My new tattoo

I have just returned from Morocco. Working away from home while immersing myself in a different world reminded me how distance can create perspective and how new environments teach new skills.

Today’s topics:

  • Decision driven analytics
  • Beware of the data
  • AI will interview you now
  • Leadership: Gifts and henna

Decision driven analytics

Luc De Langhe, co-founder of CEL for pharma, recently shared a book recommendation with me: the “Four Pillars of Decision-Driven Analytics.” Link to an overview here. The authors recommend putting the  data in the background and starting instead with  the decisions and decision alternatives that need to be made(Pillar I),  then formulating the questions that need answering(Pillar 2),  then assessing the data generating mechanism and approach (Pillar 3) and finally finding the answers (Pillar 4). This last one, should, if the previous steps were done correctly, be straightforward. The goal is to make informed choices instead of just processing lots of data.
While the book was only published recently, and I have yet to read it, the summary I have read is compelling. I have always advocated starting any problem-solving activity with finding answers to the following questions “What am I trying to achieve? What do I need to do? What do I need to know in order to solve my challenges” instead of with “Let’s analyse all the data we have and hope we find something relevant to follow up on.”
Anyone with a science background will agree with the premise that not all problems can be solved using the available data. Data helps solve some problems, but some problems can only be solved with better theory, better diagnostic capabilities, a different way of thinking. To paraphrase the authors, “Some situations can be solved with better observations, but some can only be solved with better theory, by thinking without data.”

To add to this, you will not always immediately know which problem is which, so it pays to be open-minded. 
In a business climate where the quote “you cannot manage what you cannot measure” is, regrettably,  ubiquitous and where leaders ask their IT teams “Can we use AI to tell us what we should be looking for?” being willing and able to contemplate thinking without data requires courage, an open mind and good connections to senior stakeholders.
If you are curious about the origin of the popular phrase “if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it” and you want to know why I disagree, find my thoughts here in the last paragraph.

Key take-away: When looking for solutions,  begin with the decisions and questions that need addressing, only then identify how best to address them

Beware of the data

Often teams are under pressure to design and implement solutions to frequent business problems quickly. Some examples:  the inefficient use of IT or human resources, substandard customer service, supply chain issues, inefficient trial site recruiting….. etc. These time pressures may mislead teams into undertaking problem-solving activities based on historical data instead of considering the bigger picture such as the current, evolving and future business  environment.

In my experience, when teams start with data, it narrows their gaze, and they risk  solving the wrong problem. Instead, it is worth investing time to understand all aspects of the problem and how the evolution of the business may influence it in the future. I recommend doing this through discussions, exchanging experiences, and ideally using whiteboards and flipcharts to allow for unrestricted thinking.

It helps to avoid charts and graphs in the initial step because they show you what you already know and they are, in some ways, the “children” of the past, which may lead to blinkered thinking.

Key takeaway: In general, whatever the situation it helps to “zoom out” and take a broader view.

AI will interview you now
For most business applications AI is placed firmly in a supporting role. So when I came across an article on AI being used to screen candidates for jobs I was intrigued (Link May 10 2024). Apriora, a US start-up company, is developing AI technology to interview candidates, and to write an assessment and provide this back to the HR department. While AI is frequently used to screen CVs, using it to perform job interviews is new.
The benefits would ideally be that companies can screen more applicants; more candidates are selected for interviews and human, human resource, resources, can be selectively deployed.
While it is interesting, I think before implementing this model, the following question needs asking:  How many candidates do you need to assess to fill a position? Is more always better? Or put another way, does the quality of your candidates increase dramatically if you interview five-thousand individuals, instead of twelve? Might the ability to interview more people mean that employers expand the list of ideal criteria they would like an employee to fulfil increasing the complexity of the hiring process without necessarily improving the outcome?
By implementing this process, the startup founders say companies will screen more broadly and look at a wider talent base. However, as always what comes out at the bottom depends on the model that was used for screening. Ultimately, unless the individuals tasked with identifying the perfect candidates are open-minded and consciously identify attributes that will add value to their organisations, outside the typical “box,” AI will just deliver more of what the organisation had in the past.
Years ago, a senior leader told me “It is getting hard for me to hire a candidate without multiple degrees. If I really like a candidate, whether she has an MBA is not relevant to me, however it is becoming harder to justify picking a candidate, who on paper appears less qualified, if other candidates who have applied have more qualifications.”
In a wonderful book “The Art of Choosing” by Sheena Iyengar the author reports on an experiment regarding how humans deal with choice: customers are given the option to try a selection of jams placed on a table near the entrance of a grocery store. On one day only a limited selection is made available, say five jams, on another a much larger selection, let us say, fifteen jams are placed on the table. The data consistently showed that when faced with less choice customers were more likely to buy one of the jams they had tried upon entering the store. Less complexity led to better outcomes.
Society teaches us to believe more is better, more choices in every area of life including more candidates for open positions, is better.  Current thinking teaches us that AI will make everything more efficient.  However, by introducing more choices, while keeping all other variables the same,  there is the risk that complexity is added without enhancing performance.
It is also important to ask how AI will assess the “chemistry” and potential fit of a candidate, which arguably is one of the best predictors of performance in a later role. 
Key takeaway: More choices lead to more complexity which may lead to more costs unless proactively managed.

Leadership: Gifts and henna
I recently spent time in Morocco. It was a  great reminder that my cultural norms are not universal, that what works here, does not work there, and that being openminded, willing to talk to everyone, and incessantly curious, has upsides and downsides.
The upside is that I have wonderful experiences wherever I go. On the penultimate day of my stay in Morocco the chief of staff of the hotel presented me with a gift, saying “all the staff know you; they talk about Madame Isabelle, we want to give you a gift for you to remember us by” it brought tears to my eyes. On another occasion in Cairo, a girl wearing a hijab invited me to her house for dinner, after which we danced together in the living room.
The downside can be that wherever I am people come to talk to me about Christianity, Islam, the Mormon faith and Scientology, which is often really interesting, however pushy salespeople also love talking to me, tourists ask me for directions and in Morocco snake charmers, monkey grinders and henna artists found me irresistible. I once asked someone why out of all the people walking down the road he had stopped me, his answer “you looked friendly and I didn’t think you would be abrasive.”
While the upsides of being approachable far outweigh the downsides it did mean that I needed to adapt while in Morocco. After a while, and one unwanted henna tattoo,  I was able navigate the city, all engagements, and sales discussions confidently, competently and with pleasure. The process was interesting while also reminding me of who I am and who I choose to be.

When we engage with the same people every day, and do the same thing every day, it is sometimes hard to remember what we struggle with, what we excel at, where we are challenged and that how we are and how we live is a choice.

Context switching can be useful to remind us who we are and help us to discover things about ourselves. This can be at work, at home, on a trip, with a new hobby, or trying out a new sport.
Key takeaway: Try new things often to keep growing. Remind yourself that how you engage the world is often your personal choice, embrace it, accept it, or change it. 

If you haven’t yet seen it,  watch the panel discussion on digital islands below


I hope my posts provide you with useful insights. If  you need support with a project, or are interested in coaching, why not give me a call to see how I can help. Find out what clients say about working with me here link.
My very best wishes

Isabelle C. Widmer MD

Image credit: Isabelle Widmer, Majorelle gardens, Marrakech