of themselves. They were supposed to be physically tough, technically infallible, and emotionally detached. And that closedness, it actually got in the way of staying safe in an environment with thousands of moving parts.

FOX: I come from an environment where small things matter and lives are at stake.

ROSIN: This is Rick again. He agrees with Robin.

FOX: Do you think that, in hindsight, BP might have benefited from, you know, having this kind of work with all the people that were eventually involved in Horizon before it happened? I do.

ROSIN: It's easy to visualize the physical structures that make or break the success of a big corporation - the plants, the assembly lines, the drills, the inventory. But just as critical are the invisible emotional structures that run through the organization like wires through a building, powering it. And here's a question - is the moral of this story that in order to succeed in the 21st century, it's better to choose an emotional structure that's girly?

I mean, the norms these men learned - talking about their feelings, crying at work, eagerly admitting mistakes - these are behaviors that people associate with women, right?

We ask the men this, starting with Rick.

SPIEGEL: Did you teach them more female norms of interacting with each other?

FOX: I don't think so. (Laughter) Shocks me to even have that brought up.

ROSIN: None of the men were buying it. So we called up Art Kleiner, an author who's studied corporations for the last 30 years. He says that the female norms thing comes up all the time in his world. But he also said that the men are right. The man/woman thing? It's just not the right way to look at it.

ART KLEINER (AUTHOR): That's a shorthand for the way people regard this change. It's not like the men are becoming more feminine. They're opening up and becoming more themselves.

GUIDRY: He did it.

ROSIN: He did what?

GUIDRY: Build a new kind of person.

ROSIN: This is Floyd Guidry talking about what he thinks Rick accomplished on Ursa.

GUIDRY: Maybe not a new physical man, but a new mental man, how he thinks about things and how he behaves. And so he's - that's what he - maybe not knowing it, but at the end of the day I think that's what he did.

ROSIN: When you think about all the changes that happened to these men, it's amazing. So we asked Rick -

SPIEGEL: Do you think that the culture would have changed if it hadn't been for you? Can one person change a culture?

FOX: Claire did.

SPIEGEL: Claire did?

FOX: Oh yeah, I think she did.

ROSIN: Claire, a tiny old French woman who believed she could move clouds with her mind, which proves that life does not work like a game of pool where one thing pushes another at a predictable angle. The reality is life is an interplay between the visible, the concrete and things that are invisible and intangible and sometimes don't even make sense.

But here's the thing - almost all the men we talked to said that the kind of man Rick turned them into they liked better.

Did you ever question whether the new was better?

GUIDRY: No.

ROSIN: Here's George.

I wonder if there are some things we left behind in the old way.

HORN: I'm glad the old way's gone because it wasn't any fun. It was no fun whatsoever.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROSIN: Rick knows that the way that he and Claire made this change happen probably sounds a little far out, but he wouldn't have done it differently, so profound and long-lasting was the impact Claire had on him and his whole family. Particularly his son Roger, who went on to become a psychiatrist, a person who spends his life dealing with emotions.

FOX: I'm so grateful because my son did not have to wait till he was 40-something years old to have the experience of being able to question his own habits and his own way of thinking about things and re-examine those and see if they're working for him. My son's a beautiful human being. And I can't get enough of being around him.

ROSIN: Like Rick, George Horn sometimes looks at his son in amazement. Four years ago, George's stepmother died, and he and his son were both pallbearers at the funeral. He told us this story at his dining room table with his wife by his side, whispering encouragement in his ear.

HORN: I learned something about my son then that I didn't know before. We were at the - at a little country church out here where we had the funeral. And the speaking part was done. And we all took turns and we put our little flowers on her casket.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: You can do it.

HORN: I can do it.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Be a man.

HORN: No. I'm going to slap you (laughter). Anyway, he just teared up and cried like a baby. And so did I. But (laughter) afterwards, he said - you know, he said, it wouldn't have had to been mamaw (ph) Peggy. You know, that's the part that gets me. He said, it could be a total stranger. I'd still cry for them. I have empathy for those that I don't even know. So where did he learn that, you know, instead of all this tough guy stuff that you're raised with in the South? Did he learn that from me? I don't know. Excuse me.

ROSIN: So here's what you need to produce a drop of oil. A giant metal structure tethered to the bottom of the ocean by 16 tendons, each weighing a ton. A ballast system and something called a Christmas tree - trust me. A heliport for the helicopters to land on. Computers to make constant adjustments so nothing explodes. A fire fighting and emergency rescue system in case something does explode. And male tears.

SPIEGEL: INVISIBILIA will be back in a minute.

Hey, everybody, if you are an INVISIVBILIA hardcore fan and want to hear more about the story that you just heard, you are in luck. If you listen to the NPR One app, you can hear me, Alix Spiegel…

ROSIN: And me, Hanna Rosin.

SPIEGEL: …Talk more about the oil rig story that we just played for you, find out what sparked Hanna's interest in this story in the first place.

ROSIN: Hear about the trip that Alix and I took to Louisiana to talk to the guys on the rig.

SPIEGEL: That's all available exclusively on the NPR One app. If you're already listening on NPR One, just stick around. It'll play right after the episode.

ROSIN: And if you don't have NPR One, you can download it for free in your app store. Once you've got it downloaded, just search for the word INVISIBILIA in the app, and our inside-the-episode extra will be right there.

SPIEGEL: This is INVISIBILIA. I'm Alix Spiegel.

MILLER: And I'm Lulu Miller.

ROSIN: I'm Hanna Rosin.

MILLER: And today we're looking at emotional norms and whether you can take these things which are so entrenched in a culture and change them. And so now Alix is going to bring us the tale of opening the first McDonald's in Russia and the export of the American smile.

SPIEGEL: Smiles are a huge part of American culture. You get them with your morning coffee. You get them with your lunch. You get them from vague acquaintances and total strangers you pass on the street. In America, smiles are like air. They're all around us, which was really quite mystifying to Yuri Chekalin.

YURI CHEKALIN: We were always a little bit afraid of America's smile.

SPIEGEL: Yuri grew up in Moscow during the 1970s and '80s, when the Soviet Union was still a communist country, in many ways cut off from the rest of the world. So Yuri didn't know a ton about America, but he knew that Americans liked to smile.

CHEKALIN: Since we were little - you know, in school we learned that American smile, that's not honest. That's not sincere smile. That's just for show.

SPIEGEL: They would actually talk to you about the American smile and tell you how to interpret it?

CHEKALIN: Absolutely. There were like posters about those evil capitalists wearing top hats and smiling in that evil way. And they would say yeah, Americans smile all the time, but you shouldn't believe it.

SPIEGEL: See, in Russia at the time, smiling had a very different meaning than it did in America. Smiling was seen as a very personal, intimate thing.

CHEKALIN: In Russia - yeah, we don't smile at strangers. And, like, when you see your family or when you see your friends, that is when you smile. You don't really smile to anybody outside of that.

SPIEGEL: Why?

CHEKALIN: It's a long history. I mean, we have, like, a lot of proverbs that say, like (speaking Russian). If you smile without a reason, it's a sign of idiocy.

SPIEGEL: Do you feel like being around a kind of community of people that didn't smile - like, was it a downer?

CHEKALIN: No, 'cause that was pretty normal. I mean, when people smile all the time, it's kind of a bad character trait. Like, not willing to express your true feelings kind of thing. We're actually suspicious about that. Or if a stranger smiles at me, that's when I would feel uncomfortable because - is something wrong with me? Do I know this person? Why is he - she smiling at me?

SPIEGEL: And so until he was 19, Yuri almost never smiled at strangers. And then came this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Today, we are opening the first McDonald's in Moscow.

SPIEGEL: On January 31, 1990, McDonald's opened its first franchise in Moscow, a brightly-lit, fully modern show boat in Pushkin Square. This was a huge deal. Thirty thousand people showed up opening day for a first taste not only of hamburgers, but really of America.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: McDonalds is world-famous.

SPIEGEL: Now at the time, and even until today, McDonald's was a major force in the mass production of cheerfulness. After Disney, probably the major force. Smiles, after all, are one of the main things that McDonald's claims to sell.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: We love to see you smile.

SPIEGEL: So clearly, McDonald's needed its Russian employees to smile, which was a problem in Russia not just because of the thing that Yuri talked about before - Russians don't really like to smile at strangers. There was something else. At that time in Russia, the relationship between customers and service providers like cashiers or waiters was basically the opposite of the relationship set up in America.

CHEKALIN: Waiters were kind of above us. They were not serving us. We were kind of, like, bothering them.

SPIEGEL: In Russia, the role of the customer was to please the waiter, not the other way around. To understand this, you need to remember that in the '60s, '70s and '80s, Russia was a state-run economy plagued by severe shortages. There were shortages of bread, of meat, toilet paper. And so anyone who had access to stuff - to goods or food - had a tremendous amount of power.

So would it make you nervous to go into a restaurant?

CHEKALIN: Yeah, of course. We were nervous because in the Soviet Union, when you walked into a restaurant the first thing they would look at is your clothes. And then they would, you know, judge if they want you in this restaurant or if they'd just rather take break.

SPIEGEL: In fact, it was extremely common to show up at a completely empty restaurant and be told by a lounging waiter with a bored expression that unfortunately, they simply didn't have space.

CHEKALIN: They usually would just chase you away.

SPIEGEL: It would be empty and they would just tell you to leave?

CHEKALIN: Yeah, pretty much. Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SPIEGEL: But say you did magically get into the restaurant? It wasn't like America. No one was killing themselves to provide a prime dining experience.

CHEKALIN: You have to wait for hour and a half, two hours before you get your meal - can't really complain. So it wasn't like, customer always right.

SPIEGEL: Rudeness was the norm, which brings us back to McDonalds. When Yuri first encountered the notice advertising positions at the Pushkin Square McDonalds, he knew it sounded interesting to him. But it's not like he expected to be introduced to a new way of thinking different from anything he'd ever known.

CHEKALIN: But I thought it would be more exciting. Yeah, sure.

SPIEGEL: So Yuri applied. He remembers going to the interview and sitting down across from a smiling American who shook his hand, then quickly got down to business.

CHEKALIN: He asked me, do you think you can be outgoing, and you could say things like, you know, have a nice a day. And I thought, well, you know, why not? Sure.

SPIEGEL: You thought, I could give that a try.

CHEKALIN: (Laughing) pretty much.

SPIEGEL: That whole, be nice to people.

One week later, Yuri reported to work and was immediately put into training. He was given manuals, which explained the concept of McDonalds. And then the lights were turned off, and the Russian newbies sat in the dark to watch training videos from Hamburger University, McDonalds's training headquarters in Illinois.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAINING VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Hi, good to see you. May I help you?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Two big macs and a chocolate shake.

CHEKALIN: It was an American video, and it was just dubbed in Russian. How you're supposed to smile, how you're supposed to greet.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAINING VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Glad you came in, hope to see you again real soon.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You bet.

SPIEGEL: And then the lights came back on, and the trainers got down to work breaking down the elements of American cheerfulness into digestible component parts. For example, when you meet someone, you must make direct eye contact, which seemed deeply strange to Yuri.

CHEKALIN: So in Russia we used to - if somebody looks at us, we just kind of look the other way, unless we about to fight or something like that. So - but in America, he says, you know, when you making eye contact, you smile.

SPIEGEL: They were then taught a series of phrases, phrases that heretofore none of the employees had ever heard uttered by actual Russian service workers.

CHEKALIN: Have a good day, come back soon. How can I help you?

SPIEGEL: Together in the training quarters above the store, they practiced this new language, ran through the words over and over.

CHEKALIN: Would you like anything else?

(SOUNDBITE OFMUSIC)

SPIEGEL: Yuri remembers wondering about all this smiling stuff.

CHEKALIN: I thought - oh, well, it must be tiring to do this all day long.

SPIEGEL: But Yuri says his real concern and actually the concern of several of the Russians being trained, was not the stress that cheerfulness would place on the McDonalds employees.

CHEKALIN: We were thinking about customers as well. And we were thinking, are they going to be happy with such treatment? You know, like, are they going to feel, like, really uncomfortable about it?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SPIEGEL: But once the training was finished and Yuri got a chance to put into practice what he'd learned with customers…

CHEKALIN: Actually, they were really happy!

SPIEGEL: In fact, Yuri noticed that the niceness it seemed to change customer behavior as well.

CHEKALIN: A lot of Russian people walking into that McDonalds they also acted differently. They were friendlier. Even though when you look at pictures from those times you don't see too many smiles on their faces. However, the way they would address me would be a lot friendlier.

SPIEGEL: So do you think that they were coming for the food or do you think they were coming for the different emotional culture?

CHEKALIN: I think emotional culture. People - some people liked food - some people were kinda, like, eh, food is OK. But, you know, it's really a great place to just hang out.

SPIEGEL: In the context of America, McDonalds is often seen as a place of soulless depersonalization - in terms of food, in terms of human interaction. But in Russia in 1990, Yuri says it's meaning was completely different. It was an island of light and humanity.

CHEKALIN: Everywhere else you go it was just gloomy and dark and dirty and there were troubles, stress, and you come to McDonalds and it's - everybody's always happy and you see smiles. You can't make any mistakes and you can stay there as long as you want. Nobody's going to kick you out. And so it was just a great place to hang out. People really felt they could just relax and be themselves.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SPIEGEL: That's right folks - capitalism. It's the best.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

Oh, wait - outsourced child labor, exploitation of the poor, the profligate commercialization of every element of life no matter how inappropriate, Twitter. Well, Twitter. Sorry. Let's continue with the story.

And did working in that emotional culture - did it alienate you from your own culture?

CHEKALIN: Sure. Sure.

SPIEGEL: As the months wore on Yuri began to change. And he felt more and more frustrated by his fellow Russians.

CHEKALIN: I could see that you could be happy without putting that much effort into it. You know,it's really - it doesn't take that much. You just smile. And people actually react to that in a positive way.

SPIEGEL: Yuri became a convert - a believer in the power of this particular American emotional norm to transform and elevate. And Yuri isn't the only one. During my reporting for this story, I stumbled across something called The Smiling Report. It's this survey compiled by an international confederation of mystery shoppers, the people hired by companies to secretly check how products are displayed. And yes, how much employees smile. And if you look at the 2015 Smiling Report, America - originator and international standard bearer of good cheer in a corporate context, comes in at 13. Russia? 15. In other words, in the 25 years since McDonalds opened its doors, customer service in Russia has radically changed. And not just Russia, American service culture has been exported to many different countries, which raises this question, what exactly are we exporting?

ALICIA GRANDEY (PENN STATE UNIVERSITY): You might see those signs on fast food marquees that say, hiring smiling faces, right? So it's explicitly part of the job requirement.

SPIEGEL: This is Alicia Grandey, an organizational psychologist at Penn State University. Grandey studies what's known in her business as emotional labor, the emotions companies demand from employees, and how those emotions affect both customer satisfaction and the health of the worker. And Grandey says if you look at the research on forced cheer you can see some benefits. Smiling is contagious. It does spread, as Yuri said, from employee to customer. But she points out, there isn't any real evidence that these changes in behavior translate into actual gains in the bottom line - more money. On the other hand, she says there is clear evidence that forced smiling has a dark side.

GRANDEY: It's associated with health problems, with mistakes - making performance based errors. The strongest link I would say is between the display requirements and exhaustion - job burnout.

SPIEGEL: The problem, Grandey says is that the emotional norm of cheer is the now the default. And everyone, including customers, just expects it.

GRANDEY: Customers are aware that there's a service with a smile requirement. So it sets up a dynamic where customers are free to act however they want to the employee and the employee has to grin and take it. And so over time, that creates a feeling of dissonance, that feeling where your internal state is different than your external expressions or requirements. And that feeling of like wow this is incongruent with how I really feel inside. Your having to hold that for extended periods of time, that takes a toll on the body.

SPIEGEL: And so people drink or learn to ignore their true feelings.

GRANDEY: They might have to lose touch to their internal signal - how they truly feel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SPIEGEL: Now obviously, there are plenty of people who genuinely enjoy interacting with customers and are not at all oppressed by their work. But talking to Grandey made me think about this trope that we have, the customer is always right. It suddenly struck me as kind of messed up.

GRANDEY: That communication tells the customer you have more power and more capability of getting what you want, and thus you can treat this employee how you want to - so emotional labor jobs tend to predict the experience of more mistreatment from customers. Our guess is that it's due to this - the customer knows they're always right, they can get away with it.

SPIEGEL: There are many wonderful things about American culture, including this part of American culture. But when the smile went sailing across the ocean to take root in places like Pushkin Square, it carried with it some negative aspects that were not so easy to see. Negative aspects that even people like Yuri couldn't appreciate until much, much later.

Two years after Yuri got his job at McDonalds, he and his family

decided to leave Russia and move to America. In March of 1992, they flew to Boston. And at first, Yuri says it really did feel like a dream come true.

CHEKALIN: Everybody smiles. Everybody's happy. That's incredible.

SPIEGEL: But what Yuri began to see was that actually, that thing that he had learned in his Russian school all those years ago, there was an element of truth to that. Smiles here did feel more shallow to him than they were in Russia.

CHEKALIN: I was at the bus stop and a person approached me and we were talking. We were talking about a lot of, like, personal stuff. You know, what school do you go to? What do you do? You know, when did you come to the United States? Blah, blah, blah. And then as soon as that bus showed up he just - totally just left me. He just went and sat somewhere far away from me. And I was like, wait a second, we were just friends. We were - and now we don't know each other? That's really strange. And I still remember that feeling. I was, like, I thought you were my friend. That's really strange.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SPIEGEL: So that's our show for today. You guys, any closing thoughts?

ROSIN: Russian dance party?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: Ha.

SPIEGEL: INVISIBILIA is me, Alix Spiegel.

ROSIN: And me, Hanna Rosin.

MILLER: And me, Lulu Miller.

SPIEGEL: Our senior editor is Anne Gudenkauf. Our executive producer is Jeff Rogers.

MILLER: INVISIBILIA is produced by Yowei Shaw and Abby Wendle, with help from Liana Simonds, Linda Nyakundi, Meaghan Kane, Mickey Capper, Maria Paz Gutierrez, Mathilde Piard, Andy Huether, Brent Baughman and our vice president of programming, Anya Grundmann.

ROSIN: Special thanks to Rachel Brown and Maya Dukmasova.

SPIEGEL: And especially to Jacov Reyjock, this amazing man who helped me find Mcdonald's employees. Thank you.

MILLER: Also, we'd like to take a moment to remember a special fan from season 1, Mac Snyder, who passed away last fall.

ROSIN: To learn more about the invisible things we talked about in this week's episode, follow us on facebook or sign up to receive our newsletter, or visit us at npr.org/INVISIBILIA.

SPIEGEL: Just so you know, the way we're rolling with this three-host thing is that you're going to hear from two of us at a time, which means that you won't hear from Hanna next episode. So to tide you over, for our moment of non-zen we give you Hanna rocking the mic like a radio pro.

ROSIN: Hell, no. Hell, no. Hell, no. No. No. No. Hell, no.

SPIEGEL: Join us next week for more INVISIBILIA.

ROSIN: Hell, yes.

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