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How Data can Enable Effective Leadership with Dr. Constance Dierickx, The Decision Doctor

Richie and Constance delve into what meta-leadership is, the nuances of meta-leadership, the essence of wisdom in decision-making, and much more.
Aug 2023

Photo of Dr. Constance Dierickx
Dr. Constance Dierickx

Constance Dierickx is an internationally recognized expert in high-stakes decision-making who has advised leaders and delivered speeches in more than 20 countries. Founder and president of CD Consulting Group, her clients include Fortune 20 companies, private equity firms, and large not-for-profits around the globe. She is a contributor to Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Chief Executive, and others, and has taught strategic decision-making at Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology in Moscow, Russia.

Photo of Richie Cotton
Richie Cotton

Richie helps individuals and organizations get better at using data and AI. He's been a data scientist since before it was called data science, and has written two books and created many DataCamp courses on the subject. He is a host of the DataFramed podcast, and runs DataCamp's webinar program.

Key Quotes

Talent hits a target no one else can hit. Genius hits a target no one else can see. So if you wanna become peerless as an organization and use your data to help you get there, you got to dream.

We tend to think that our data is the thing itself. Alfred Korzybski said, a map is not the territory. And I think that's a brilliant statement. You can read about Rome, look at pictures of Rome. You can hear about the great pizza they have in Rome, but it's not the same as going to Rome. So the data can tell a data leader, this is, let's say you're reporting up to the CHRO, oh, our employee engagement scores are declining. And then the data leader leaves it at that. Wouldn't it be cool if the data person in the CHRO had a conversation about what other sorts of data might they collect? Because the CHRO, if they're any good, they're going to go out and try to find out more. They're going to collect qualitative data. Wouldn't it be good if actual data experts helped them with that? I think so. And I think it's a fabulously expanded way for people in data to have their perspective and their skills and their knowledge useful. more broadly in organizations. Typically it's this, you know, here's your data, ma'am. And the person says, thank you very much for the data. And then they decide what to do with it. When people who are expert in data collection and management and analysis and insight have a lot to say to people who aren't. That's what I would say. Be brave, share your insights, and don't make the mistake of thinking that the map is the territory.

Key Takeaways


Meta-leadership goes beyond conventional leadership, emphasizing the importance of turning off autopilot and understanding emotions and human behavior, especially in the realm of data-driven decisions.


In data roles, it's not enough to be just analytical. There's a need to synthesize the analytical and creative sides, especially when interpreting data and deriving insights.


Data leaders should remember that data represents a reflection of reality and not the reality itself. It's crucial to differentiate between the map (data) and the territory (actual situation) and to use data as a tool to inform and guide decisions, not as the sole determinant.

Links From The Show


Richie Cotton: Welcome to DataFramed. This is Richie. Something we talk a lot about in this podcast is how organizations can get better at using data. And the consensus from everyone I've interviewed is that it's important that managers and executives must be data literate. And be capable of data driven decision making and need to provide leadership in any data program.

So, today we're going to talk about leadership skills related to data. Our guest is Constance Derricks, also known as the Decision Doctor. Constance has a business providing consultancy and C suite coaching for organizations going through crises and high stakes situations like mergers. So, she spent a lot of time helping executives make tricky decisions.

Constance is also the author of three books, most recently, Meta Leadership. I'm keen to find out how she thinks about making hard decisions and how data fits into this process. Hi, Constance. Thanks for joining us on the show today.

Constance Dierickx: Oh, thank you for having me, Richie. I'm so looking forward to it. You are a person with great questions and a wicked sense of humor. So. I'm looking forward to this.

Richie Cotton: Oh, well, yeah. Flattery everywhere.

Constance Dierickx: I know, start with flattery, right?

Richie Cotton: So your book is all about meta leadership. And I think i'd really like to know what meta leadership is and how it's different from regular leadership.

Constance Dierickx: So meta leadership is a... See more

phrase that I, I thought I coined it, but upon investigation, I realized others have used it, but they've used it in specific ways. So meta means above or beyond. It's from the Greek. And I wanted to express the idea that really great leaders. Are distinct because they are able to turn their autopilot off in a very conscious way when they need to, when you want an autopilot on, it's great, but I had the joy of working with Delta Airlines a few years ago, and I learned that those triple seven pilots, they use the autopilot, but we need their good judgment to know when they have to turn it off.

And take control of the plane for our safety. So meta leaders are able to think consciously when they need to, and use reflexive thinking when the risks are low, they understand the role of emotion, especially their own, and they are. Good students of human behavior and the habits of behavior. So each of these dimensions can operate on two levels and probably others.

you'll tell me the other ones that I haven't thought of. One level is the individual leader or manager. Or just an ordinary human being because we all make important decisions. The other is on a wider, scale. So organizationally, collectively, what are we thinking? What are the ways that we think alike?

What are the ruts that we get into with our thinking? What do we feel collectively? And how do we act? What are our assumptions about the right way to act? Which, a shorthand way to say that is organizational culture. So this is a model. It's not a checklist or a, particularly a how to. It's a way to think differently and incorporate emotion and behavior so you make great decisions.

Richie Cotton: That's brilliant I like the idea that you have to be a little bit mindful about the decisions you're making rather than just doing everything on autopilot. It's very easy to get into that routine of just doing what you've always done

Constance Dierickx: And sometimes it's fine. If you're standing in front of me in line at the ice cream store, please be on autopilot. Make your choice and move on.

Richie Cotton: can you give me an example of how these methods leadership ideas apply to data leadership?

Constance Dierickx: Oh, absolutely. That's one of my favorite questions. So a client will say to me, well, we have our metrics, we have our experience data and our customer insight data. and all of that. And I say to them, who chose the metrics? And there's usually a stunned silence, two or three. And the answer ends up being some version of, well, we got this advice, or this is the way we've done it, or, we've been tracking this for years, and we want the continuity for our data.

these are not bad answers. But then I ask the leader, has anything changed in your business in the last 18 months? They say, oh, yeah, yeah, a bunch of stuff has changed. And I say, well, would it be a good idea to take a step back and think very deliberately about the data that you wish you had? Or the insights you wish you had.

That's an act of meta leadership because you're stepping back. You're not reflexively criticizing what is already being done, but you're saying, could we make it better? The beautiful thing about data is that you can always add or you can take away. The bad thing about data is we tend to reify the number and there's a concept called subrogation, which means that we measure something and then we think that the measurement of the thing is the thing itself.

So meta leadership requires us to always lay back and say, is it the thing itself? Is the employee engagement number really telling us about employee engagement? It's a clue. It's a clue. But it's only a clue. It's not the thing itself.

Richie Cotton: I love the idea of saying, well, sometimes you need to take a step back and when you're trying to update metrics, you don't say, well, this thing you're doing already is wrong. Actually, maybe you need to think about what's changed and how you might do things better. Because sometimes you can't get resistance to even these like little things like, oh, how's this thing calculated?

Constance Dierickx: Exactly right. Exactly right. when you're working with a company or a leader that has a history of success, you can bank on the fact that they're going to defend what they've been doing. And you might hear that. Worn out phrase of, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. And so as an advisor to leaders, I don't like to position myself as a problem solver or a fixer.

I'm an optimizer. and it's a much happier place to be.

Richie Cotton: So, before you mentioned the idea that the things you calculate are not necessarily perfect the representative reality. So there's always some uncertainty involved in, well, how does this metric play out in terms of how you interpret it, how it's going to affect your business. So can you talk me through some of the sort of pitfalls of what these make, what are the common mistakes leaders make when they're faced with uncertainty?

Constance Dierickx: Biggest pitfall of all is not recognizing how much change is happening in the environment. So sometimes we, as humans, we experience, and I'm going right to the emotion section of the book, we experience uncertainty in the external world. Through subtle cues in ourselves, so we feel queasy, our stomach flips over, we get sweaty palms, whatever it happens to be, feelings are, we call feelings emotions, but feelings are really the physiological things that happen to us first, so leaders, great leaders use those As input as clues, it's not information.

It's a clue. So when faced with uncertainty, the thing to do is to lean out, not lean in that phrase lean in has been very worn out is to lean out. And look for novel sources of information, which I call data. I like to think that qualitative data is data. It's not very organized. It's messy. But quantitative data is very neat.

You could put it in spreadsheets and it's super valuable. So looking for novel sources of input. And this is when having a conversation, with people who aren't in your usual suspect group, could be. Extremely helpful because every leader I've worked with that's in a crisis will tell you in hindsight, they saw faint signals early that something was brewing and they dismissed it.

And in fairness to leaders. They get a lot of faint signals, so separating signal from noise is not always super obvious. But having an external touchstone or two is really helpful.

Richie Cotton: you mentioned that this is often like a very emotional reaction. So, you have uncertainty, you don't know how to deal with it. How do you move from feeling emotionally to thinking about this logically?

Constance Dierickx: So this is where Amy Edmondson's concept of psychological safety is very profound, and we know from her research and subsequent research from academics and scholars that psychological safety Psychologically safe organizations are more profitable. They're more innovative. So if you're having those feelings and you're in an unsafe environment, I would say you'd be nuts to tell anybody what you're feeling.

That's just crazy, right? But look for a place that is where you can explore. I'll give you an example. I worked with a CEO years ago who was running a company outside the U. S. They were based in Miami, but all of their operations were outside the United States. So he had very remote, he was very remote, and he had a lot of data.

But he said to me one day, he goes, Something funny is going on in Mexico. I don't know what it is. Now he's telling me with his office door closed. Me, who is not going to tell him he's crazy or I don't know what he's talking about. And I said, What are your indicators that something's? Not right. And he described to me a lot of behavior.

He was very behavioral in his description. The general manager was slow with his reporting. He was cagey with his answers. Those are big clues. That's not a faint signal. That's like a red flag in front of a bull. So. Long story short, he sent me to Mexico. I went to Mexico City three or four times and I came back and said, Indeed, something is wrong and it's wrong in finance.

And he looked at me and he said, Well, you're not an accountant. Like, how would you know that? And I said, By the behavior I'm seeing. So we talked fast forward a few months. The CFO and the controller of this company were in cahoots and it cost them 14 million that they had to write off. So what he did was he shared his concern, his feeling, his discomfort with someone that wasn't going to laugh at him.

And we figured out together what we could do to explore it. And then I came back to him. I will tell you that he didn't want to believe me at first. They had just had an audit that was clean. And I said to him, you know, if your CFO and your controller have some sort of agreement, it's harder to detect.

And so then he took a closer look. That was very, very unfortunate. So find, find a safe place to express your concern and allow someone to help you walk through. Because when we have a feeling, there's always some event or something someone said, there's something that's causing that response. And once you start to sort out the specifics, then your brain gets a bit more engaged.

Your brain is never not engaged, but you want to use the emotion and the brain simultaneously as best you can. It's hard.

Richie Cotton: That's a really interesting story. I find it fascinating that this is a thing that came out about because of people's behavior. And we talk a lot in the podcast about making decisions from data, but perhaps sometimes it shows up in that sort of human aspect first. And so do you have any advice on how you go from these sort of behavioral instincts into making decisions with data?

Is there a way to reconcile the two?

Constance Dierickx: Yes, yes. First of all, it's to not be dismissive of qualitative or behavioral data, but rather use it as a clue. Hold it as a hypothesis. Does this mean anything? What might this mean? I think it might mean this. And then you test it with your data. You say, I saw this. I observed this. What is the data telling me?

are the things I'm observing predictive of behavior that shows up in data? When people borrow money, make payments on a credit card, those are behaviors that show up in data. When we search online and we, we're scrolling and we stop at the ads or whatever. Okay. We all know that's not private.

Somebody is capturing all this metadata. So the best way to describe it, I think, is with an example, So I had a client a few years ago that acquired a company for their technology. It was primarily a technology move and they needed the technology. This company had amazing technology.

They were running their customer platform on mobile devices. This was before that was as common as it is now. And they appointed an executive to. Bring that company into the fold, if you will. And I was his, he called me his flight engineer. Like I was with him, I was looking through the same windshield.

I was seeing what he was saying. And I was in his ear saying a little to the left. And this guy's a great leader. It's a great, really good. This, this acquisition turned out way better than the investment thesis. That's pretty rare, right? So as we got to know the company, they were in the financing business.

I started asking the president, who are your best account reps? And he said, well, these guys won the president's award or whatever. And so he's looking at the data, right. And I said, can I meet with and talk to these high performers? There were five and I met and I talked to them and I asked them, how do you know when a customer is starting to get in financial trouble that could lead them to default?

And they told me they they told me all kinds of behaviors, you know, I go in to talk to the customer We have an appointment, but they're not there. I look around the business and it's unkempt there are fewer employees there the offices. Well, I said unkempt. It's a mess they're not doing the things they're supposed to do quite as well as they did before It's very much like american express if you pay your amex bill In a certain way.

And then one month you pay it one day late, you know, flares go up, right? Because that's behavior. So what I learned was that the best account managers or reps. Were the ones that saw these early signs. Oh, another 1, 1 1 told me was when I park, I park at the very edge of their parking lot so that I can walk through the parking lot because I wanna see if there's garbage.

That's a behavior, right? But it's indicative of an ethos of a culture. You can see the signs of decline. In the best case, one of these account reps warned. The risk manager early that one of their customers was in trouble and indeed they ended up going out of business, but my client or the client of my client rather the acquisition of my client was very prepared for it and they took action sooner than they might have otherwise.

So you gather that data by talking to people. It's not complicated, but it does require really good listening.

Richie Cotton: I love this idea of having just these like subtle behaviors as being really strong signals of indication. And I suppose in some ways, this is how a lot of marketing works. You try and quantify human behavior and get some data out of that.

Constance Dierickx: precisely, precisely, but I'm not good at marketing. So it's hard to talk about that. I appreciate it. But I, I'm not that.

Richie Cotton: All right we'll not talk about marketing then. What I would like to talk about is a related idea of biases because we often think, okay, I'm a rational decision maker, but there are many sort of common biases that these particularly are prone to. Can you talk me through what some of these common thinking biases are?

Constance Dierickx: Yes. But first I want to say that cognitive biases or, our tendency to step into invisible decision traps, as I like to call them, is human. This is not something that dumb people do. And, we're smart and rational, so we're not going to make these mistakes. We all make them. And if the risks are low, You learn and move on if the risks are high, that is when you slow down and ask yourself the most common one that I see someone was interviewing me on a podcast about mergers and acquisitions and they said, Name the top five reasons why they fail.

And I said, There's only one. They said, Why are you going to tell me? Yes, it's overconfidence. You're over confidence in your projection. You're overconfident in your data, you're overconfident that progress in a business will be more or less linear. That might be true. It might not be true. These are the meta cognition questions that, leaders ask overconfidence.

There's an overconfidence self-test in my first book, high Stakes Leadership, What we know is that people are overconfident, humans are overconfident, wildly.

And there doesn't seem to be a whole lot we can do about it other than be forewarned. But knowing about biases is not preventative. Because knowing is in our head, it's knowledge. What drives behavior more is emotion, I know. Data people don't like to hear that. In fact, leaders don't like to hear it. I think another one that, that trips people up is this notion of sunk costs.

Well, we've already invested this much, so we have to keep going. Because, why do people do that? They don't want to be wrong. We don't want to be wrong. I will include myself. I had to go downstairs yesterday. I was in my office where I am right now. And I was thinking about a conversation I'd had with my husband and he said something and I was like, no.

I left my office. I went downstairs and I said, I was wrong. I was wrong about that. You were right. And here's how I learned that you were right. There are very few things more restorative to an important relationship than admitting when we are wrong, but human beings don't like to do that. And I'm not perfect at it.

So this notion of sunk cost gets particularly enlarged in an organization. Let's imagine you've set up a new IT system that's going to improve your data collection, your analyses, and your insights. You know, A business, a half.

Dollars or probably more like a hundred million You do you tell me? But you realize that there's a Very important fundamental flaw in it. It's very hard to pull the plug and you can understand that right? Like it makes sense, but it's powerful and it's emotional. So we have to we have to manage that in ourselves

Richie Cotton: I have to say, certainly admitting you're wrong is one of the, the biggest challenges of working in life in general. But yeah useful advice if you can pull it off. One of the things in your book that I found very interesting was that You talk about all these sort of pairs of opposite dimensions, things that you need to worry about.

One of the ideas was around the difference between strategy and tactics. And I'm wondering do you find data to be more useful for business strategy or business tactics? Is there a preference of one over the other?

Constance Dierickx: Yes, and Yes, and data is Very important to setting a strategic direction for a company or a strategy for a business unit or a team because strategy defines this is where we're headed. This is what we're going to do. This is what we're not going to do. And therefore, our resources are going to go here.

A strategy that does not inform resource allocation is not a strategy. It's a business plan. And a lot of strategies... That have strategy written on them are really operating plans or business plans or financial plans, all of which are useful, but when it comes down to competing priorities. for resources, people, space, money, technology.

The deciding factor needs to be, what is it we're trying to do here? Where are we going? Tactics require data. . So anyone who's ever had an issue like chronic pain, for example, I used to work in a behavioral medicine clinic when I was a resident because my that's my background is actually clinical psychology or everyone thinks I'm an industrial psychologist.

I wear a good disguise, I suppose. So I saw a lot of patients with pain, knee pain, back pain, chronic headaches, et cetera. And we would use biofeedback mechanisms. Well, what is biofeedback? data from your body. It's your hand temperature. It's the tension in your arm. It's Some physiological measure that is then compared to your pain level and people get a visual representation of this biometric and they begin to understand somewhat unconsciously, Oh, when I am like this, that little doughnut is less filled up and my pain is less.

So that is a continuous feed. Of data around a tactic, and there are a lot of examples, I think, in customer experience, for example, in marketing, where you get these very minute and real time pieces of data that companies use to test a tactic, everybody wants to grow revenue, sales and margin, right?

But if you invest in a move to the left, you want to know as fast as you can, and you want to amass. As much data that's relevant to say, we should keep doing that or well, that didn't work, fail fast, cheap and often is the idea and you need to test your tactics and use data.

Richie Cotton: I mean, that sounds pretty cool. Data is actually useful for both the strategy side of things and the tactical side of

Constance Dierickx: it's not binary.

Richie Cotton: Use it everywhere.

Constance Dierickx: which is the whole point of the book is, is that meta leaders need to be synthesizers and say we need to use data strategically when we're choosing strategy in this way. And it's probably a longer process. But we also need to use it to test to see if the tactics we're employing are actually doing what we'd hope.

Richie Cotton: One of the bits in your book I really liked was the idea that you have to synthesize your analytical side and your creative side. I think a lot of data roles, people get labels. Oh, yeah, yeah. You're an analytical person, data analyst, the sort of the clues in the job title, but actually,


Constance Dierickx: That's a big clue.

Richie Cotton: yeah, but actually you do need some level of creativity there as

Constance Dierickx: Yes.

Richie Cotton: So can you tell me where the creativity comes into working with data?

Constance Dierickx: Yes. Well, creativity comes in. Well, let me, let me back up. I want to say something about this first. When leaders refer to people, As you're this kind of a person rather than this is the job you're doing or the task you're doing They're limiting Absolutely. Everybody they're limiting themselves because they'll miss Seeing what else that person can do and most of us are not monolithic Although we have a strong tendency to have identities as well.

I'm an introvert therefore blah blah blah. It's not true. So when leaders limit their own ability to see, they also limit the person themselves from being able to see, Oh, they're really good at this other thing. That's not really analytical. What would you call that? Oh, maybe it's creative or maybe it's, whatever words you want to put on it.

So where creativity comes into play is in the design phase, designing what sort of dataset you want to end up with. requires bigger thinking. Data collection requires a lot of technology. It requires accuracy, requires that the data go through the right funnel and end up in the right place so it can be Utilized, but the creative process and there's a wonderful book that I love Design the Life You Love. Now don't be fooled by the life you love. Think of this as design thinking. The author is Aishae Purcell. She's an internationally known designer. She works with Herman Miller and Toto and big companies.

She just did a whole big confab at Amazon. And she shows all of us the process of setting your. Vision, what do you want? And then before you create your plan about how you're going to get there, you do some other steps that are really pretty fun. And you, she takes you through a process of deconstructing and then reconstructing.

Within that, I discovered, I did the exercises in the book, which I never do. I read them and I go, that's stupid. I'm not doing it. Her book is, is very different, but you have, you have to come to it with an open mind. What she teaches you as a process that you can apply anywhere. You could say, we want, we want to be able to make these decisions in our company.

And immediately we think, what data do we need? It's like, Whoa, wait a second. Back up, spend 30 minutes, 45 minutes doing this process that she recommends and see what you come up with. I would describe it for you, except it'll just take, time, and she describes it better than I do, but I've used it personally, and I've used it in my business, it's terrific.

We find that most people are able to create. When they're given the opportunity or sometimes when the situation requires it, you think about the um, gosh, Apollo. The one that got stranded. Gosh, I grew up, I, thank you. I grew up near the Cape. I'm supposed to know this. I'm supposed to have this in my memory.

That, you know, you got a bunch of engineers and literal rocket scientists, and they put a bunch of stuff on the table and said, this is what they have on board. We have to help them fix this using these materials. And they did it. You wouldn't call those guys creative, but they were.

Richie Cotton: That is such a sort of great real life story, the, Apollo 13

Constance Dierickx: Yes. Thank you for bailing me out.

Richie Cotton: and I do like the idea of the being the, from the book you mentioned, the idea there's a sort of process for creativity in a lot of cases. I'm curious as to if you have any examples of how you go about mixing the analytical side of things and the creative side of things when it comes to making decisions, particularly around data driven decision.

That's a that's a very cool quote from,

Constance Dierickx: Well, I think creativity is the aspect of identifying options. So I'll sometimes ask, a leader, What's your ideal outcome? And when you ask somebody what their ideal outcome is they start to dream in their head or a lot of people do Probably not everyone and they'll say well, we'll dominate the marketplace or whatever That's a creative process.

It's imagining and then Logically in the process you bring in the engineering. So you get the imagineers like at disney you say Well, how can we do that? The problem with putting the how can we do it before the what are we trying to do is that it kills the creativity. And it confines organizations to do things that they already have capacity to do, not to build up their capability to do something that no one has done.

One of my favorite quotes is the Schopenhauer quote. You probably know it. Talent hits a target no one else can hit. Genius hits a target no one else can see. So if you want to become peerless as an organization and use your data to help you get there, you got to dream.

Richie Cotton: Schopenhauer there.

Constance Dierickx: I know, I know he was a big downer, but that was a good one.

Richie Cotton: So I think one of the big problems when you start thinking about, well, okay, I need to make a decision about this data is when the data. It's counter to your intuition about what should happen. So

Constance Dierickx: don't you hate that?

Richie Cotton: Yeah,

Constance Dierickx: We all hate that. Yeah,

Richie Cotton: advice for what to do in this situation?

Constance Dierickx: yes. So if you're alone, if you're by yourself and the data is telling you that you shouldn't do something that you want to do, now's the time to lean back and ask yourself, I need to think about my thinking right now. That's metacognition. Metacognition just means thinking about thinking. How am I thinking about this?

Is it really a life and death matter? Is it really just going to get my goat that I can't do the thing that my intuition wants me to do? And of course this is in high stakes situations. So get back to the ice cream, you're choosing your ice cream flavor. What's the worst will happen. You won't like it and you'll go get a different flavor.

Big deal. It's a 5 decision. And then you can ask yourself, what are the. What is affecting me right now? Who is impacting me? Managers and leaders and indeed all of us have people in our environment that are pulling for one thing or another, or trying to influence us, or they have an agenda. If you have a big team, you got a bunch of agendas operating.

And if all you do is just say, What's affecting me right now, and how am I responding to that? See, I'm trying not to use the word feeling here. How am I responding to that? Just to increase your awareness of the effects. And then finally, what do I normally do? Do I normally go with my gut? I just published an article in Fast Company about when you shouldn't go with your gut.

And you hear leaders say, my gut's really good. That's because they haven't collected the data and done a retrospective on their important decisions, So they think, they're imagining that they're really good at this gut level stuff. So you're testing a there.

So I'll give you an example of the emotion. I used to be a stockbroker, long time ago before I went to grad school. And in fact, being a stock, stockbroker, what was what led me to study psychology. Because I couldn't figure out why all these smart people were making such terrible decisions with their money.

Yeah, I was like, and certainly I would never do that. I learned that it wasn't stupid people, it was humans. I had a woman who was in her mid sixties. She had very little money in retirement, but she did have an account with us. She emptied the account one day. Took a check, took all her money out, and gave it to her son in law to open a retail store.

No risk there. No amount of conversation with her, no amount of data and facts about the historically risky thing she was about to do would convince her. And as you can tell, that's been decades ago. I can't stop thinking about that woman occasionally and what happened to her because your listeners will know that the data tells us A brand new retail store opened by someone with no retail experience is probably going to fail.

Richie Cotton: I'm sure you have a pretty low success rate there. it does seem like we come back to the idea of biases again. So if you don't evaluate how well your sort of previous decisions have performed, you're never going to determine how good your gut actually is. And you're going to be biased into believing that you're, you're better at decision making than you think you are.

Constance Dierickx: but also you will miss learning what you're really good at, so doing a retrospective and just creating some data categories for yourself. And writing this down on a legal pad or wherever you're putting it on your phone, whatever you're going to do, allows you to have a full data set. Might not be complete, that's probably okay.

But you'll see where you, where you tend to make mistakes, but you'll also see where you're really good. And that's the exciting part about collecting your own data on your own behavior. It's like, wow, I was creative back then. I was insightful. I saw something before other people saw it.

Richie Cotton: Having data that shows that I'm amazing, that seems like a win win situation. I like that.

Constance Dierickx: thing, right?

Richie Cotton: I'd like to talk about one more problem related to data driven decision making and this is something that's become especially important with the sort of the rise of A. I. In the last year is when um, A. I. Says this and the decision maker just blindly accepts the result. Can you talk about when you need to be skeptical about results or auto generated decisions?

Constance Dierickx: I think assertions need to be interrogated. So an assertion is just a statement of fact. So, for example, I'll tell you that I was, I play around on chat, GPT. And did you know that I'm a professor at the University of Colorado?

Richie Cotton: Huh.

Constance Dierickx: I'm not, I am not a professor anywhere. I spent one year in academe and then I spun out and went and became a consultant.

But I think assertions need to be validated. Whether it's from an AI generating thing or and sources, fact checking. I had a client Oh gosh, this was a company that built and launched satellites. These were smart people, literal rocket scientists. They hired a guy to be their head of Latin America and did not validate his credentials.

He said he had a master's degree in chemistry. He did not. He said he was fluent in Portuguese. He was not. I mean, it's just, they did, basic, just a basic mistake. And this happens, this happens a lot. So I always ask people how do you know that? An assertion, you'll hear a lot of assertions in speeches, when people stand up and say, well, the lizard brain,

that is a very old theory. It's called the triune theory of brain development. Long been surpassed by better theories, but people heard it back there. They thought it sounded good like oh I know about neuroscience Actually, I can pronounce lizard brain and I say it on stage and then people start wondering oh, do I have this primitive part of my brain?

That's going to take control and make me act crazy. No, you don't.

Richie Cotton: I mean, hopefully, like, your brainstem's still active while you're speaking on stage, but, but yeah, it,

Constance Dierickx: your brain is never not engaged If your brain is not engaged you're dead, But it sometimes gets Our behavior can be more, we can let our emotion be in the driver's seat, particularly if we're mad, if we're super happy, or here's the good one, falling in love. Now you probably want to disengage your rational side slightly, in that scenario.

So, the brain is, it's always with us and our emotions are always with us. We do have really good research. And I'll throw out a name, Lisa Barrett Elman David Eagleman write about this in their books and they give the sources for how we know this. It's a fascinating study.

Richie Cotton: yes absolutely fascinating area, and many, many pop songs and books and movies on that, on the subject of going crazy while falling in love.

Constance Dierickx: Gosh, yes, we never get tired of that theme, right?

Richie Cotton: All right. So, one of the things you talk about in your book is the idea that you need to be courageous at

Constance Dierickx: Yes,

Richie Cotton: Now, so is this um, the same thing as being self confident or is it something else?

Constance Dierickx: It's something else, actually and we know this from research that Jim Dettard has done at the University of Virginia. See, I'm citing my sources. Now, you've cued me to that. That self confidence doesn't mean that you're always self confident, that you don't always say what you think. In fact, if you always say what you think, if you are always contributing, you're probably not sufficiently attending to your environment.

So every good attribute, like self confidence or courage, needs a good brain at work to evaluate the situation that we're in. To be self confident in a scenario where that's not going to get you what you want is not smart. Courage is very similar. So it turns out that people are more courageous in organizations that value diversity of thought, that don't expect people to be courageous When it's a big thing, if they've punished them for being courageous on small matters, if you make it impossible for people to tell you, oh, we have a mistake in our code.

If the manager goes, quack, quack, quack. Don't test. Yeah. Don't bring me problems. Bring me solutions. Right? You've heard that over and over. If people can't bring you what's wrong and get your assistance to make it right, don't expect them to tell you. That the guy sitting in the cubicle next to them is embezzling.

They won't do it, but it's not about so much about the person. It's about the environment that they're in. And people that are really good at this are courageous when it has benefits. But they're also wise enough to know when they're going to get smacked.

Richie Cotton: Okay. So, it sounds like maybe the, office culture is an important thing here. So can you talk about how a leader might go about trying to develop a culture where, you can raise issues about things and how you can get problems addressed?

Constance Dierickx: that's a really important aspect of leadership. And one of the pieces of advice that I give leaders all the time is to learn in public. And by that, I mean, you're out and about, you're standing in, Cube City and people have gathered around and you're just having an informal conversation.

And you think of a question you want to ask, and you ask the question. And then when the person who knows more than you do answers your question, listen, don't talk, nod your head, be engaged. What are you doing? Why am I saying this? You're, you're broadcasting to everyone. The undercurrent, the unspoken is learning is important.

CEO, the SVP, whoever I happen to be. The other way leaders can do it. Is when someone does raise an issue that you listen thoughtfully to what the issue is and you make a determination about what you need to do, but you walk them through your rationale. So you're teaching people, it's okay to bring me an issue that you think is a problem, even if I decide that we don't need to do much about it, or maybe we do need to something.

You make it a conversation, not an interrogation, and not a situation where they bring you something, say, oh, I think this, I think this pencil is, and, and you give them a thumbs up or a thumbs down. The hardest thing to do as a leader when you have a lot to do is to suspend judgment in favor of curiosity, at least briefly.

I'm talking 40 seconds. I'm not talking about, you don't have to listen to somebody for an hour. You really don't. You can listen a little bit, and then if they're trying to boil the ocean, you can direct them without judging them or scolding them.

Richie Cotton: Okay, I do like the idea of being curious at all times, even if it's just for a short moment rather than outright rejecting new ideas.

Constance Dierickx: Right.

Richie Cotton: So one of the sort of important ideas in your book, we've mentioned this before, is the idea of synthesizing ideas from different places. And so can you talk me how you go about getting good at synthesis?

Constance Dierickx: So, one of my favorite ways to get good at synthesis is to put people in novel situations. So, A lot of organizations do team building events or off sites or whatever. When you've got your people in a novel situation, it could even be in the conference room in your own office. You don't have to go to the Four Seasons for Pete's sake.

Although, that's not a bad place to go. You get them to consider a novel problem. You say, we're having a problem here in our office. We spend way too much money on people to come in and tend our plants. We have all these indoor plants. We want a nice environment. We're spending too much money.

We're not even really sure people appreciate plants. What are your thoughts? And people look at you like you have, three heads. And you say, just go with me, just go with me. And you say, okay, how would you investigate this? How would you collect data on this? And they'll tell you, well, I think we should go talk to some people.

Right? You can do that in 20 minutes. So you say, great. You three, you two, whatever. Go talk to people about the plants. And they go out. And they talk to people and they come back and they report out and you say, okay, what do you think we should do? Now you ask them, what does this have to do with our day to day work?

What are the parallels? What are the themes? What are the patterns? You all just did data collection, analysis, synthesis, and we reached a conclusion and we did it in an hour. Wow, that's pretty cool. You guys are pretty creative. we did that.

At a resort in California, I was in a masterclass with my longtime mentor and we brought the general manager in to give us a problem that he was struggling with actually gave us three and we were divided into three groups. I was in the group that got a problem with their valet service. So what did we do?

We went and we talked to the valets. And we found out what the problem, what was causing the problem, and we came back and told the general manager and he said, how did you know that? And we said, oh, we went and talked to the valets. It's not, it's not that hard.

Richie Cotton: It's interesting how much communication is often a solution to almost all your problems. I like that, speaking to the right people.

Constance Dierickx: Right. And then really listening to what they tell you, put your preconceptions to the side, at least temporarily.

Richie Cotton: That's excellent advice. And I think it seems like a lot of your leadership stories about trying to unpick some kind of dilemma. So do you have any advice for how to go about doing this?

Constance Dierickx: So, the first rule of. Well, let me back up and say that the most common reason why I get involved with an organization or a leader or board of directors is that they're stuck. They never say that. That is never the description they give me. They give me. Contextual situation, like, well, we have a new CEO and he or she isn't working out, but they're stuck.

So the first rule is to realize that you're stuck. And the way you do that is you notice that you and your colleagues have been circling the same problem over and over and over, might be dressed up in a different costume. That's the first rule. And then the second is to look for cause. Now people that work in data are really familiar with this idea of root cause analysis.

And that is true even when you're dealing with human beings. You want to find out what is the cause, but again you want to proceed as non judgmentally as you possibly can. Because sometimes what you hear initially is wrong. So sometimes I'm brought in to help a particular executive who's stuck and I hear about them from their boss.

and they say, well, what do we do? And I go, well, I need to meet them. And I go and meet with them. And it's like, Ooh, the person that they described and the person I met, these are, these are not the same people. This is a very, and actually I learned this when I used to be a therapist that in marriage therapy, The first person you speak to describes the other person and then you meet the other person and you go, huh?

And this happens in business people come to you and they go Richie So to get yourself unstuck, you really have to know that you need to dial into a particular problem and get some information About what's going on. Did I answer your question? I forgot your question along the way to my answer.

Sorry about

Richie Cotton: I was generally about uh,

Constance Dierickx: stories.

Richie Cotton: A dilemma. Yeah. So, I like the idea that if you are having the same arguments with your colleagues or the same discussions over and over again, that's a good indication that you're stuck and you might

need to rethink how about how you're going

Constance Dierickx: Yes. Yeah. It's a huge clue not to be ignored. I've never had an executive say to me. I wish I had removed that person later. I wish I'd waited longer. That's a really profound example because firing people is hard. It's something that most people I work with do not like it at all. They feel bad about it, and sometimes that leads them to procrastinate, and they get stuck.

Richie Cotton: And so related to this idea it seems like a lot of the idea about making good decisions as a leader is about making wise choices and In data, we've got this idea of the, it's called the data information, knowledge, wisdom pyramid, where these sort of four levels that build up from just, oh, I've measured something to, I can actually make a wise decision.

Constance Dierickx: Yeah. I love it. It's true. I believe in it. Yeah.

Richie Cotton: go on. So can you talk me through how you think about wisdom and making wise decisions?

Constance Dierickx: Yes. I think wisdom requires perspective. And so, wisdom often comes from having a history and experiences of looking at situations from different angles. This is why Moving up the ladder in an organization is really beneficial. It helps us develop as professional human beings. You're on a team and you're doing all this coding or data analysis and you think, my boss doesn't get it.

Right? They just don't get it. And sometimes you're right. Sometimes they don't get it. But then you become a manager and you're managing other people. You see things from a different perspective. And then you move up a little more and a little more. Now, not all very senior leaders are wise, but the ones we tend to admire and love are wise.

I think an example of this is Frank Blake, who was the CEO of the Home Depot company, which is three miles that way from where I'm sitting. Years ago, when he was CEO, their data systems were hacked and the customer credit card information was compromised. That's a polite way of saying it was stolen.

Right? Now Frank is an attorney by profession and he's very smart. But he did so many things right after this happened. and these are wise things. Number one, he acted quickly. He didn't try to hide it. And he didn't call a crisis communications company, my apologies to all of them and say, I need you to craft me a statement and it comes out and it's like this mealy mouth PR vanilla pudding stuff, right?

No, he said we need to tell people that this happened. So he came out and said we were hacked. It's our mistake none of our customers will be harmed and we're going to fix it. Now the next thing that some leaders might do Let me ask you, Richie, what do you think a lot of CEOs in that situation would do with respect to their head of IT?

Richie Cotton: Well, I think it's probably a reflex action to try and discipline the person yeah, the IT person, because they're in charge of the data security.

Constance Dierickx: Right, so there's judgment, rapid punishment metered out, criticism, that person feels a lack of support. Frank Blake did the opposite. He put more resources into IT. He said, I have confidence in this person and I think that we need to add resources. So they did that. that's a very thoughtful, wise, Decision that is a person who has control of themselves and did not do the autopilot reaction of coming on and going, well, the CISO and the blah, blah, you know, they let us down.

No, he said they're functioning in a context and we are going to take responsibility. He issued a public letter that was printed in the newspaper full page as I recall. And no excuses, none whatsoever. And financial journalists praised him for that and said, thank goodness we didn't get any of that mealy mouthed PR speak.

That takes wisdom, it takes experience, and it takes a lot of self regulation, which I think is part of wisdom, knowing when to do this or when to do nothing or when to do the other thing. And it's imperfect. there's no algorithm for wisdom that I'm aware of.

Richie Cotton: That does sound like a fantastic idea, having an algorithm for wisdom, if only there was

Constance Dierickx: yeah, let's get to work on that.

Richie Cotton: All right, super. So, with that do you have any final advice for data leaders?

Constance Dierickx: I think my advice for data leaders is to Remember what I said earlier about this process that human beings tend to do, which is we tend to think that our data is the thing itself. Alfred Korzybski said, a map is not the territory. And I think that's a brilliant statement. You can read about Rome, look at pictures of Rome, you can hear about the great pizza they have in Rome.

But it's not the same as going to Rome. So the data can tell a data leader, let's say you're reporting up to the CHRO. Oh, our employee engagement scores are declining. And then the data leader leaves it at that. Wouldn't it be cool if the data person and the CHRO had a conversation about what other sorts of data might they collect?

Because the CHRO, if they're any good, They're going to go out and try to find out more. They're going to collect qualitative data. Wouldn't it be good if actual data experts helped them with that? I think so. And I think it's a fabulously expanded way for people in data to have their perspective and their skills and their knowledge useful more broadly in organizations.

Typically, it's this here's your data, ma'am. And the person says, thank you very much for the data. And then they decide what to do with it. When people who are expert in data, collection and management and analysis and insight have a lot to say to people who aren't. That's what I would say. Be brave, share your insights, and don't make the mistake of thinking that the map is the territory.

Richie Cotton: Wonderful advice. All right. So thank you, Constance, for coming on the show.

Constance Dierickx: Thank you, Richie.


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