#226: Training Analysts to be Curious and Use Business Context with MaryBeth Maskovas

We were curious about… curiosity. We know it’s a critical trait for analysts, but is it an innate characteristic, a teachable skill, or some combination of both? We were curious. How can the breadth and depth of a candidate’s curiosity be assessed as part of the interview process? We were curious. Who could we kick these questions (and others) around with? We were NOT curious about that! MaryBeth Maskovas, founder and Principal Consultant at Insight Lime Analytics, joined Michael, Julie, and Tim to explore the topic.

Links to Resources, Rock Operas, and Recipes Mentioned in the Show

Photo by Jamie Haughton on Unsplash

Episode Transcript

0:00:05.8 Announcer: Welcome to the Analytics Power Hour. Analytics topics covered conversationally and sometimes with explicit language.

0:00:12.9 Michael Helbling: Hey everybody, welcome to the Analytics Power Hour. This is episode 226, psychologist Daniel Burline. I think I don’t know if that’s the right pronunciation, but that’s what I’m gonna use. He’s known for developing a term called epistemic curiosity. It’s what he described as a drive aim. Not only at obtaining access to information bearing stimulation, capable of dispelling uncertainties of the moment, but also at acquiring knowledge. It is a predominantly human characteristic. And in the world of analytics, it’s kind of an extremely valuable aspect of what makes an analyst truly exceptional. And if it is so valuable, well how do we maximize its growth in ourselves and in the analytics teams we might be leading? Alright, let me introduce my co-host, Julie Hoyer. Thanks. Hello, how are you?

0:01:06.7 Julie Hoyer: Hello. Hello. I am good. Excited to be here.

0:01:09.7 MH: Are you curious about this topic?

0:01:12.8 JH: So curious. I can’t wait.

0:01:15.7 MH: I love it. And Tim Wilson, my other co-host. I know you’re curious. How you doing?

0:01:18.6 Tim Wilson: How you going? I’m curious about your greeting. Yeah.

0:01:21.1 MH: Thanks for that homage. And I’m Michael Helbling. We wanted to bring in a guest to join our discussion because we like it a lot. MaryBeth Maskovas is the founder of Insight Lime Analytics. She’s also held marketing analytics roles at Kayak, eCapacity and Amadeus Consulting. She’s also an author, has a book about the end of the world called The World Silently Spinning. But today, she is our guest. Welcome to the show, Marybeth.

0:01:52.2 MaryBeth Maskovas: Thank you so much. I’m really excited to be here.

0:01:52.8 MH: I am excited to have you as well. And I’m super excited about this topic ’cause it’s one very close to all of our hearts because probably all of us came up as analysts and this aspect of both our intelligence and personalities was probably at the forefront of what made us really great at our jobs. But I think today, even just talking about that aspect, how do we build that in others as well as develop it in ourselves? When did you first, maybe a good way to kick this off MaryBeth is when did you first notice this was something that was really an element of making an analyst successful?

0:02:25.3 MM: I mean, I think the moment that I started to train others was really when I, that started to click for me, which was, you know what? The company that Kayak bought called Momondo. And I first started to even have like an intern underneath me. I realized that it was way harder than I thought to teach somebody else for one. And that curiosity was this like key component to doing some of the types of analysis that I was doing that I realized that was sometimes different than some of the prescriptive stuff that was going around. I was really tied into the business itself. And it was something that wasn’t just something that you could explain to someone in a few minutes and just have them get it. It was a really ongoing process. So I think it was pretty early on when I started to have other people around me that I realized quickly that this was like a whole thing that was kind of tangible and kind of intangible at the same time of like, oh man, like it’s way more complicated to be a curious analyst and find the right things than you’d think.

0:03:27.4 MH: Is it… I mean, where did you land on? Is it teachable? Like I feel like that’s the big, big open question of how much of it, how much do you have to have some innate curiosity? ‘Cause I definitely feel like I’ve worked with people who just don’t, and I just want to punch a wall because I cannot, we’re not speaking the same language when I’m trying to help them figure out that that’s what they should be doing.

0:03:52.7 MM: When the topic came up and that kind of question came around, I chewed on it for like the last few days. And what I came up with is that willingness is even more important than curiosity. But there has to be some element of curiosity ’cause there could be someone who isn’t necessarily like super innately curious, has some little spark, but is super willing to go there and try something new. And they could still be a good analyst, but if they’re not willing, it’s just not gonna work. And I think any sort of science data et cetera field, there has to be some aspect of curiosity, but like, it can be something that someone flexes up. So that’s really where I landed.

0:04:39.1 JH: Yeah. That curiosity spark that you talked about too, I feel it closely ties to somebody’s willingness to like step up and take on more or own something too. Because if you have someone that is not naturally curious and not even willing to your point to do like the hard work or dig through things or go try stuff on their own, you end up with someone that has to be kind of like given a very clear task and it starts to weigh down on the team. And so I loved when you brought up the curious and like the business context and the willingness. And like it’s words I haven’t necessarily used to describe when you recognize that spark in a young analyst and you’re like, oh, they’re gonna get it. They’re gonna dig in and they’re gonna go places.

0:05:18.8 TW: So one kind of, let’s take the curious curiosity and willingness and maybe kind of like adding to that a little bit. Like I feel like what can happen is that if an analyst is coming in and they’re learning this is the job, the business asks the question and you answer it, it’s so easy to like stop and on kind of two fronts. They ask how much traffic came to the site and I can answer that and I need to be thinking, what is it they really, I need to be curious about what the underlying question they have is. But it, there’s another piece of, I want to be sort of curious of saying, well, I can answer that question, but let me look at like where the traffic came from and maybe also what the traffic did. Because if I just give them that one answer, I may be missing something bigger.

0:06:17.5 TW: Like in both of those are, it is, it’s kind of like, it’s more work. Like you could say I’ve answered the question, I can now move on to the next task. And you really, it does seem like you have to have some internal drive that says, but I’m not gonna be satisfied if I just answer that. I can check off the satisfaction of a task completed, but I’m not actually checking off this. Like, I wonder why they wanted to know that and I wonder what else was going on. And I wonder if I could surprise them and me with something else that’s useful. Does that resonate?

0:06:47.1 MM: Oh yeah. And I think that some analysts just fall into that pattern and end up being like order takers. It’s really not as fulfilling as a role as I would think or as useful. So that really resonates. I think there needs to be that internal drive. I think this other part of it is also like the internal drive to, even though analytical people generally have some certain personality types, like be willing to like ask those questions to somebody who’s like probably more senior than you and doesn’t really like think or act like you and just like dig into that and be willing to have what might be sometimes kind of like an awkward conversation about it as well.

0:07:32.5 JH: On the flip side too someone naturally having that demeanor and that disposition, do you ever run into, or like when you are advising your clients around data coaching or your training analyst that work for you, do you find that some of it is up to you or the organization to set those expectations for their analysts coming in? Just ’cause I find I’m thinking back to when I was a new analyst, I barely knew what my job was, and yeah, I was gonna do what I was told. And it’s like the whole world you don’t know exists at first. And so I do wonder if a big piece of it is like setting that up front and communicating, Hey, we want you to push yourself outside of the black and white box of like a determined task or something.

0:08:13.7 MM: Yeah. And if you, I don’t know if any of you or anyone listening has ever like looked at job descriptions for entry level analysts, they almost always are that very in the box, I just want you to pull reporting. It’s really not even like looking at those sorts of skills or curiosity. So I do think it is partly on organizations to realize, and maybe that’s like a data literacy thing as well, but data isn’t just about like vomiting reports out as one of the terms, or like a data puke. It’s really like broader than that. And true value of data analysis is something more. And so yeah, I do think that there’s some aspects where, and maybe that’s part of my responsibility is when I’m having some of my clients write job descriptions for roles to remind them that there’s some other skills and soft skills. I don’t really like that term, but non-technical skills that they should be looking for and expectations they should be setting beyond just the reporting.

0:09:15.5 MH: But how do they look for it? I mean, I feel like it’s like effective communication skills is like and it’s like needs to have curiosity. Like how do you, what are the questions or what do you probe for to figure that out in an interview or non-interview, but some sort of recruitment situation?

0:09:36.9 MM: I can tell you what we do and like what’s worked really well for us. I don’t think it’s the only way, but what we do is a style of interviewing called behavioral interviewing where instead of asking someone a question like, are you curious or do you think you’d be curious in this job? Which like not knocking on traditional interview questions, but it really can open up the opportunity for someone who’s really suave to just explain their way out of almost anything. And what behavioral interviewing instead would do is ask a very specific question about an instance in the past. So you’d say, tell me about a time where your effort to be curious brought on a different result than what was originally expected of you? Or something like that. And you push for that really specific answer. So if someone is answering in generalities, you can be like, can you gimme a specific example?

0:10:26.3 MM: And you keep asking questions like that. It’s been really effective because past performance indicates future performance and the language that they would choose when answering a question like that is gonna show whether curiosity is something where they are strong or not. Like if you think about that specific question, it was kind of a big chunky one, but someone who was a curious person would probably light up and immediately have an example. So that’s one of the ways that we’ve found to be really effective. And it’s difficult otherwise to get that curiosity out of like a standard interview question.

0:11:05.4 MH: Yeah. I’ve also found that the way that people interrogate a problem or a question can sort of do that. So in interviewing, I always use a very open-ended problem to gauge how the analyst will look at it and how they’ll, because the value of the analysis is a lot of times determined by the question. And so a lot of times that can show like the, but the other thing that you mentioned MaryBeth, that I think really rings true to me too, is this idea of a willingness or an excitement to explore that just comes naturally to people. Like when you throw somebody a problem and they really are just like, what did you, so why are you making me answer this question? Like, what’s going on here? Versus like, okay, let me think about this. And they sort of get into the game with you a little bit ’cause there’s no right answer. It’s a problem that just sort of has like any number of random outcomes and it’s just more about how do you think about it? And that’s interesting ’cause there’s aspects of personality that sort of dictate curiosity, but not totally. And so like that’s kind of what I feel like in an interview, you can maybe identify as like someone with a natural inclination. Yeah, I like that a lot. What You said.

0:12:16.9 TW: I mean long time like behavioral interviewing and most of the companies I’ve worked at for the last 15 years of like, that’s how they train their, so it’s… I’m a fan of it. I always wonder like if you, it’s crazy how often there are candidates who just haven’t been coached at a behavioral interview. You should recognize it. You need an example. You need to be specific. You need to talk through the, what you did, you need to talk through it. I’m sometimes shocked how candidates like don’t seem to know they’re being asked a behavioral interview question and you’re just like basically trying to get them to like, no, I mean it’s specific. I’m never sure if they can’t get specific is that because they’re not processing that they need a specific example or they don’t have one.

0:13:08.1 TW: Like, or maybe it’s the, maybe it’s a type one versus type two error. Like if somebody crushes it and you ask a question like, tell me about time that something, it’s not what you were looking for but you stumbled across it anyway and they light up and they’re just talking and talking and talking and you’re like, okay, I’m confident you check that curiosity box. If they don’t, if they struggle, they seem like they’re not understanding it and maybe I just need to get more comfortable saying, well the evidence I have, you didn’t get drawn to that, you didn’t light up on that. And maybe I don’t need to give you the benefit of the doubt. I think, I don’t know. Sorry, that took us back a little bit, Michael, from your problem question, but…

0:13:53.4 MM: No, I mean, I can comment to it a little bit and I mean, I think this is nothing original to me. I’m using a methodology from a business coach. But what she’s always saying is that if someone’s not specific or something doesn’t sit quite right with you, it’s always where you should dig deeper when you’re behavioral interviewing. So if so especially if it’s something where like one question they really light up and they’re super specific and then you ask them something else that’s like somewhere you have an intuition that they may have a weakness and they answer in a generality. It’s a really good opportunity to ask more questions in the same vein. So like asking just like for other different examples. And at least for me, I think that it’s been a pretty good move of like looking at that really objectively afterwards and saying like, this person just didn’t wanna go there to certain areas. Like what was…

0:14:41.3 MH: I gave them every opportunity if they didn’t get there, I’m gonna have to draw the conclusion. I like that.

0:14:50.8 MH: Alright, it’s time to step away from the show for a quick word about Pivot Pro. Tim, tell us about it.

0:14:58.7 TW: Well, Pivot Pro is easy to implement, easy to use and reminiscent of Google’s universal analytics in a lot of ways.

0:15:02.0 MH: I love that it’s got basic data views for less technical users, but it keeps advanced features like segmentation, custom reporting and calculated metrics for power users.

0:15:10.6 TW: We’re Running Pivot Pro’s free plan on the podcast website, but they also have a paid plan that adds scale and some additional features.

0:15:19.6 MH: That’s right. So head over to pivot.pro and check them out for yourself. Get started with their free plan. That’s pivot.pro. Alright, let’s get back to the show.

0:15:29.5 JH: So, but what happens if you’re not in charge or you don’t have the power to hire the people? Like what if you get tossed some new analysts, and they say train them?

0:15:39.7 MM: Yep.

0:15:43.5 JH: And you start working with them and you’re realizing maybe they aren’t the most curious or you have to figure out how curious are they? Like, do you have any tips for you’re with the person, they’ve been chosen for you, how do you determine the level they have? And then what are some things you can do to if they’re gonna have the capacity to be curious, how can you help them grow that?

0:16:03.5 MH: I love that there are a bunch of analysts at Search Discovery listening to this saying, Julie’s talking about someone.

0:16:09.8 JH: Yeah.

0:16:10.3 MH: Sorry.

0:16:13.0 MM: No, I’ve definitely inherited analysts before and there there’s a line, right? Like there are some people I think that maybe aren’t suited to their role and really aren’t willing, right? And so they kind of go into one category, but let’s talk about people who are to some degree and do wanna succeed in their role. And I think it’s kind of a journey and one of the things that’s been effective for me has been leading by example, and it just takes time, but showing them some other ways to do things and showing them that it brings more energy to the organization. So starting off with one analysis where I lead it and bring them in on that whole process, like letting them listen to the executive talk about the business problem and everything, and then start asking them some of those questions that really drive curiosity.

0:17:02.1 MM: So like, they bring me something and I say, okay, well traffic was down on this site, so what? And and usually the first time you ask ’em a so what they panic, but like after a while they realize that it’s not like a rude, so what? It’s like, what does that mean? Is this something that I really should bring to the executive? And it usually takes a few times before that really starts to like digest for them. And, but that’s one of the things where they just need to see the value that they’re driving, I think. And for my team now, they’re so focused on that, that if they don’t feel like they’re driving value, they’re like, I don’t feel like working for this client anymore. So I’ve got ’em a little addicted to it, but…

0:17:40.2 MH: Yeah. Addicted to Impact. That’s awesome.

0:17:44.7 TW: But that’s along the lines of the, okay. Ricky Messick is the guy who introduced this to me. The like how to transition, how to teach somebody and he was quoting something else and I cannot, it’s like, I do, you watch, we talk, I show it’s like five steps or something.

0:18:01.4 MM: Yeah, five steps.

0:18:06.2 TW: But then it’s like you do, I watch, we talk. It’s like it’s a progression and it sounds like it’s that ’cause you need to have that part of the end to say… I mean, I feel like I’ve run into this at times where somebody has, even if we’re kind of doing it together at the end of it, they walk away and say, I don’t know, you just like found that thing. And it’s like, well that’s not helpful. It’s not helpful to be just perceived as like, oh, well there’s some amorphous thing that, that person had that I don’t have. It has to be brought back down to, Let’s deconstruct it a little bit and if we asking, so what, seems like a really useful way. It seems like there might be other ones that are but why or what else? I don’t know how. I have not done this, I do not have this figured out, but that’s where my head kinda went.

0:19:01.7 MM: Yeah, I think what you’re getting to is the other thing I think of, of how to bring a team along that maybe hasn’t been as used to that type of investigation and curiosity is just like training, and there’s different training methodologies of how to get to an insight or explore data that they’re not really teaching in school. They don’t really teach them, teach people to explore data sets before or kind of inquire and just kind of think about the broader business context and such when they’re looking at a data set, it’s very more laser-focused of, you’re gonna cleanse those data set and then you’re gonna run this regression, blah, blah, blah, and so, doing actual structure trainings on what I call like investigative analysis is something that helps because it’s just not trained that way, and so then it just gives them a new tool set of like, Well, how on earth did MaryBeth get to that conclusion, or how did you find that spike of traffic on this one time and show that it was this thing, it’s like it’s not magic, and it’s not like a skill that I have that other people don’t. It’s just a difference in how you’re analyzing.

0:20:11.5 TW: What is that investigative analysis structure? I feel like this whole discussion is around like this really hard thing to sort of quantify and nail down, and as soon as you try to put structure to it, there becomes this idea that, Oh, run them through an hour of training, give them the checklist. And now they’ve figured it out, which it require… So, how do you talk about or frame the investigative analysis piece of it so that it can be taught and applied and learned and refined?

0:20:48.2 MM: Yeah, I’ll talk through the process, but I’ll say that usually the process goes, I do the few hours of training, everyone goes, it doesn’t get any of it, and I terrorize them for a few…


0:21:00.0 MM: A few months and eventually some of the pieces start to click. So it’s not a beautiful, perfect, come by my magical process today kind of thing. And the example I’m gonna give in the way we do it is super, super specific to digital analytics, so grain of salt with that. It’s different for some other fields, but all digital analytics, like eCommerce metrics, they’re all a summation of each other. So one thing I start with talking about is like, if you’re looking at conversion rate, conversion rate is the sessions and the purchases, so if you see a movement and conversion rate, what should you go look at?

0:21:36.5 MM: You should go look at, did the traffic go up or down, the amount of purchases go up or down? Where? And if they did go down, where was the drop-off in that funnel? So it’s like starting to map and we make little maps for them and have them map it out of like, if you’re gonna look at conversion rate, what are all the possible things that contributed to a conversion rate going down. So that’s like one of the tactical pieces of it. It also gives them a really strong understanding of the structures of that data, so that they do know how to look through it, and then it’s also like doing some other examples of the other business context in there. I usually try and trick them once or twice with something like bot traffic or something like that, where there’s a huge spike and they’ll come to me and say, “Wow, there was this big spike of traffic.” And they say, “Oh, and this thing happened.” And then I can be like, “Okay, well, here’s five layers deeper, of like if you looked at the country and the bounce rate of that traffic, you can see now that actually it was most likely bot traffic or something like that, and they go, “Oh man.” And some of those contexts like that. So we do it, like I said, super specific to website analytics data, but that’s one of the ways is this kind of logic map of like, I see this number go up or down, where do I look to figure out what that means, or if it means anything. And so that’s one part of it. It’s not just that.

0:22:54.2 TW: So there’s a deconstruction.

0:22:55.7 MM: Yeah, there is a deconstruction. So there is kind of a formula. And then I think it’s also training the way of thinking. Like it is training the curiosity, ’cause it’s like, I see something like that, I’m gonna wanna verify it, so just starting to be like, “If you see this, then you do this,” and another way we started to do that was having our team do what we call as data watchdog procedures for clients, especially during peak periods, where I have them look every single day at the traffic, which usually I’m not a fan of daily, and then I actually continue to validate with them ’cause they’ll be like, “Oh, the traffic was up, and it meant this.” And I can be like, “Did it really mean anything?” Or when you compare it to a larger aggregate, it doesn’t mean anything, and it just gives them the opportunity to repeatedly do that, and it’s now like, Oh, you’re just looking at these five numbers and telling me if they go up and down, it’s like, what happened as a whole. So those are a few methods, but like I said, I haven’t found the perfect formula, but that’s been really helpful, and I think it takes about…

0:23:55.4 MM: We’ve expanded this out ’cause we’ve been like, Well, how long does it take before someone can graduate to be like a full analytics consultant, and we think it…

0:24:04.8 TW: Eight years?

0:24:06.1 MM: At least, yeah. It takes a long time, at least three years. At first, we had a different. Yeah, it’s a long time. So…

0:24:11.1 MH: I’d say three to four years is my experience to be truly like on your own analyst. Yeah.

0:24:18.2 JH: I really do think it is the building blocks that you laid out, MaryBeth, of just getting them to understand the nuances of digital analytics and metrics on a website and understanding those, being able to just follow the breadcrumbs of explaining why did numbers move? That’s level one. But then you very quickly start talking about layering in the business context and for that specific business, and I think that’s why it takes three to four years to become a good consulting analyst, because you have to be able to step into these unique situations and say, “Yeah, I’m looking at your numbers, move up and down, but I actually need to now realize what do you as a stakeholder care about, what’s the bigger organization care about? What are some of the strategies you guys are actually deploying and what does that mean then when I look at the numbers.” And so I’d actually love to switch slightly and just ask you, how do you help them mature that business context piece, and I think too, how do you help them understand that not every eComm business is gonna have the same focus, even though they’re an eComm business and they have a purchase funnel.

0:25:18.5 MM: Yeah, yeah. You’re right, it’s kinda definitely the next step and it’s the harder step, I think. The first part, it’s a little more tangible to get them started. I think the one thing Tim, when you’re saying wanting to hit a wall sometimes even if like punch a wall in the beginning is like, one, I have to reduce my expectations and slow down when I expect them to be good at that before I even get started on to the other part ’cause it’s not gonna be as fast as I think it is, and that’s been a huge learning curve. I hope my team forgives me. I know I can terrorize them sometimes. So it just takes some time. But that’s one where I think it’s like as they’ve gotten a handle on some of that basic stuff, they’re like, “Okay, I feel comfortable, I can understand the data, I’m gonna be working with” is starting to introduce some business understanding. ‘Cause that’s not, once again, not something that you learn if you came out of a degree in analytics, which I think almost all of us did not get a degree in analytics.


0:26:17.6 MM: Something else because that was a thing when we were in school, but they don’t teach you about business necessarily, they don’t teach you about marketing necessarily, so I start to layer in some training about that and start also bringing them into the conversations where they can watch the senior consultants do that work and then ask them afterwards, what did you take away from that? And I’m always surprised at the answer. Sometimes they get something that I wasn’t even trying to show, but I think that they don’t get to really understand what that process looks like until they can watch someone else do it too, ’cause it’s different.

0:26:50.6 MM: It’s almost like I think I’ve had some analysts be surprised how much in my role now, I don’t do that much analysis and I just talk to people a lot, ’cause I need to understand all of that information, and then I do way less analysis and I just have it more focused and then slowly give them practice doing that with a safe stakeholder is what I do. So I give them someone who I know will need them to be specific, but will be really forgiving if they get it wrong the first time. And so I let them kind of free once I’ve kind of taught the principal of that and let them get it wrong, it’s kind of like the next step.

0:27:27.1 TW: So the teaching them about it… I tend to think in the digital analyst side, there’s business and business models, to me that’s part of the fun of consulting, is to go into an industry and learn how pharma works, or learn how CPG works, or learn how retail works, and then there’s marketing specifically, which that seems like the other… Everyone’s exposed to marketing all the time, so how do they switch over to in maybe UX or digital, whatever. Those are all kind of the same that you’ve been… Yes, you think that you’ve seen banner ads and paid search and you’ve experienced websites and mobile apps, but you kinda need to shift around… And that’s all good information. Congratulations, you’ve had the customer experience, but you need to shift around and think about the business’s priorities and agendas. SO, how does that training happen. I can’t imagine that you’re like, “Well, let’s talk about an income statement, or let’s talk about the four Ps.” I’m assuming it’s like somehow more focused that you’re not trying to provide an entire business degree.

0:28:47.1 MM: Yeah, I mean, messy and chaotic is how we do it now.


0:28:50.5 MM: I mean, I’ve always tried to, because there’s so many topics, what you just covered right there, it’s like in within marketing just itself, it’s like, how does banner advertising work? How does that tracking a fire what are the nuance of that. That’s all right. It doesn’t fire and it was terrible, and no one should do display advertising, this is not sponsored by anti-display advertising people.


0:29:15.4 MM: But there’s so much complexity there, and that’s what I realized that the other senior consultant in my firm is like we know because there’s been so much time that we built up of all those little areas, I don’t expect them to know everything that I know about digital advertising tracking or even about specific industries. So I start kind of targeted, so it’s like if someone’s already in, if it’s an analyst I’m training in-house for somebody, I’m gonna focus on the industry that I know they’re currently in and train them around there. And for the marketing, it’s also like, I kind of train what I know is gonna be most relevant for them at a specific time and try to keep it as surface-level as possible for those areas. If they need to go really deep into one, we can go there or they can go there, ’cause at this point, they’re going to be able to go into the most updated information about that, that I don’t have anymore, ’cause I’m not in it every single day.

0:30:10.5 MM: So it’s not like a great answer, but it’s like, I see, “Okay, this person is gonna really have to handle understanding organic search and get a little bit specific in there, so I’ll point them in that direction. This is where the curiosity comes in, ’cause it’s so much easier if someone’s like, Oh my God, I’m so interested in how that algorithm works, I wonder what that is and get excited about it. And that’s kind of the beautiful thing about marketing analytics, is it’s really as complicated how all that works, but once again, easier if they’re curious, ’cause then they can just kinda dig in on their own, I can point them in the right direction, and then they’ll go after it.

0:30:47.3 TW: Julie, before we move off of that, you’re the closest to being in that point with your little math degree, so you didn’t know anything, like if you think back to that, were there any helpful, I mean there are lots of things that were not helpful I’m assuming, but are there any like, “Oh, that was useful. It came from the company or somebody in the company, or even it was, I just decided to go do X or Y that you felt like gave you a leg up on some form of context? It’s a…

0:31:24.3 JH: Oh gosh.

0:31:24.8 TW: Hell of a question to throw at you.

0:31:27.1 JH: Yeah, that is. I feel like it really, it always stuck best for me in the context of a client problem or question, and in the real world stuff I was trying to do and figure out. I can go look things up on basic marketing things, or I could ask people that actually execute digital marketing for our clients, specific things about strategy, but, and it would give me a basic sense so I could go ask those kind of baseline, like get my footing of how do I even word what I’m asking or what are the bounds with what I’m working with. But I really do feel like for me, and I think what resonates with a lot of the training MaryBeth that you were talking about, that you find helps younger analyst, was to actually see it when I’m faced with a real problem that I’m on the hook to help solve is when it really clicked for me. And to speak to the stakeholders and hear it from their mouth and be able to say back like, so what I’m hearing is this, Am I understanding that right? You guys are trying to do this through these means and we’re hitting a wall because we can’t get X or Y data piece, blah, blah, blah, and I could also partner with the implementation specialist on the client team. So I would say for me it was living through it, and the actual client problem was the biggest breakthrough and what always made it really solid that I could then build on it in my next experiences.

0:32:47.7 TW: That to me makes the case not the way, not the path I followed, but it does feel like if you’re interesting, it’s a case for getting into consulting or agency to start your career because of the breath of, the breath and the quick turn on the problems, whereas if you go straight in-house, you do wind up with kind of the specifics of that organization and their narrow focus, and you’re probably a little more limited on who is gonna be trying to coach you up. I guess I’m realizing that too, MaryBeth as you’re talking about it MaryBeth, you’re saying, we bring people in, we are in the business of delivering this service, we can invest in the training, the coaching, we know there will be a wide range of examples, which is really useful early in your career to start to get kinda mental models sort of work. This is making me feel more like I made some poor career choices. You need to have that type of thinking that feels like a better baptism by fire, pretty intense period to get that broader exposure, and then if you go in-house, you’re like, “Great, I’ve got a pretty robust set of tools that I’m now gonna tackle these problems. Not that I’m not trying to sound, I’m sounding way to prescriptive on something that I have no business prescribing.

0:34:22.3 MM: I mean, I think coming from someone who did start by a data career as a consultant, I think it did really, really help. I don’t think it’s… Yeah, it’s not gonna say that’s the only path, if you want to go to get further faster and really challenge yourself, it’s the right way to go, I think, or one of the right ways to go because yeah, you get to solve more problems faster and the expectation is to do it five plus times faster than someone internally is gonna do it, and so it’s not for every… I also tell everyone, consulting is not for everybody. It can be really demanding and not every consulting firm is going to be a very good place to work, I also say. So, it could be demanding, but it can be a really good way to get a feel and also figure out what you like in data faster, ’cause it’s such a broad field and you get to touch more things and be like, “Oh well, I don’t really like that marketing analytics stuff, but I’m really interested in this thing over here.” And yeah, it might take you a little longer on the internal route, the other thing I would say is finding a company that’s more advanced in whatever you’re looking for would be another good option if you want it to be in-house. ‘Cause if you end up at a company that’s low in data maturity, that’s really gonna be a slog to learn these skills faster, and I think you’d be more at risk falling into that.

0:35:46.8 MM: I just am a reporting squirrel, which is not my term, but I’ll talk about whose term it is at the end, but it’s definitely something that finding that really forward-thinking company could be another way to do it.

0:36:01.5 JH: I have a question about thinking of consultants and actually thinking of… ‘Cause we’ve talked a lot about new annals coming in and how to train them to be a good consulting analyst by being curious and listening to business context, but I have run into consultants before that have been in the industry a long time, and I almost wonder, did they start out curious and lost the curiosity because they saw things repeat over time?


0:36:25.7 JH: I don’t know, but I run into this mindset, which I find very interesting and really, I think harmful to the end product that you can deliver your clients, where they kind of think, Oh, I’ve seen this before, I know best, and they almost talk down to the clients as if they know their business better, and it drives me crazy because going back to your business context fees, every situation is unique, whether it’s just the stakeholders, the vertical they work in, the way the organization is structured or the industry and the competitive mark. I mean there’s just so many aspects. So it drives me crazy when they do that. And have you run into that and how do you help combat like a mature consultant who’s lost their curiosity.


0:37:08.0 MM: Well usually we just out-compete them, but… Yeah, I mean, I agree, I’ll say my opinion definitely is aligned to yours that even if I have 10 years of experience solving that exact same problem, they’re the experts in the business, not me. So it’s not my job to tell them what to do, it’s my job to give them the information in a way that a business person can decide on their own. And so far, I’ll say for my firm, I’ve only hired really curious senior people or junior people I’ve trained. But I think when I interact with other consultants, ’cause at big companies there’s always gonna be more, I just stay firm in my perspective of being, even if they go, well, this is what I’ve seen at other businesses, and this is what you should do, dah dah, dah, dah. I’m not gonna be afraid to just be like, turn it back to the business owner or the executive and say, “Well, what’s most important to you and what have you seen work in your business?” ‘Cause business owners have a lot more wisdom, and I think that that’s another pitfall of analysts that we need to stay humble even though we have a lot more depth of information to a specific area.

0:38:23.0 MM: We don’t have that people value or the really, really big picture, and we should be providing what we can and shortening that down so that they can use it. It’s not that we shouldn’t ever think that executives are stupid or anything like that.

0:38:41.6 TW: So I think there are… I have a little tolerance for the career consultants who have decided, and that’s probably ’cause it’s the group they’re sitting with all day every day, is they start kind of thinking themselves, they’re classic… I have yet to find a former McKinsey consultant that doesn’t irritate the living shit out of me, because when they start dropping it, they’re a former McKinsey consultant and that I have worked with organizations with McKinsey people, and I’m like, you’re not all that in a box of chocolate, it’s like, Get over yourself. You think you’ve drunk the Kool-Aid, that was McKinsey 25 years ago, and I feel like that had agencies the same way. I think that happens in lots of cases where they stop having the curiosity of saying, instead of bringing, Hey, I’ve seen a lot of clients, does this apply to you? Or how does it not apply to you is way way… That is productive, the… I don’t know. You just set me off.

0:39:47.3 MH: Alright, I wanna kinda turn it a little bit, MaryBeth and see what you think of this, is it possible for someone to exhibit too much curiosity, how have you seen it turned into maybe a weakness? And what do you do about that?

0:40:03.3 MM: Oh Yeah, yeah, I think that there’s… It’s almost like the academic type, where there’s someone who is just so absorbed into doodling around into the small minutia of something that you just can’t get them to be someone who’s gonna have that drive of a consultant or that drive to hold on to a long-term internal project, and it’s kind of a hard one ’cause you don’t wanna kill the curiosity, you really wanna use that, but I think that’s where that kind of… You need to find a combination of someone who’s not just curious for curiosity sake and finding out the answer, but is curious because they want to see impact. And so what I have done in that, ’cause I’ve definitely experienced some people like that, is to continue to question them what would be the business context or what could we do here and what does that mean for the people who we’re working with and trying to be without bullying, some urgency to what we’re doing, but I definitely think that there’s a few different types of curious person and that academic… I wanna study mouse feet of the North American spicy mouse or something. Please cut that example out. [laughter] So it’s been a long day. Okay.

0:41:25.1 MH: I feel like it has to stay. I’m sorry.

0:41:27.7 JH: Spicy mouse?

0:41:28.7 TW: I feel like that might be an actual example, you’re like.

0:41:30.7 MM: It really is, and that’s what they wanna study.

0:41:35.3 JH: Spicy mouse.

0:41:36.0 MM: For the rest of their life, then…

0:41:37.7 TW: I like it.

0:41:38.3 MM: Then you’re not gonna be a good data analyst that’s what I’m saying…

0:41:43.3 MH: Honestly I love that example because that’s precisely the kind of thing that would send me off to research… What’s the spicy mouse is?

0:41:52.8 TW: But I’m curious. I’m curious.

0:41:57.9 MH: And there’s a… But there’s a purpose for that question too, because I’ve been literally given that feedback in my career, it’s like, You’re asking too many questions and you’re slowing down the process, you need to figure out a way to button it up a little bit better, and sometimes I’ll just be running 40 miles in the wrong direction with a cool thing and I think is neat, and then come back and it’s sort of like, Well, this doesn’t have any bearing on what everybody’s doing, so what are you doing? And it’s like, Oh well, and I feel like today in this world… That’s what data scientists do. No, I’m just kidding. Shots fired, sorry. I’m bad. I’m bad, I know. Anyways.

0:42:38.8 MH: But it is a challenge to sort of find that balance, ’cause I think that innate curiosity, someone’s really curious, aligning, that was sort of like, what needs to get done and the timelines and things like that is can sometimes be a challenge.

0:42:52.0 MM: I think one thing I’d like to add is one of the ways that we… ‘Cause it’s almost like I feel like it’s been an evolutionary arms race of training analysts at our company, because I’ll be like, oh, I think I got it down. And then something like that, will happen and be like, Oh, how do I train people to not do that? And I have my analyst listening to this, hopefully will forgive me for all of that. One thing was to tie them into the project management process a little bit and just give them a bit more oversight ’cause I definitely had that sometimes I would be like… ‘Cause I’m someone who really just kinda hands-off, I’m like, Be free go be curious, and then we’ll go way down somewhere and I was like, Oops, but I mean to me like that. So having them think through a project plan and show me what they’re thinking of doing before they go down the rabbit hole has been really helpful, ’cause then I can rein it in a little bit and say, What if we go this way instead? And check-in more regularly has been a huge… This is totally learning from my mistakes kind of thing, not like I got it right the first time has been so valuable ’cause then it’s like I can really help guide somebody of like, Oh, what…

0:43:56.2 TW: Wait, well, this was the business question, what if we did this instead? And then let them go off and do their thing again, so it’s just a little bit more of a catch and release has been helpful.

0:44:06.4 JH: Well, kind of down that same path, then I was gonna ask, what are some structures to put in place to give people enough space with their curiosity, but to your point, keep them on track to the end goal, because there is the benefit of… They asked one thing, but along the way, they found something unexpected, but that is really valuable to the business and your end recommendations or findings, but exactly like you can’t just go off in all the directions and explore them all and then come back a year later. So what do you help put in place, and I know you just started to describe some things, but…

0:44:41.7 MM: I think it’s a delicate balance of some resources, but having even very entry-level analysts build their own project plans for what they’re planning to do is super helpful and have them put even hours to it, ’cause coming from the consulting world, but I’ve even had the people that I’m in training in-house at companies do the same thing because then it kind of gives them that scope, the what I do on the other side to balance it is to give them a pretty big bank of exploratory time in that first part, so it’s like, Okay, you’re gonna get in there and you’re gonna do an exploratory analysis where you get to doodle around for six hours and just really explore all of this, write down all of your ideas.

0:45:21.0 MM: And then you’re gonna come up with a the thesis statement. So I almost kinda bring it back to traditional science in that way, and then I still leave the door open during that process, if they get started on an analysis and there is something that’s just really relevant, it’s not like the project plan is set in stone and it’s what you have to follow no matter what, even if it’s not working, it’s just there as that start to get them to start to think about how long it takes to do certain things ’cause it also helps me identify where they might be missing a competency, ’cause if they estimate that it’s gonna take them only a certain amount of time to do some data cleansing I know it’s gonna be really hard or something. I can be like, ask some more questions there to see where they maybe have a weakness, so that’s kind of the way that we’ve found the balance of that, and it’s not perfect, and it always goes a little wrong or sideways, and some of the things… But it gives them that bound and during those, they check-in, but then the rest of the time they have a lot of freedom to be curious, and then if they feel stuck, they can come back to us and we’ll help prompt that next part.

0:46:23.1 TW: But I mean this does spark for me, it’s a lot cheaper and faster to write down, I wonder about… I could do this other thing, and I think back to having discussions around like what’s one of the benefits of using R Python over staying within the analysis workspace or within Excel, and that is you can make notes of like, I could look at this, I could pull in this other data source and compare it and there’s you can kind of ideate and think through the things you could explore, you could be curious about things that are really quick, what if I threw this other dimension on, would it show anything? Throw it out, but have the degree of judgment to say, I wonder if this other economic indicator actually might be a confounding factor here, I don’t have to go and get it and prove it, I can write it down, I can have my list and then I could maybe sit down with someone else, whether they’re more senior or just the sounding board to say, Hey, I’ve got some capacity to do some additional exploration, these were my ideas, now roll that back into the project plan or even talking to the stakeholder, hey, I know you asked for X.

0:47:38.7 TW: I was kind of thinking, I could look into this or this or this, all of these are gonna take a couple of hours each, I don’t wanna just burn your time and never give you a result, but what do you think and kind of learn how… Even the stakeholder is probably curious if the stakeholder says, Oh yeah, there’s an amazing… You could totally use this thing that the analyst doesn’t even know they have, so I think that’s another coaching by saying you sit down and write down, what would you pursue? If you do it where it’s like, Well, I just burned a day pulling one thing, then you’re not gonna learn that curiosity needs to be somewhat focused and disciplined.

0:48:19.2 MM: That really rang true to a few things I took out of that as like one… I didn’t think about this, but I always am trying to get the analyst to work within a platform and not just pull it with sequel or whatever, because I want them to explore a little bit more, and they’re always like, Oh, the platform is lame or whatever, I don’t think that my analysts say that maybe… And I’m like, here’s why. And then you’re right, that’s something that I do and I didn’t really think about it, is like I actually just have a document open or whatever, and I just go, what about this? And I just do my questions when I’m like doing that initial thing, so maybe that’s something that needs to be a new training or process that our company is to have them have that. Well I think they’re like, Oh my god, another one.

0:49:03.5 JH: But it’s nice to have those ideas saved up too in a bank, because even part of specifically for consulting, you come to the end of a quarter or suddenly your stakeholders really love working with you and they’re like, So what else do you think we should do? And if you haven’t put that time in thinking about it through all the hours you work for them and you’re building this context and… Yeah, it’s a great thing to have when you get that question, of like, Oh, I get the freedom to maybe say like, Oh, we could do this or this… It’s nice to have that at your fingertips.

0:49:31.5 MM: Yeah, yeah, definitely. And once you get… I think that also once you get people starting to think that way, it’s just more natural and it just has a momentum to it, especially with the client when you start to get to know their data really well, so it’s getting them in the habit. We just do a backlog too of ideas, and I think also they feel like they have the freedom to do that, kinda going back to what are people setting expectations-wise, it starts to flow and all of a sudden you’re in this critical period where you’re having to… Decide which ones you wanna do and prioritize which is the good place to be in versus having them be kind of just reactive to whatever is being asked.

0:50:11.1 MH: Awesome, alright, we do have to start to wrap up. Even though this is a topic that all of us I think really love and obviously pretty fond of, but very good conversation. One thing we like to do is go around the share a last call with our audience, something that might be of interest, Beth, you’re our guest. Do you have a last call you’d like to share?

0:50:33.8 MM: Yeah, I do, and I promise it’s not AI… I know those are… And it’s actually an old article, but I wanted to do something related to our topic, and I made a few references to his work, reporting squirrel is not my term, but I wanted to call out Avinash Kaushik as an amazing resource on how to be an amazing analyst and I have a link that we can you’ll put in the notes, I think of the biggest web analyst mistakes and how to avoid them, there’s a few other articles that he has that are just amazing, but he’s really… That’s one of the other things that I use a lot with my analyst is working through a lot of his content in the way that he talks about it, ’cause he’s always blending together the stakeholder management part with other parts, so I just really recommend him as a resource, he has a premium newsletter that’s like $100 a year goes to charity, super recommended, I’m not sponsored or anything, I just really love his work and reference it a lot, so… That’s fine.

0:51:33.1 MH: Awesome, thank you, Julie. What about you? What’s your last call.

0:51:40.1 JH: Well mine’s AI. But I had a co-worker recently send this to me, and I admittedly have not got a chance to actually fully test it out, but I’m excited to, it pretty much… It’s called Scribe AI, it’s a Chrome extension, and it is supposedly able to auto-generate a step-by-step guide of whatever you do, you just click record and it watches what you do, and it will take screenshots and annotate them and give you step-by step and grab links. So I’m really excited when this comes in handy, I learned about it a few weeks ago, and surprisingly have not come across a work use-case where I really wanna put it to the test, but I’m excited to try it and hopefully it comes in handy for somebody else.

0:52:21.0 TW: Is your Chrome currently up-to-date? Or you…

0:52:25.6 JH: No of course not Tim you know me come on.

0:52:27.7 TW: What color is the button is it yellow, is it red it’s yellow okay.

0:52:31.1 JH: No it’s yellow.

0:52:31.7 TW: Okay that’s good.

0:52:31.9 MH: Alright you too Michael. Tim why you’re not policing Julie’s chrome update status, which also I’m like team red update. So, you wait till it turns red. And then you update it. Jeez, Tim, when else would you do it.

0:52:49.2 TW: Immediately.

0:52:49.6 MH: And why don’t you share a last call instead of answer that question, What’s your last call?

0:52:53.8 TW: So it’s a musical last call, it was in the Measure Slack, about a guy named Josh Silverbauer is putting together… If you go to universalsunset.com, so the music is on YouTube as well as Spotify, but he is composing basically like a rock opera that’s kind of triggered by the sunset of Universal Analytics. Jason Packer has actually gotten involved and is helping with him, so there are… There’s like a puic pro song coming out, shout out to our sponsors. I think there’s an Adobe one, but it’s actually the production values… It’s good. They’re all different themed. The musicians have chaps, the production is high quality, it is like literally the sort of thing you could put on and just listen to in the background, but they are also having all sorts of subversive fund with the project. What about you, Mr. Helbling, what’s your last call.

0:53:54.2 MH: Well we kinda touched on some things related to sort of business context, and that reminded me is we are looking at the episode of a book that I sometimes grab off of my shelf, which is… I’ll hold it up for the camera, the Business Acumen Handbook by Steven Haines. So we’ll provide a link to that, but I’ve used this book more as a reference, not like something you read, but it’s something you kind of dig in to be like, How do managers in the or think about these topics or how do they approach these problems? It’s a useful way for an analyst to sort of think in the mind of a business leader, so sometimes can be a useful reference for kinda stepping into the shoes of your stakeholders a little bit and learning more about the context of the business that you’re working in, so that’s my last call.

0:54:38.4 TW: So how’s it… Like it’s structured, what are the chapters? So isn’t it…

0:54:43.1 MH: So it’ll be like decision-making, how that happens, the structure of that, how is an organization structured, how to think about process and how that is leveraged in an org stuff like that. So yeah, it’s just lots of different little kind of sort of… Probably mini MBA type stuff. I don’t know, I’ve never gotten an MBA, but that’s what I use. Alright. What a great episode. What a great show. MaryBeth, thank you so much for coming on and talking with us about this topic, loved having you. And I personally have a lot of like, Oh yeah, I struggle with that too, ’cause I feel like maybe we’re on similar journeys in terms of the things you might be doing, but Thank you so much.

0:55:28.2 MM: Thank you. It was so fun, and I think it was the most fun I’ve had on a podcast, so…

0:55:32.8 MH: Well we do. We try.


0:55:34.2 TW: Well, that’s a low bar.


0:55:37.4 MH: I don’t know…


0:55:38.8 MM: That’s true some of ’em are kind of dry.

0:55:39.3 MH: We’ll work to make it boring here at the end and… No, I’m just kidding. But actually, speaking of not boring, no, show would be complete without a huge shout out to our producer, Josh Crowhurst, I love you, Josh, thank you for all that you do to help make the show happen. And if you’re listening to this and you’re curious about something we’ve said, or you have something you’d like to share, we would love to hear from you, and there’s great ways to do that, probably the best ways of the Measure Slack chat group, or on LinkedIn or Twitter, MaryBeth, are you active on social media?

0:56:19.4 MM: LinkedIn is the place to go. You can also get me on the Measure Slack chat as well.

0:56:23.2 MH: Awesome, awesome. So there you go, so you can connect with MaryBeth that way as well, so great show, everybody.

0:56:29.7 TW: And the world is silently spinning is available for your Kindle.

0:56:30.3 MH: Oh yeah that’s right.

0:56:35.3 MM: Yes. That’s true. I think it’s only 99 cents.

0:56:40.3 MH: Tim. You’ve read it.

0:56:41.9 TW: I did, I was… Yeah, I enjoyed it.

0:56:46.5 MH: I read the reviews. And someone was like, I cried twice. I was like, oh this seems hard for me, I don’t know.

0:56:51.7 MM: You can wait till the second book, the second book is not as dark or sad, so if you wanna wait a year.

0:56:58.6 MH: I was like, There must be a very different side of your personality, MaryBeth you seemed so like a bit of positive.

0:57:06.3 MM: Seems like I’ve seen some stuff [laughter] read some stuff.

0:57:12.7 TW: There’s a lot of blood. There’s a bear, there’s broken bones.

0:57:17.5 MH: Well, let’s just say this, that I think both of my co-hosts, Julie and Tim would agree with me that no matter if you’ve got too much curiosity or you’re building up to get some more just remember this. Keep analyzing.

0:57:36.1 Announcer: Thanks for listening. Let’s give 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 Joshua Crowhurst.

0:57:55.6 Charles Barkley: So smart guys want to fit in, so they made up a term called analytics, analytics don’t work.

0:58:00.3 Kamala Harris: I love Venn diagrams, it’s just something about those three circles and the analysis about where there is the intersection right?

0:58:10.1 TW: Rock frag and spicy mice.

4 Responses

  1. Steve says:

    A question about your discussion of behavioral interviewing: what about someone who is neurodivergent? I have ADHD and have what I like to call an “impressionistic” memory. I don’t store specifics of events in my memory. I literally cannot come up with specific, detailed events in that way. What would you suggest for someone like me? I tend to respond with: “Well I don’t have a specific example but here’s my general philosophy and how I would approach a situation like that.” How would you evaluate a candidate like that?

    • Tim Wilson says:

      That’s a great question, and I’m not going to claim to have a great answer. You’re touching on the fact that we still have a long way to go when it comes to embracing neurodiversity and not unintentionally discriminating against neurodivergent individuals as part of the hiring process.

      Every training I’ve ever had (and it’s been in several different forms over the course of the last 20+ years) on behavioral interviewing has strongly emphasized pushing for specific examples and dinging the candidate if they’re unable to provide one. So, I’m afraid your typical response may be undermining your candidacy in some situations.

      The best advice I can think of would be to try to pre-prep and practice. If, outside of the interview, your able to use tools or skills to come up with 2-3 examples from your career to cover some general scenarios, you might be able to rehearse delivering the specifics of each situation, your behavior, and the outcome. An example to cover a time where a project faced an unexpected obstacle (ideally, that you helped overcome), an example of a time where you had a difficult stakeholder or challenging communications to overcome, and an example of where you came up with a solution that you were particularly proud of would be a good start. The specific questions asked may not be exactly looking for these, but, usually, an example that is “close” can effectively be used.

      I’d love to hear if others have thoughts on this, though.

  2. Rebecca says:

    I feel seen.
    Tim, I’m with you on the updating of Chrome (lol.) Whenever someone is sharing their screen and I see that ‘update’ in the corner, a little part of me dies inside (maybe not so extreme but I cringe…) Just had to give a shout out since the group ganged up on you a bit 😉

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