#210: Starting the Year with Culture with Aaron Dignan

Happy new year! We’re not really resolution-making types, but the incrementing of the annum is a good time to take a breath and think about some ways we might want to approach our work differently. On this episode, we took a pretty big swing at “culture” — sitting down with Aaron Dignan, founder of Murmur, author of Brave New Work (and host of the eponymous podcast) — to discuss some of the ways modern organizations are, well, broken! From there, to the analysts within those organizations, to frameworks and approaches for getting to a better way of working, it was a brain-stretching way to kick off 2023!

Links to Resources Mentioned in the Show

Photo by Kev Bation on Unsplash

Episode Transcript

0:00:06.2 Announcer: Welcome to The Analytics Power Hour, analytics topics covered conversationally and sometimes with explicit language. Here are your hosts, Moe, Michael, and Tim.

0:00:22.6 Michael Helbling: Hey everybody, this is The Analytics Power Hour, episode 210. Culture is often a conundrum. In analytics we talk about something called data culture, but what exactly is meant by that? Most of the definitions I’ve seen over the years have been pretty weak. And frankly, why do we need a data culture? Do we also need a marketing or a finance culture? But as a starting point, we know it’s important, culture is important, and so few companies seem to do it very well. So let’s kick off 2023 by putting culture first on the list. Why not? All right, let me introduce myself. I’m Michael Helbling. I’m the managing partner at Stacked Analytics. I’ve built analytics consulting practices and teams across many organizations. And I also have two amazing co-hosts. Moe Kiss, welcome.

0:01:12.9 Moe Kiss: Hi.

0:01:15.1 MH: You’re the marketing data lead at Canva.

0:01:17.0 MK: Yes.

0:01:19.1 MH: I got it right.

0:01:19.6 MK: Finally.

0:01:22.7 MH: But more than that.

0:01:22.8 Tim Wilson: You got it right.

0:01:22.9 MH: More than that. I know. I put some time and effort into it this time to make sure I got it right. She is also an analytics leader and international speaker. And also, I didn’t realize this about you, Moe, you’re the president of Digital Analytics New South Wales, which is a volunteer organization that runs networking and educational events for analytics professionals. So I thought, wow, what a community-oriented person you are. So awesome. Proud to be your co-host.

0:01:49.7 MK: Yeah. But now it explains why I constantly drop way too many balls.

0:01:54.5 MH: Well, you know who doesn’t drop balls is our other co-host, Tim Wilson, Senior Director of Analytics at Search Discovery. Some call him the quintessential analyst.

0:02:04.6 TW: Only people who are trolling me.

0:02:05.9 MH: He guides and mentors… No, people all over the world. There’s even stickers. Give yourself some credit, Tim. He guides and mentors numerous analysts through educational courses that he’s created, speaks all over the world on numerous analytics topics. And we are a great group. Isn’t it fun though? I went with like a bigger intro for 2023.

0:02:28.9 MK: I did notice that.

0:02:30.3 MH: I won’t do this every time.

0:02:32.6 TW: It’s a little bit of a stem winder there.

0:02:32.7 MH: All right. Well, it is time to kick off 2023 and we’re excited about it. But we also have a pretty amazing guest to get into this topic of culture as well. Aaron Dignan is the founder of Murmur. It’s a platform that helps teams make collaborative decisions without meetings. He’s also the founder of The Ready. It’s a future of work consultancy committed to changing how the world works. He’s also authored the book, Brave New Work, and has a podcast by the same name. He is an angel investor and startup advisor as well. But most importantly, today, he is our guest. Welcome to the show, Aaron.

0:03:06.4 Aaron Dignan: Hey, happy to be here. What a run of intros we’ve had.

[laughter]

0:03:11.7 MH: I mean, this is a pretty august body, if I’m not…

0:03:15.9 AD: Yeah, I feel I’m intimidated.

0:03:17.1 MH: Well, you should not feel intimidated. You’re just fine. But let’s take it down. Yeah, we can just be ourselves now that we’ve gone through the very stiff introduction process. You know, Aaron, maybe just to kick things off, I guess maybe one question I have for you is what got you into the kind of area that you’re into? Like how did you kind of get into this space? Is it sort of a weird one? And you’ve made a career out of it, which is tricky to do, I think.

0:03:44.2 AD: Yeah. Oh, it’s super weird. And making a career out of it is definitely hard. Honestly, it was very much accidental. Like I kind of fell through the curiosity tree and hit every branch on the way down. I started my world of work around brands, actually brands and cults and what makes people have irrational connections to communities. And then from there, I noticed, huh, people are doing a lot of really interesting and somewhat irrational things with technology. So I spent about 10 years studying disruptive technologies and things like 3D printing and AI and robotics and doing some consulting around that. And then as that company that I was running then grew, I started to become very burned out on being the kind of founder and CEO that is a bit of a micromanager and in all the details and trying to be a hero and all that kind of stuff and found myself really disillusioned with, can I really do this for 40 years?

0:04:36.2 AD: Can I be this kind of leader in this kind of system? And so I went on a walkabout and started looking at complex adaptive systems and hanging out with people from the Santa Fe Institute for Complexity and looking at obscure European businesses and schools that no one had ever talked about on a US magazine and how they operate. And suddenly I came back with a bunch of ideas and we started trying new ways of working at that company. And it was really challenging to be honest, lots of ups and downs and false starts. But when we finally found our way, it was remarkably successful. And I’ve spent pretty much the rest of my career trying to share that success and that way of working with everybody else. So The Ready and Murmur are all kind of plugged into trying to help change the way the world works and make it more adaptive and more human and less bureaucratic and ridiculous.

0:05:26.5 MK: So just on that, oh my God, I’ve got like 1000 questions already and we’re only like 10 seconds in.

0:05:30.9 AD: Here we go.

0:05:33.0 MK: Yeah. But you mentioned that you had to try a few things and it was a bit of a bumpy ride. Like is that the experience that everyone goes through when they’re trying to have a change that you just have to accept that like, you know what, you can do all the research in the world, but you’re going to try a bunch of shit and it’s probably not, some of it’s not going to work and it’s going to be a bit of a roller coaster. Like is that just part of it?

0:05:55.5 AD: I think it is. I think you can have a rougher or a smoother version of that though. Like if you decide to teach yourself how to rock climb, you’re going to fall a lot more than if you work with a coach. But you’re falling no matter what. Like the game is building those muscles, getting those reps in. And frankly, the work of changing how we work is a lot of running into egos and identity. And so no matter what we do, no matter how much we want it, no matter how much we are smart going in, we’re going to hit those edges and there’s going to be moments where people are like, I don’t want to play this way or I’m tired of this or I don’t believe this will work or I don’t like this person over there and the way they’re doing things. And when that happens, you kind of have to push through and frankly, across the hundreds of cases that I’ve either studied or been a part of, it’s what happens when things get a little worse before they get better that determines the quality of a leader in a team.

0:06:46.2 MH: So let me, this is kind of my big question from having kind of read kind of Brave New Work and kind of poked around a little bit and just as you were talking about hitting some of the rough patches, it seems like a lot of what you have found and are trying and trying to push organizations to do is like a very, very fundamental rethinking of business and you trace back years and years and years to like efficiency and hierarchy and why all of that stuff just spirals into kind of a hot mess where you’ve got bureaucracy and people are kind of hurting.

0:07:27.9 MH: Now also Brave New Work which you quote, I think you actually have various Aldous Huxley quotes like it’s Brave New World oriented so I’m like, Brave New World is not a real happy book. You’re trying to paint kind of the ugly current world and what is the new world we want to get to I think if I’m understanding correctly but a lot of it has to do with sort of faith in people and that not trying to over engineer processes on top of things and for me kind of tying it back to the data side of things, I feel like I run into a lot of I want the data just to tell me what to do and I don’t know if that’s a fair parallel or not that we keep trying to make things mechanical so that automatons, we can just interchangeable parts people and then process our way around them and we’re not giving enough faith and credit to know we still need creativity. We need to give people the freedom to actually be, problem solve. So I guess that’s my question. Am I capturing at a super simplistic level kind of what you’ve found?

0:08:51.2 AD: Yeah, absolutely. In fact, conveniently I have The Enemy right here.

0:08:57.2 MH: The Enemy? I can’t tell it’s the enemy or the anime.

0:09:00.5 AD: This is the 1911 copy…

0:09:02.9 MH: Oh Taylor.

0:09:05.1 AD: Of The Principles of Scientific Management and that scientific management was pretty big on data and the way they thought about it was there’s one right way to do everything. We will use our stopwatches and our analytical skills to figure out what that one right way is and then we will essentially bribe everyone to comply with slightly higher compensation with our one right way and then all the size nine shoes will fit right and the factory will produce corn flakes effectively and efficiently and everybody’s going to be happy and it did a lot of those things. I mean don’t get me wrong, like those ideas played out in terms of manufacturing culture and what we can do in a factory pretty well in terms of those outcomes. Now I wouldn’t say they went great in terms of the lived experience of the factory workers but my shoes do fit so there was something to that. The problem is that the kinds of problems we were solving then were what I would characterize as complicated problems so as we talk about in the book that’s things like watches and engines that are fundamentally cause and effect based and predictable if you’re an expert and most of the problems we face now are complex problems so they are dispositional, they have an attitude, they’re not fundamentally predictable, there’s no direct cause and effect.

0:10:11.6 AD: The only way to understand them is to look back on them. Classic example everybody knows is the pandemic. When it first started people make predictions about what should and could happen. There was no expert in the world that could tell you exactly what to do and be right. Now we look back we’re like oh I know exactly what I would have done with the mask mandate, I know exactly what I’d done with vaccines, I know exactly what I would have done with the media because now we can look back on it. That’s a complex system. Complex systems require a different tool set and complex problems a different tool set and unfortunately we still just have that old tool set from the factory setting. We still have the tool set for Gantt charts and checklists and fundamentally cause and effect based systems and so there’s a mismatch going on and it creates a lot of frustration honestly. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a meeting with someone who’s like we’re trying to change the culture and we put our new values on coffee mugs and t-shirts and posters all around the world and none of the executives are behaving differently and we don’t understand why and it’s like well you know it’s like shouting at the weather right.

0:11:12.1 AD: Complex systems are like gardens and six-year-olds and weather and traffic and neurons and immune systems. They don’t conform to those plans. They have to be dealt with through test and learn, Probe-Sense-Respond type interactions.

0:11:26.8 MK: Is it that there are more complex problems now in your view or do you think that it’s just the nature of the kind of industries that we work in that we face more complexity?

0:11:38.2 AD: I think it’s a little bit of both. I mean there’s always been complexity in the world. The world is rich with it for sure but I think the stage of development of business of culture of relationships right now is particularly advanced and so like if you just look at what’s going on with politics, with the economy, with inequality, with data, with Web3, with AI, with you know geographic pot like it’s just suddenly you see all these things coming to a collision and I think as systems get more connected and more interdependent they tend to have more complexity. So in a world where I lived in a village and I never met another person who wasn’t from that village sure there was complexity in the village but the possible formulations of things that could go wrong or sideways was much much smaller. But now we have the world where like everybody is intimately connected economically, socially, culturally and so yeah the potential for wild swings in outcomes is way higher I think.

0:12:36.9 TW: I think a greater percentage of the population is also doing more information and knowledge work as opposed to just like manufacturing or manual work.

0:12:46.8 AD: Yeah, because I have a Roomba.

0:12:47.5 TW: Yeah, there you go. And so like you spend time thinking like, okay how do I maximize the performance of someone on a factory line versus how do I maximize the performance of an analyst analyzing data. Like we’ve been asked that question before like all right how many insights will you generate per month? It’s an impossible to answer question.

0:13:08.4 AD: And it’s a dumb question.

0:13:08.9 TW: Well I don’t know.

0:13:10.6 AD: Because…

0:13:11.2 TW: It’s a very dumb but it’s a very tailored question.

0:13:13.6 AD: Of course it is but it’s like are insights all weighted equally? What if I have one amazing insight that is worth $10 billion?

0:13:20.6 TW: I should spend six months on this one insight because it’ll change the direction of this company as opposed to no, Crank, I need one every Tuesday or else you’re not doing a job.

0:13:30.1 AD: That’s like a greeting card company kind of quota.

0:13:32.0 TW: Yeah, yeah exactly.

0:13:33.7 MK: Okay I’m gonna ask the thing that I shouldn’t ask because I do this to everyone, to all the poor guests.

0:13:39.3 AD: Sweet.

0:13:39.8 MK: Okay, so just rewind back to this whole you have a new set of team values, you really want to get the team on board. How do you actually do it? Like I understand that there is like a test and learn like an iterative approach and you need to try different things but like how do you actually really deeply embed values into culture? Oh shit that’s a… I feel like that’s a really shit question like that’s quite hard.

[chuckle]

0:14:11.3 AD: That’s fine I like it. So first of all I think there are two things that we’re talking about in our work. One is a different way of working that specifically is informed by some principles and some practices and the other is a way of thinking about changing a culture or changing an organization and that’s also a different animal altogether. So just because we say hey we want to have a company with high transparency, high information symmetry that’s kind of a principle or an idea but then how do we actually do that is a different question altogether. ‘Cause even if we all agree that we want to do that, that doesn’t mean we necessarily will, right? I think you know my family we all agree that we like to empty the dishwasher and have the clean dishes on the shelf that doesn’t mean it happens every day. So there are, there definitely are disconnects between those two things. When it comes to the principles it’s actually quite simple. We’re advocating for a fairly lean set of ideas they just have so many different impacts on the way we work. So we talk about this in two mindsets in the book that I think sum it up really well.

0:15:09.7 AD: One is people positive and one is complexity conscious. So at the highest level we’re just saying what motivates people, are people worthy of trust and respect right? And what does that look like? How do you perceive people? So what makes them tick? How do they work? And there are schools of thought where it’s like people are untrustworthy and lazy and evil and we just have to keep them in their cage. That’s the mindset that some organizations and some religions hold. And then there’s a mindset of you know people are worthy of trust and respect and they’re motivated by autonomy, mastery and purpose. And that’s the vision we hold. And if that’s true then the way you treat people flows from that. So for example would I have a time clock where people punch in and out of my factory if I believe that people are worthy of trust and respect and reliable and ultimately want to do their best work? Probably not. So that’s one side. The other side is complexity conscious which we just talked about the difference between complicated and complex. And that just means recognizing that there are a lot of things that we’re not going to be able to force.

0:16:07.1 AD: You know you can’t go out to the garden and force great tomatoes to grow. It’s not how it works. And so we don’t use force. We try to create conditions. That means when I’m looking at the conditions of the organization I’m saying are we setting the table correctly? Do we have the right constraints on the system? And we talk a lot in our work at Murmur about the difference between a culture of permission and a culture of freedom or a culture of constraint. In a culture of permission the idea is you can’t do anything until you’re told that you can. So essentially you’re waiting for that bathroom pass like you did in high school and no one will take action until they’re given that permission. In a culture of freedom or a culture of constraint you’re actually allowed to do anything unless we’ve said you can’t. So we’re eliminating possibility space instead of creating it. And that means that what we try to do is we use what we call agreements but they’re basically decisions that are written down to clarify what is out of bounds so that we can leave everything else open. Everything else is possible.

0:17:05.2 AD: And as Tim was saying earlier about like using judgment, using creativity, that’s what we mean. If I say all things are possible is this huge square and now I’m going to carve out some things we’re not going to do, what’s left is everything we can do. And now we can inhabit that space with a shared purpose. So as an example take a garden, community garden. We put some walls up, we have a fence up, so now that’s one constraint. The garden only goes from here to here. And then we put some rules on the door that says you know we show respect in here and we’re only in here from the hours of 9:00 to 6:00 and whatever else. Now those are constraints. So now we know when and how we’re going to be when we’re in that space. But what we’re going to grow, knock yourselves out community, right? Who knows? People will bring different seeds, they’ll grow different things, they’ll collaborate on different areas, they’ll eat different things. That’s all the open space. And so a business is no different, an organization is no different. When we choose a purpose, that’s a constraint. We’re saying we’re going to go over here instead of over there.

0:18:04.2 AD: When we choose a way of making decisions, that’s a constraint. When we choose a hiring process, that’s a constraint. When we create policies about what we’re not allowed to do, that’s a constraint. How much can you spend? All that stuff. In a culture of permission you have to write everything down because nobody’s allowed to do anything unless it’s told. But in a culture of freedom or constraint I only have to write down the things that I think are really unclear or really dangerous. And everything else is going to be happening in that conversation.

0:18:29.8 MK: It’s, that’s a, I’ve never heard that term before. And it’s the really beautiful thing about it is it’s like a middle ground also between a culture of forgiveness, which is basically like there are no rules, but we’ll tell you if you like fuck up. Which like this is like that like sweet spot of we’re giving you lots of autonomy, but these are like the boundaries I guess to make sure that…

0:18:54.0 MK: Yeah, we’re all allowed to…

0:18:55.0 AD: Yeah. If you don’t, if you don’t, if you commit to our agreements and you don’t honor them, after a while we’re going to ask you to go away because the agreements are what make us us. And so if you’re not doing them, then you’re not us. So you got to go. But if you’re trying to honor them and we make mistakes or we fail or we swing and miss, that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. ‘Cause that’s the spirit of what we’re trying to do.

0:19:17.5 TW: And I’ve personally experienced a lot of like trial and error, even in creating those agreements in terms of like what really matters, like you think, oh, it’s sort of like when you buy a house.

0:19:29.8 AD: Yes.

0:19:30.7 TW: Like if you haven’t bought a house before you sit down and you’re like, “Oh, we want a big kitchen and we want this and,” but then you go live in your house and you’re like, “Oh, really wish we would have gotten this in our house… ”

0:19:39.0 AD: “I wish the towel rack was over there and not over there.”

0:19:42.5 TW: Yeah, “Or this closet is actually way too big for this room,” or whatever the, I don’t know. No one’s probably ever said that closet…

0:19:48.6 MH: No one’s ever said that this closet, there’s too much room in this closet.

0:19:51.0 TW: Okay. I’m just trying to pick something, obviously, I’m not that good at this, but, but that’s sort of one of the things… It’s sort of like, does that hurt the culture when you have to kind of go back? Like how do you manage that? Or this is more for me, ’cause I do this all the time where I screw it up and then I have to go back and be like, “Okay, the thing I said before, we have to change course now.”

0:20:11.4 AD: Well, no, that’s a feature, not a bug. I mean, a lot of what we’re talking about when I was telling you Moe about our principles and what it means to try to do this work. One of them is transparency. One of them is this idea of consent or like agreeing to things where we decide they’re safe to try. But, but a big piece of it is about iteration and is about accepting that in complexity, we will never get it right. And so good enough for now, safe enough to try, that root of what consent means. That’s a commitment, not just to the idea that I’m going to let this happen, but also that like, it’s probably going to have to be updated. It’s probably going to need to change. And so what we’re really doing is just taking little steps forward as a system to find out what’s true and then adapting and adapting and adapting. And that’s why we called it Murmur. I mean, it’s based on the idea of the murmuration, right? The birds are all moving as one, but they’re constantly reacting to environment. They’re constantly moving and adjusting. And as one adjusts, they all adjust. And so I think it’s totally fine if something’s not perfect. And in fact, that’s the learning opportunity for the whole organization, when you say, “When I first proposed this, I thought this, and now I realize it’s that. And so I’m updating it and it’s not a big deal… ”

0:21:18.9 MK: But I think that…

0:21:20.1 AD: And then everybody is like, “Yep, saw it, I understand it. Let’s do it.”

0:21:22.0 MK: I think that works if you have the right culture, right? Because…

0:21:26.9 AD: Yeah.

0:21:27.4 TW: Yeah, that’s it.

0:21:32.1 MK: I mean, most people know this about me. I am like a very transparent people manager. That’s just who I am by nature. I’m like a totally open book. And I’m one of those people that’s very comfortable being like, “Hey, we tried this thing and yeah, really didn’t work.” Then in that spin, okay. Like there has sometimes been this culture of like, you made a mistake, therefore you have bad judgment.

0:21:54.0 TW: Oh, there’s people waiting for you to admit that. Yeah. They’re like, “Oh, you have bad judgment. You screwed up. You’re no longer top tier,” or whatever.

0:22:00.8 AD: Absolutely. ‘Cause they’re still labouring under an illusion, which is that your job is perfect execution.

0:22:06.1 MK: Yes.

0:22:07.0 AD: And so the idea is about being right, which is a really tough thing to get hooked on. And then also that what we do is forever. So if I say that the values of the company are X, Y, and Z, then they have to be forever. Right? And it’s like, that’s just not how things are. That’s not how complex systems evolve. And can you imagine like what your kid tells you they want to be when they grow up at six, if you were like, “That’s what you have to be forever, you’re a garbage man now. And that’s what you’ve signed up for,” ’cause they said it at six. No, of course you would never do that to a child, but you’ll do it to a six-year-old org where you’re like, “Well, we said this is what we’re doing. So that’s forever.” Why?

0:22:45.6 MH: So I would love to, this whole complexity, ’cause there’s the complexity within the organization. There’s the complexity with the business. Like if we’re, we’re a CPG company that’s selling toilet paper and that’s a very, very complex like operating environment for the business. I feel like, and I’m kind of on the consulting agency side where trying to figure out like even what a successful campaign looks like and constantly living either in this, let’s measure the execution, how many impressions, how many clicks do we get? Just raw kind of outputs, which is what kind of the media agencies are sort of drawn to. Or then there’s the other extreme like, “No, no, no, what’s the outcome you really want?” “Well, we want to sell more toilet paper.” And it’s like, “Well, that’s great, but you’re, that’s, that’s a very complex system as to what actually determines whether more toilet paper gets sold.” And as an analyst trying to work with the business, like I feel like I’m often saying, “What is your, what’s the idea? What is it you’re trying to do? Let’s get out of the pure execution. Let’s focus on something that you can articulate why you think it’s valuable and why if you do this thing it would be valuable and apply some logic to it. And then I can help you use the data to determine if that idea that you have works.”

0:24:13.8 MH: Like, is that, is that fair in kind of the complex system that you’ve got to kind of carve out some piece of it and say, “I’m never going to understand or be able to measure or optimize the whole system. I have to make… ” I guess, I’m back to feeling like, you do have to draw some boundaries of saying really my universe, I’m going to define as starting here and ending here. And I want to do the best that I can within that without, without damaging, I don’t want to undermine something else. I think you bring up in the book as well, like, like the dangers of measures as people will optimize to a measure and if you’re not… I think the book says you shouldn’t be measuring that way because people will make poor decisions. I feel like you just gotta be really careful with what you’re measuring.

0:25:02.7 AD: Well, specifically we said that, and we, meaning Goodhart’s law says that, “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to become a good measure.” So we love measurement in Brave New Work. We love steering metrics. We love data. We love feedback because all living systems run on information. All living systems run on feedback. So we love that. But when it becomes a target where instead of looking at what were the, with the visits on the website today, we now go to, we need a thousand visits this week, or else we fail. Then we get into danger because then people are like, “How do I drive a thousand visits? I know I’ll buy some really crappy Facebook ads and just send some bad traffic to the site.” Great. Now we got a thousand visits. What difference does it make? So I think that we do run into that trouble.

0:25:45.8 MK: But if you had a good culture, couldn’t you protect against that?

0:25:49.5 AD: Yeah, I think you can protect against it to a degree. Sure. I mean, good actors are going to be good actors, but I think human beings are also human beings. And so if my kid goes to private school and it’s getting towards the end of the quarter and we need to hit a thousand in order to get the bonus, I’m going to find ways to do mental gymnastics to make that bad ad buy make sense. Right? Because at the end of the day, it’s in my best interest. So I think that that, that’s problematic. I think to your point earlier, Tim, like the way we would think about this is, there are different goals for different lengths of time and you do need to be running on a hypothesis so that you have something you’re trying to figure out. So there’s purpose and mission that’s way out there. That’s the hundred-year kind of forever goal. And there’s some kind of quarterly objectives or strategic objectives or OKRs or KPIs or whatever those things are that you kind of have on the dashboard right in front of you. What’s usually missing in organizations is what Greg McKeown calls an essential intent.

0:26:50.0 AD: Essential intent is what needs to happen in the next like two years to materially change our position against that purpose. So if we’re toilet paper and we’re looking at a hundred-year goal and we’re saying, “Well, where do we need to be in two years to be closer to that goal strategically, positionally, operationally?” That might trigger some ideas of things we need to do or try. And then from there we can start to cook up some hypotheses about the market. So like what makes the market grow? What makes our market share grow in that market? Which frankly in TP, I would say like the market’s not going to grow much unless you like sell a lot of burritos. The market’s going to be static. You’re going to take a share of the market. So then you need to have hypothesis about, well, why do people buy different brands? And then you’re going to have to start to act on that using data and using experimentation. So I would say, I might have a hypothesis and an essential intent for the next couple of years about softness, and now I need to go play that out. So that’s generally how we would approach it is getting both the hypothesis and the EI kind of dialed in.

0:27:52.8 MH: And so is that back to sort of the, that does tie back to the culture of saying, I’ve got the two or the five or the 10, these are my ideas, is if I can articulate why I think this thing is moving us in that direction, then I want to try it for the six months and I want to be clear that when I’m trying that thing for six months that I can change the perception of the softness of our toilet paper. I don’t know why I picked toilet paper, we’re going to be running with that poor analogy…

0:28:21.2 TW: It’s fine, I love it. Brought to you by Sherman.

0:28:25.5 MH: Yeah.

0:28:25.8 AD: That’s right.

0:28:26.9 MH: Then, as long as it’s like the sort of permission culture says, yeah, as long as we’re all in alignment that that seems like it’s probably a good idea. Now you get kind of free operating space to go try some things, but you need to be coming out of that having learned something. Was that moving you in that direction or not? Like it’s not just a, “Yeah, go try that, we’ll reset in six months and talk again about what we want to do for the next six months.” Is there a piece of saying that does push back down to the people that they need to not just be doing whatever they want. Do they need to have some sort of, I don’t know if it’s a constraint of you need to be able to point to what you learned, whether you learned something did work or didn’t work. That’s the way, and I’m selfishly thinking about this from an analytics perspective of, I’d be so much easier to operate in that space to say, we’re talking about what are you going to do? We’re going to measure whether it did what you thought it was going to do, but you’re also trying to get smarter along the way and you’re not just like doing stuff and then asking me the analyst, give me some insights out of whatever I did.

0:29:45.7 AD: Right, well, now you’re… Now you’re butting up against probably like six different agreements. So step into my office. The first one is, you’re saying, “I need to go, I have an idea I want to go try.” So my first question is, “What role are you doing that from?” So there are role agreements in our organizations that define the purpose and responsibilities and decision rights and evaluation criteria of roles. I hold four or five roles, so there’s no CEO role. There’s no marketer role. There are smaller roles that make up the mix that we each carry. Some people only have one role, some have six. So when you have a role, I’m like, “All right, well, what decision rights does that role have?” Well if it’s, if you have a marketer role with a decision right to spend $20,000 a month to find out what if, and you want to go spend 10 grand on an idea on Facebook, I don’t even need to hear a proposal and you certainly don’t need permission, ’cause we’ve already clarified that in the agreement. Now let’s say you don’t have the authority. Well, the next question would be, is there an agreement that says you can’t do it anyway? Is there an agreement that says you can’t go do the thing you want to do anyway? If there is, then the next question becomes, how do we make proposals to each other for things we want to do that we don’t have, that we’ve constrained in some way, that we don’t have the authority we need.

0:31:00.9 AD: And so it might be that like we have a proposal in flight that wants to spend a certain amount of money because we have a cap on what we allow people to spend without any advice. Maybe it’s 10 grand a month. You can spend up to 10 grand a month without advice in your roles. We trust you. Above 10 grand, we want you to get advice. And then those people are seeking advice. Or above 20 grand, we want you to actually get consent from these three roles, from these related roles. So if you’re going to push a whole new feature of production idea into the product, you’re going to need consent from the product designer and the product engineer and the product strategist. So I think we’re looking at that surface area and basically asking the question of like, do we have clarity about how to pursue this idea that you have? And if we don’t have clarity about what avenues to use to pursue it, then we need to do some agreements work. And if we do have clarity, then I’m just going to point you to those and be like, “Here’s your, here are your options. Here are your ways of executing this idea. And it’s on you to figure that out.”

0:32:01.0 TW: The management level people right now might be listening and thinking, “Well, then what am I going to be doing?”

0:32:05.8 AD: Well, there are two answers to that. One of them is sleeping. How does that sound?

0:32:12.4 TW: Nice.

0:32:15.3 AD: I try to sleep in. I don’t want to be the one that has to be the linchpin on every good decision. That sounds like hell to me. So I want to be able to set up conditions where I don’t have to be deciding and doing the thumbs up, thumbs down, Emperor in the Coliseum thing all day. So that’s the first thing. And the second thing, the more, more honest answer, less tongue-in-cheek is, whatever you’re amazing at. So what are you actually gifted at? What do you enjoy doing and creating and what roles do you find yourself most alive? Nobody finds themselves most alive in back-to-back meetings all day while we’re all trying to say yes or no to pitches. That is terrible, but you might like to do something more material.

0:32:56.5 TW: I just saw something about that. They measured like people’s brain level, like stress level. And if you do meetings back-to-back, the stress just goes up consistently like throughout.

0:33:06.2 MK: Thanks for really making my morning there, Helbs.

0:33:10.1 TW: The key is to take short breaks.

0:33:12.7 MH: What do they say about podcasts?

0:33:14.8 TW: Off the charts. Off the charts. No, but the key is taking small breaks in between, if possible.

0:33:21.1 AD: The key is not to have those meetings.

0:33:23.6 TW: Well, that’s also true.

0:33:25.2 AD: And the way we can… The way we can avoid them is by, is by having a clear operating system about what are the agreements that, that make things happen. Most meetings, not all, but most meetings are unnecessary because they’re making up for the fact that the OS is bunk. So I ask people, “Why do you go to so many meetings?” “Well, ’cause I gotta be there.” “Why do you gotta be there?” ” ‘Cause we’re going to make some decisions and if I’m not there, well, they’ll screw my department over.” “Why are they making decisions in meetings?” “Because they’re not really sure who can decide without the boss being there. We got to make sure the boss is on board.” “Why is that the case?” And you just start chasing…

0:33:55.3 MH: Can you think of any scenario where an organization of a couple hundred people that actually has seven hours of mandatory training on how to run a meeting is a good thing? I’m just asking for a friend.

0:34:13.4 MK: We’re putting Tim’s thing first to the side.

0:34:17.6 AD: This is going to become a support group pretty soon.

0:34:20.2 MH: No, but I, but, so have you, have you run into, ’cause the other piece that I wonder about this is when, when there is, there are third parties. So organizations that are working with and I’m mostly in kind of the marketing and analytics space and we’ve got agencies and I will run in, like media agencies, and it seems it is super, super common where it, from the outside it looks like everybody kind of is shirking accountability. They’re not wanting to embrace and try something. They’re saying, “Well, we expect the agency to come up with creative new ideas,” and the agency is maybe incentivized to just make as, be, make as much money as they can. And so you look at it and you’re like, ‘Where are the independent thoughts coming from the… ” And I’m coming in with the data and they’re like, “Well, look at the data and find stuff for us.” And I’m like, “Well, but wait a minute, who’s actually trying to have an idea that moves things forward because it seems like there’s… It does feel a little bit like everybody’s like, the ball’s getting thrown up in the air and then everybody’s stepping back, and saying, “Yeah, somebody else’s is catching that.” So I guess the question is where does trying to shift into kind of a brave new work world fit when you have literally separate organizations? Like you can’t spiral out and change all of them, right?

0:35:51.4 MK: You can choose who you work with, though.

0:35:55.8 MH: Yeah.

0:35:55.8 AD: Yeah.

0:35:56.6 AD: Yeah. I mean it’s both, both of those things are true and I fight with both those ideas all the time. I think the first thing to say is that the, the thing you’re describing sounds a little bit like a culture of fear where I’m trying to cover my ass by not being directly responsible for something because what I’ve seen is a pattern of, if somebody does something and then they fail or there’s a mistake or there’s an issue, then they catch the result.

0:36:23.6 MH: I will say, I don’t think they’ve seen that. They just somehow with corporate folklore, they just believe that would happen. And I’m like, “I don’t think that would happen.” But.

0:36:32.5 AD: Yeah. Well, we carry, we carry a lot of work trauma with us that we inherit. So I think it’s interesting like, I do a couple of little bits when I’m on stage and I’ll ask people about different work practices and patterns and ask for shows of hands and, a staggering amount of people have either had direct experience with or heard about the kinds of environments where bosses tell everybody what to do, you always ask for permission, if you make mistakes, you’re busted, so everything has to be done through consensus and politicking and, that’s just the way it is. And I think if you’ve had an experience like that or if you’ve even watched a movie, like any, any 13-year-old child who watched Devil Wears Prada when it came out, got an idea in their head about what work is and how it is. And then they bring that idea with them to work and then they cosplay that. And it’s like, that’s everywhere in culture. It’s everywhere from the moment we go to school, to the moment we get our first job, to the moment we retire. The drumbeat of culture is, who’s in charge, hierarchy, Gantt chart, be sure, cover your ass, consensus, all those sorts of things. And so it’s really hard to disrupt and interrupt that. But the easiest way to do it in my opinion is to take those two organizations that are working together, those two teams and just come together and have a quick agreements making session.

0:37:50.1 AD: Like ask the questions that you’re asking, but ask them out loud and write down the answers and actually get consent so.

0:37:55.0 AD: Like who’s going to come up with ideas, let that hang in the air. All right, well, we think this, we think you should, well we think you should. Well, okay, should we both or should we decide? And then we figure that out and then we say, is that good enough for now, safe enough to try? Okay, John’s going to come up with the ideas. Now who should decide which ideas we pursue and how should we do that? Well, I think we should all come together for that. So should we use consent to do that? Same thing we’re doing now. Yes, okay, that’s the second thing. Third thing, what systems are we getting used to stay in touch and just start chartering the relationship one agreement at a time. These can be micro agreements. They can be three, four sentences. They’re not, this is, we’re not talking about writing the constitution here. Just a few sentences on each thing. And then when we start, we have this corpus of running rules and understanding that’s pretty clear that we wrote down, that we all looked at and said, is this good enough for now, safe enough to try?

0:38:42.9 AD: Yes. And if there was an objection, we integrated a solution until we found a way to make it safe for everyone. Now we press go. And now if we see behavior that doesn’t make sense, we can say, wait a second, are we missing an agreement? Is someone not honoring an agreement? Is there something that we want to change about the agreements that we have? Like we have a conversation that we can go to that’s very active instead of blaming or victimy.

0:39:05.4 AD: Because usually what we’ll do is we’ll go to blame or victim hood and instead it’s like, nah, forget that.

0:39:09.2 MH: Well, who… And who then, who oversees that? Who oversees the periodically? Is it, is it a revisiting thing? Is it collectively like who then, who then takes that kind of charter thing and says now we’re going to run with this and know that it’s going to morph and evolve. Does that, does that fall to one person? Does it fall to, does that fall to somebody designated as a leader? Like how does that, how does that work?

0:39:36.7 AD: The safest way to answer that is just to say that whoever the power holders are in the situation, they have to be bought in.

0:39:42.9 AD: So they may not be the ringleader. They may not be the orchestrator. They may not be the champion of these ideas, but they do have to say, let’s do this activity. Let’s play by these rules and let’s try to, you know, be a culture of agreements together. That has to happen because otherwise they’ll just, you know, undermine whatever we came up with or not show up or alienate it with other behavior. And then it’s like, well, if they didn’t agree, then then that isn’t even real. You know, it’s like all the kids get together and make a plan for Christmas, but the parents don’t agree. It doesn’t really matter. So I think there’s a, there’s a gap there. But the other thing I was going to say when you first asked that is like, whoever cares the most, what I find is that across teams, sometimes it’s the leader or the founder. Sometimes it’s the right hand person. Sometimes it’s just the person on the team that really cares about culture and wants it to be amazing. And they’re willing to be the loudest voice in pursuing this stuff and others come around once they’ve experienced it.

0:40:35.2 MK: One thing that’s been plaguing me a little bit is interpretability of the constraints. And I think of that because like in the world we live in, there’s a lot going on with like compliance and all that sort of stuff. And like the word consent, like people feel very strongly about just the word consent. And so you could get to this stage where you do have agreements, but people interpret them in different ways. And then like, I assume if you want to revisit that and discuss that, like take your $10,000 example, right? If someone operates within that constraint under their interpretation, but maybe someone else doesn’t think that the way that they interpret it, like I can see it going very different ways depending on the culture in terms of like it could be handled as like, all right, let’s just regroup and make sure we all have a shared understanding. But I can also see a like real finger pointy, not fun outcome too.

0:41:31.8 AD: You’ve identified another missing ingredient, Moe. Which is if you don’t have an agreement about what to do and you think someone doesn’t follow agreements, then who knows what happens then, right? Do we point fingers? Do we blame? Do we fire that person after one transgression according to whose opinion? So we actually have to come together and say, all right, what do we want to be the running rules for if somebody senses that we’re out of alignment or that someone isn’t honoring the agreements? And it might be that we give them some feedback. It might be that we convene a retrospective or that we have a conversation. It might be that after three people all agree that that person isn’t playing by the rules, then they’re asked to step away from the team or the project or even the company. But I think we just have to establish whatever that protocol is so that we can then inhabit the system. Because you’re right. It is very much about interpretation. Some systems that we study even have roles whose whole job it is just to be the interpreter. I prefer to just continually tighten the bolts on clarity so that if I notice someone’s not honoring an agreement, my first question to them will be, hey, I’m telling myself a story that you’re not honoring this agreement.

0:42:43.8 AD: Is it perhaps because it’s unclear or there’s something about this that you and I don’t agree on? Or is it that actually you’re avoiding it or you’re not doing it? And then have that conversation. And nine times out of 10, they’ll be like, you know what? I have been whiffing it on that one. I’m really sorry. Here’s what’s going on in my life. Or here’s what’s going on in my head or my job. Or they’ll say, you know what? I think I am honoring that. Let’s talk about what, let’s find that delta between what you see and what I see. When it said every other day, I thought that was like kind of a loose expectation. And you’re reading it as every other day like clockwork. So should we make an edit together to establish which of those things it is? Is it every once in a while or is it every other day like clockwork? And I think the agreement should actually say one of those two things, not just say every other day.

0:43:29.9 MK: What if you don’t agree? What if they’re like, it should be loose and you’re like, no, it has to be every other day. Like what happens?

0:43:36.4 AD: Right. So then, yeah, in those situations where we don’t agree, we might bring the rest of the team together if it’s a team agreement or if it’s just the two of us, we might come together and say, is there a compromise that is safe to try that would give us more information about this scenario over the course of a reasonable amount of time? So I might say, I know you don’t like what I think, but would it be safe to try it for two weeks and see if you do it my way if we both get along better? No, that’s not going to work for me. Okay. Is there something you think we could try for two weeks? What we’re doing now isn’t working for me. And then eventually you may come to a point where like you don’t figure it out or there’s some impasse there that can’t be resolved. And then I would look to the other agreements about like, what if I have trouble working with someone? Do I, can I jump to another team? Can I leave a project? At The Ready, for example, we choose our own project teams in a two way marketplace.

0:44:29.4 AD: So if somebody doesn’t like how someone else rolls, they can literally just pick up their shit and go to another project. So without any approval from anybody except that team. So I think like that’s a scenario. And then maybe it is, maybe there is a scenario where like that, that needs to be arbitrated. And I even have agreements on older organizations that I’ve worked with where there’s more history where like there’s a whole conflict transformation process outlined in an agreement that basically says you start with the kind of conversations I just talked about and then you get mediation and help from a facilitator. And then if that doesn’t work, you bring it to arbitration and a decision is made and one of you doesn’t work here anymore. Like, you know, there’s always a way out, but.

0:45:10.1 AD: But you never need that stuff, to be honest. Like to your point about good actors, nine times out of 10, if you play by these rules for more than six months, people learn how to navigate and they learn how to play the game and the few bad actors that exist do eventually get weeded out. And then you just don’t need that stuff very often.

0:45:26.9 AD: Like in 10 years of doing this, I’ve needed to go to arbitration with groups like three times.

0:45:33.3 MH: Well, and is it if, ’cause the, we are, we are going to solve climate change before every organization shifts to operate this way. I suspect that…

0:45:42.2 AD: I certainly hope so. That’s a good order of operations as far as I’m concerned.

0:45:47.0 MH: Yeah. I mean, they’re priorities, but.

0:45:48.7 TW: I don’t know if we can solve climate change until we shift to working… That’s the problem.

0:45:51.8 AD: Also true. Also scary.

0:45:52.7 MH: In that case might be, yeah. That’s right. But I guess there’s that other giving. It does feel like there’s a self-selection. I mean the, I don’t know where you are on the Jim Collins, the ejected like a virus that like if the culture is operating with much more of the permission and much more of that, more of that onus on the members of the organization to work more collaboratively and organically and self-started, then there are people out there who say, no, I want to come in. I want to be told how to, you know, what the checklist is to do my role. And I don’t necessarily want to grow, right now.

0:46:29.6 MH: We’re mashing those people together with the people who were just wishing they could spread their wings a little bit more. And I would assume that an organization would be somewhat self-correcting. It would be super uncomfortable for somebody to work at if they’re not getting, if they don’t have the tightly defined barriers of what they, they should be doing. And they presumably will start to work their way out rather than need to be pushed out.

0:47:00.9 AD: A few thoughts about that. There’s a lot there, as we start to think about people positivity and our own stories about people. So the first thing is I am aware of the fact that people are different and neurodivergent, but I am not convinced that the way people present themselves after 10 years of work experience and going through our entire public school system is how they actually are. So sometimes people are like, “Hey, I want to be told what to do.” And I’m like, “Do you though, or is that just the scar tissue of a long experience that you’ve had?” So that’s the first thing. There are people absolutely though that naturally fall into different patterns with each other.

0:47:36.9 AD: I love watching groups of kindergarteners solve problems or play games, right? You see that like step up, step back, different people being louder and softer and playing in different ways. That’s wonderful. That’s fine. The biggest misconception about a culture of agreements and working in this way is that people assume then that everybody needs to be completely self directed, a master at what they do, a renegade. And the reality is like, no, the only game we’re playing is the game of you have a right to consent to the agreements that directly affect you and you have the right to propose changes to those things if you choose to. And so I can be in an environment where I literally propose an agreement that says this other more experienced engineer will tell me what I should work on. I’m consenting to that because I’m so new to this that I would really appreciate them to chunk down the work and help me understand how to build a learning ladder of opportunities for myself that will help me grow fastest. That’s my proposal and I consent to that or someone else made that proposal and I’m okay with it.

0:48:43.0 AD: That’s still playing the game I’m talking about, but it’s how we got there and how we have the ability to unwind that that’s different because in a traditional system, that just happens to you regardless of whether you’re an expert or not, regardless of whether you need it or not, and certainly without your consent. And then if you want to change it, there’s no avenue for changing it. But in a system that chooses that, maybe that’s true for six months and then one day you wake up and you’re like, you know what? I think I got it. I feel pretty good. I want to change this agreement that we have. I’m going to propose a change or I want to be, you know, I think I’m operating at a different level and now that makes me no longer beholden to that agreement or whatever. So I think like the idea is to play the game together with a different set of rules, not that the end result needs to look a hundred percent different from a traditional system. There can, you can do whatever you want. You can all agree that we’re going to all do whatever Michael says.

0:49:32.6 TW: Very smart.

0:49:33.5 AD: If we all agree and we all consent, we can play that game for a while and see how it goes. Right. And then at any time I can propose that I don’t want to play that game anymore. So I think that’s the difference. And if we really hold up openness in our minds for that, then things are possible that are not possible in a normal system.

0:49:52.1 MK: So two thoughts. Number one, can you just like lodge yourself in my mind and like hang around for like six to 12 months and help me really finesse this skill? And then after that I’ll like release you back into the wild. But…

0:50:05.4 MH: That’s the value prop of the Brave New Work podcast, Moe.

0:50:08.6 MK: I know, I know. I’ve already started listening.

0:50:11.5 MH: It’s a little voice along the way.

0:50:13.3 AD: Literally in your ear.

0:50:15.5 MH: It’s the water cooler buddies that are like, you’re good. Keep doing it.

0:50:19.2 MK: No. And I intentionally always listen to it out loud when my husband’s around because sometimes I feel like this will like positively affect his management style as well. But I think guys, I think we should try this on the podcast because that like coming up with some of these agreements, because I feel like it would give us like a safe place to try it before we try something at work.

0:50:41.3 MH: Whoa!

0:50:43.0 MH: Well, Moe, we already went through annual planning for 2023. So easy there.

0:50:50.8 TW: Full disclosure Moe, I already use Murmur and Agreements at Stacked Analytics. We’ve been doing this for a little over six months now I think, or close to. Not very well, mind you. So I’m taking a ton of notes on how to like adapt some things.

0:51:05.5 MK: Well, it helps.

0:51:06.8 TW: Because we’ve got improvements to make.

0:51:07.4 MK: I was going to say helps. Like as someone that’s six months in, like what are your reflections? Like what’s worked, what hasn’t worked?

0:51:14.3 TW: Well, it’s not supposed to be talking about products. So I’ve kind of kept quiet, but I have a testimonial on their web.

0:51:21.0 MK: I did see that, but yes.

0:51:22.2 TW: Yeah. I have a testimonial on their website about our experience with it. So yeah, I’m a huge, I’m a big fan of it, honestly. Okay. I want to talk about something that’s a little more in the analytics world, which is sort of like, there are two different things I’ve observed in like, what…

0:51:40.5 TW: Can you, maybe it’s a question like this. Can you have a culture of constraint as a subculture of a culture of permission?

0:51:49.6 MK: Oooh!

0:51:50.6 TW: So the backdrop to that is analytics teams sometimes will build a great culture of constraint of like, really, we’re going to be great analysts. We’re going to provide insights. We’re going to do this amazing work. But the corporate culture around them is nothing like that small teams’ culture that they’ve managed to scrape out. What do you do with that? It’s very difficult because people either are fighting on the frontline of that and they get burned out by it. Right? Like a manager is like blocking all the bullshit. And then the people inside of that culture like are benefiting from it, but they can’t really traverse the organization without kind of getting blasted by the, anyways, I’m just, I’m curious what your thoughts are on sort of that model a little bit, ’cause I see that again and again inside a company.

0:52:40.4 AD: Oh, for sure. So do we. Yeah. A lot of users of, of Murmur in particular are single or double teams inside massive systems. And that’s pretty common. I think two things about that. One is it’s perfectly acceptable for a team to start making agreements in their own domain about what they can control and then living the reality that they then have to interface with a system. And what we usually find is that if they do this part really well, the echo effect in the system is that people can tell there’s something different about them. They reputationally get a boost where it’s like, man, you know who really has their shit together? Team A, like, I don’t know what’s going on over there. I don’t know what’s in the water, but they really keep their commitments and they really ship on time and they seem happy all the time. I don’t know why they’re happy. So I think there’s a piece of that where you can kind of create reputational impact and a bit of an echo effect. The second thing is once you get really good at doing it by yourself, you can start to open up the possibility of making agreements with other teams without even talking about permission and constraint and just saying like, “Hey, I noticed that the way we’re interfacing on this handoff is not going great.”

0:53:41.7 AD: “Do you notice that too?” Yes. “Cool. Could we just make like a really quick written agreement with the two teams and you know, in a 15 minute discussion one day or whatever.” Yes. “Great. Let’s just do that. We have a system we use for that. You can even try it. We have a method we use, just try it.” And then you’re like playing the game of kind of liaising out into the rest of the interface, you know, the rest of the system that you interface with and having greater clarity there. So that’s the second thought. And then I guess the bigger picture is even when we do change work with, with the ready, the consultancy in big, big systems like the Fed or the CDC or Boeing or something, we, we always put a boundary around a group to create a microcosm of the experiment because you can’t do this kind of change to 10,000 people at a time, right? You need it to happen a little bit more organically. So we’ll look for a function or a group or a PNL or a product or something where we can put our arms around 50 to 150 people and we’ll be like, we’re going to just do this here to model what it looks like.

0:54:42.5 AD: And then we’ll, and then we’ll kind of pick up our gear and try to replicate that in other places.

0:54:47.7 TW: And is that group size itself important or is that just the number you picked?

0:54:51.2 AD: Well, I think it’s important that it be big enough that you have multi-team dynamics so that you can learn about agreement making across teams. It’s important that it’s big enough that they’re mostly self-sufficient. So when we talk about, you know, tightly aligned, loosely coupled, we want groups that are like in the same zone of work they’re trying to do and they have all the skills they need to do that work. We don’t want them to be dependent on some other organization that’s way outside the purview of this work. So we try to get our ring around a group that can mostly ship its work with the people inside of the circle.

0:55:26.1 TW: Got it.

0:55:27.1 AD: And then you try to cap it at like kind of 150 Dunbar’s number kind of zone, because if you get much bigger than that, it’s just a lot to, it’s a lot to manage. So I think if you’re doing it by hand, those are the places to do it.

0:55:39.6 AD: If you’re doing it with, you know, digital content and training and things like that, you can reach larger numbers of people, but that’s not as deep of a change as you’ll see when you really start to facilitate this group by group, team by team.

0:55:55.3 TW: Well, and it, you know, like the reasons for asking this is sort of like what we do in analytics is so often a change to an org. And so culture comes with it, right? Because it is like, “Hey, we’re going to change how we operate because this data suggests there’s a reason to do this.” Well, guess how many people are just lining up to do things the way this outside consultant suggests, you know…

0:56:22.1 TW: Some are, but not all.

0:56:23.7 AD: Well, some is enough. I mean, we, we talk about doing this work through invitation and I love an invitation-based approach, which is like, I’m going to come in, I’m going to spend some time with you. We’re going to have an experience. And then at the end I’m going to say, Hey, who wants to do more of this stuff? And if 10% of the hands go up, great. 10% is enough, you know, because this stuff is catching good, good changes…

0:56:48.0 AD: Like milk and coffee is what Neal’s Flagging says. And I think that’s smart. If it’s done well, it should spread naturally. You shouldn’t have to force it. Nobody forced everybody to get an iPhone. It’s just better. ‘Cause everybody wanted one.

0:57:01.3 MH: I don’t know if it’s better.

0:57:03.3 AD: It’s better than a StarTAC! It’s worse for your psychology and your mental health, but in terms of an entertainment device, it’s certainly better.

0:57:11.2 MH: No. I use an Android phone.

0:57:13.1 AD: Oh. All right. Bring it.

0:57:14.0 MK: So Aaron, in your book, you talk about culture being your shadow and the idea that you can’t really change it directly. What exactly do you mean by that? Like, ’cause I feel that when I read it, but at the same time, you can like, I feel like we constantly at work are like, oh, I want to change the culture. Like, how do I do that? Which is running directly at it, which is literally what you say not to do.

0:57:39.5 AD: Yeah. Well, I mean the shadow thing is another Neal’s Flagging quote. It’s really good. I really like it. And I think it brings to life the idea that, you know, culture is like saying, is like saying, change your personality, right? Change your personality this week, Michael, he’s going to be like, okay, but I’m not sure I can really do that ’cause it’s who I am and it’s like so deep in the wiring. So the same thing is true of a culture. It’s the expression of a bunch of assumptions and agreements and constraints and norms and practices that have manifested into this expression. And so trying to change it directly is, dumb. Like it just won’t work. And the stat that you were kind of referencing from the book is that if you do a change initiative, you have roughly the same odds as blackjack of having the front liners in an organization say, yeah, I felt the change. Like it actually reached it. It reached me in a material way. So blackjack odds on the first hand are not, those are not great odds.

0:58:37.2 AD: So what we do instead is we actually work the system and we think about the agreements themselves as the material of that system.

0:58:44.0 AD: So instead of saying, I want to make this a place where we’re more trustworthy or more trusting, which is a fool’s errand because that’ll never happen. I’m going to look at the system and say, what agreements, expectations, norms, patterns, what is out there that is structurally already in place that is leading to a culture of no trust. And I’m going to work on those things. And so if I realized like, oh, the way we meet is undermining trust the way that we, for example, I’ve been in several executive team meetings recently where everybody’s off camera ’cause we’re all just exhausted of it. But statistically, if you go look at the evidence, we’re less trustworthy off camera. So if we agree to be off camera all the time, not just when we’re feeling like we’re having a rough day, but just all the time, we’re going to trust each other less. And so that is a systemic reality. Now I can change that by going and creating an agreement that, you know, we occasionally go off camera, but for these two meetings, because they’re so important, we’re always on camera. Now I’ve done something to the system and I will change the culture obliquely through that action and through a thousand actions like that, I will change it in a huge way.

0:59:51.2 MK: Ooh, sorry. I’m like, I feel it’s just a really shit time ’cause I’m about to be out of work for several months. And I’m like, you want to have this like the day that you’re starting back at work after parental leave, not just when you’re about to go on it.

1:00:08.3 MH: Right. Right. Right. This is the pep talk for day one.

1:00:11.4 MK: Yeah, because…

1:00:12.4 TW: That’s right.

1:00:12.5 TW: Well, now there’s a bunch of podcasts and books you can read Moe while you’re not doing anything for the next few months.

1:00:17.4 MK: Well, there is quite a backlog of episodes for me to listen to. That is definitely true at the wee hours of the morning.

1:00:24.1 MH: Well, unfortunately for this episode, we do have to start to wrap up. We are…

1:00:28.5 AD: We got to shut it down.

1:00:30.2 MH: Yeah. Well, it’s good enough for now as I like to say. We’re incorporating it. All right. Let’s get to this. And Aaron, thank you so much for coming on the show. This has been outstanding. I couldn’t have picked a better way to kick off 2023 than to have this conversation. And I think analysts and analytics people everywhere deal with this and don’t always know what to call it. And so just getting a chance to talk about some of these things I think is both cathartic as well as really informative. So thank you for that. And you listening, you may have some thoughts and we’d love to hear from you. We’d love to hear your thoughts. You can reach out to us on the Measure Slack group or on Twitter or on LinkedIn and talk to us a little bit about some of the things you’ve seen or things you’ve heard. I think no show would be complete if we didn’t go around and do last calls. So let’s do those first ’cause I missed that.

1:01:28.0 TW: I thought, oh, we’re changing something else up.

1:01:31.8 MH: And… Yeah. Well, 2023, it’s safe enough to try. That’s right. Nope. I was just going to skip right over.

1:01:38.2 TW: We don’t have an agreement on that, Michael.

1:01:39.8 MH: Yeah. We do have an agreement. I would like to go around and do a last call, which I totally forgot about for a minute. Thank you, Tim. So let’s do that now and then you can reach out to us. All right, Aaron, you’re our guest. Do you have a last call you’d like to share?

1:01:53.3 AD: Well, I think I guess two things if you’re interested in this. One is that my co-host Rodney and I are working on a book about this stuff. So if you want to be an early reader, shoot us a line, podcast at TheReady.com.

1:02:03.9 TW: The answer is yes. Hands up. Yeah.

1:02:08.0 AD: And if you’re interested in trying this stuff out, I do recommend playing with Murmur ’cause we’ve got a team over there that’s pretty hands-on with users. So if you want to mess around and get some help, get some live coaching, all that kind of stuff, we do have a fair bit of that. So that could be a fun place to play as well.

1:02:23.8 MH: Nice. Awesome. All right. Moe, what about you? What’s your last call?

1:02:28.1 MK: I’m going really rogue today and it’s clearly because I’m winding down at work. Well, no, it’s not actually…

1:02:35.8 MH: But again do you have permission to do that?

1:02:38.4 MK: It’s not because I’m winding down at work. It’s because actually I want to share something that’s having a really meaningful impact on me at the moment. So I was going to talk about an Avinash blog that had me feeling a little bit perplexed, but instead I’m actually going to talk about a beautiful writer from New Zealand. She writes a lot of poetry. She actually wrote some children’s books too about the experiences of early motherhood. And she just… I actually messaged her the other day and she wrote back. So she’s like a nice person too, which is also lovely. But her name is Jessica Urlichs. We all know that I’m bad at pronouncing names correctly, but she is just such a beautiful writer and she is so good at capturing the sentiment of especially those first few months of motherhood, which I’m about to experience. So I highly recommend it, whether you’re a father or a mother or you want to recommend it to someone you know, it’s almost like having a personal little counselor just holding your hand if you’re up in the middle of the night.

1:03:41.5 MK: And yeah, so that’s my very random last call.

1:03:46.4 MH: I love it. Thank you. All right, Tim, what about you? What’s your last call?

1:03:52.6 TW: I’m going to do one that’s a little off base and one that’s a little more focused. They’re both podcast recommendations. I was a little late to the Rachel Maddow’s Ultra podcast, but nothing to do with analytics. Eight episodes, absolutely fascinating history. So I’ll just throw that plug in. One that’s a lot closer to kind of the analytics world, the What’s Your Problem podcast with Jacob Goldstein, specifically the Kathy Edwards episode, the Google’s journey to the edge of search, very much from an engineer perspective. Pretty interesting kind of from a natural language processing and kind of Google’s evolution over the years of trying to figure out searches. And she’s just got some pretty clear and simple, not deep in the weeds sort of some of the challenges and struggles they’ve had to grapple with as Google has become ubiquitous. So it was kind of a fun, fun to listen to have somebody at Google kind of talk about what really from a, I mean, it’s SEO, but it’s from the actual search engines perspective.

1:04:58.2 TW: And it’s not a deep in the weeds of optimizing your website at all. It’s more from the engineering challenge of building and managing that system.

1:05:07.8 MK: I’m so excited. I’m already sending it to my team because I’m like, we’ve got a bunch of people working in this space at the moment and they’re going to like eat this up. And if you’re recommending it, I feel like it’s going to be good.

1:05:17.9 TW: And I didn’t even have to say she was Australian. So…

1:05:22.2 MK: Ooh, even better.

1:05:22.6 MH: What about you, Michael?

1:05:23.0 TW: Awesome.

1:05:26.2 MH: Well, in doing some research actually for my end of year and also for this show, I ran across an article in Harvard Business Review, which is not somewhere I read that often, but it’s by Amy Edmondson called Strategies from Learning from Failure. And I just was actually like a couple of big takeaways from that that were really helpful ’cause you don’t always think about like, oh, failure is bad. And in analytics, we have things that like fail and we take risks and those kinds of things. And part of culture is how you deal with failure in a lot of senses. And so this article was really helpful. It actually walked through a number of different categories, ways you can categorize a failing or a thing. And there’s bad failures and there’s actually good failures. And I think that’s something that a lot of organizations struggle with. So that was, I liked that article. So anyway, so we’ll put that out in the show notes. You can read it if you’d like to.

1:06:18.4 MH: Okay. We’ve already done the whole thing where we asked you what you thought, ’cause I’m just like my head is somewhere else right now ’cause I’m thinking about culture and like all these things we’ve been talking about. However, one thing I could never forget is how awesome our producer is, which is Josh Crowhurst. Thank you, Josh, for everything you do. And get out there in 2023 and start putting culture first in your analytics work, make agreements with each other and start getting out there and getting to a culture of constraint, not permission. That’s tricky. The wording on that is tricky, Erin. I’m just going to tell you…

1:06:52.1 MK: But I like culture of freedom better. I feel like that…

1:06:55.1 AD: Yeah, we’re doing that in the book. We’re going with culture of freedom for those that are not complexity…

1:06:58.0 MH: Yeah, culture of freedom. I like it.

1:07:00.0 AD: Which is everybody else.

1:07:03.3 MH: Good, good. Yeah.

1:07:05.0 AD: So…

1:07:05.4 MH: Yeah. ‘Cause I like… It’s sort of like the independent and dependent variable thing.

1:07:09.6 AD: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

1:07:10.2 MH: People get those confused really easily. So I feel like this is going to be the same. I’ll get them confused every time. But that’s good. If it’s going to be culture of freedom in the book, that’ll help us all out. Thank you for that.

1:07:17.2 AD: Anytime.

1:07:18.7 MH: And I know I speak for both of my co-hosts when I say no matter if you’re in a culture of permission or a culture of constraint, remember, keep analyzing.

1:07:30.7 Announcer: Thanks for listening. Let’s keep the conversation going with your comments, suggestions, and questions on Twitter at @analyticshour, on the web at analyticshour.io, our LinkedIn group and the Measure Chat Slack group. Music for the podcast by Josh Grohurst.

1:07:48.9 Charles Barkley: So smart guys wanted to fit in. So they made up a term called analytics. Analytics don’t work.

1:07:56.5 Kamala Harris: I love Venn diagrams. It’s just something about those three circles and the analysis about where there is the intersection, right?

1:08:04.1 MH: People have an explicit rating on this podcast. So you’re allowed to swear.

1:08:08.2 MK: Me too.

1:08:09.6 MH: Should you want to?

1:08:10.9 AD: Yeah, I noticed that on yours as well. I was like, nice.

1:08:13.8 MK: I did too. And I was like, this is going to go very well.

1:08:22.2 TW: Wait, what? What did I miss?

1:08:22.4 MK: There’s a bit of swearing.

1:08:23.3 MH: Brave New Work podcast also has an explicit. Yeah.

1:08:25.3 AD: Oh. It’s good. We couldn’t really stop Rodney from swearing. So that’s just kinda…

1:08:33.6 MH: That’s funny. I think that’s where ours came from was the original.

1:08:36.9 MH: Yeah, ours where the original episode was like, yeah, we slipped up a few times. And we were like, well, I guess…

[overlapping conversation]

1:08:41.4 MH: And then we’re like, wow, that looks pretty bad ass. We got to keep that.

1:08:49.1 TW: That’s right. Oh, funny.

1:08:53.9 MH: All right. So I’ll give us a five count and I think we’re ready to get started.

1:08:58.8 TW: Okay then. Right into it.

1:09:01.5 MH: Super organized. Well, it’s the first podcast of 2023.

1:09:06.4 MH: Well, ’cause you do the three count is for in the middle. The five count is really quick. I don’t know why I do it that way. I think probably in high school when I was in the AVT, somebody did a five count and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.

[overlapping conversation]

1:09:22.5 MH: This is a professional organization.

1:09:25.9 TW: Yeah. Yeah. This is the first time. Yeah. Somebody understands the value I bring.

1:09:30.9 MK: I tagged you to ask something specifically because I’m dying to know, but I always feel bad if I ask a question that someone else has prepped. Although I do it to Tim fairly often.

1:09:44.2 MK: No, that’s fine.

1:09:44.5 MH: Go, but we do have to wrap up after this. Moe’s always…

1:09:49.4 AD: It’s the power hour, isn’t it? It’s not the power 90 minutes.

1:09:53.5 MH: Yeah. It’s the, well, loosely sometimes we do the Canadian exchange rate. All right.

1:10:00.7 AD: That’s a good one.

1:10:02.8 MH: Rock flag and people positivity.

One Response

  1. Tom says:

    By far, this is the best episode of the year:) All seriousness, Great Episode!

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