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Leadership transformation in this Data and AI world with Sol Rashidi

Clock Icon 62 minutes

About this episode

CDO, CDAO, CAIO, CIO, CTO! Oh my, it's a cluster! Sol Rashidi joins Tim and Juan to help navigate this cluster, sharing honest no bs advice from her vast experience in the Data and AI world. If you are a leader, or a practioner aspiring to go to leadership, this is the must listen episode!

Tim Gasper [00:00:05] Hello everyone. Welcome. It's time for Catalog and Cocktails. It's your honest no- BS, non- salesy conversation about enterprise data management with tasty beverages in hand. I'm Tim Gasper, longtime data nerd product guide, customer guide at Data. world, joined by co- host Juan.

Juan Sequeda [00:00:19] Hey Tim, how are you doing? I'm Juan Sequeda, principal scientist at Data. world, and as always, it is a pleasure to take a break in the middle of your week and go chat about data. Today we have the one and only Sol Rashidi, executive leader, author, influencer. Oh my, I think we can talk for hours and hours and days, and people should really follow everything you're doing. How are you doing?

Sol Rashidi [00:00:42] I'm doing good. Although, you said the word influencer and I'm like, ooh, am I? For so long, I've been doing the work, not talking about the work. It's a new world. It's a little bit weird for me. I think folks have started seeing me post where I was never, never active before. I'm just trying a bunch of things I've never done before and it's uncomfortable, it's scary. I have no idea if it's resonating, but what have I got to lose?

Juan Sequeda [00:01:11] I love that attitude because we just have to get comfortable being uncomfortable. I think that's the only stuff that's lacking.

Sol Rashidi [00:01:20] I always say you just have the GSD, you just have to get shit done and then you'll figure out if it was the right decision or not afterwards.

Juan Sequeda [00:01:26] Agreed. Agreed. Well, let's kick it off telling toasts. What are we drinking and what do we want toast for today?

Sol Rashidi [00:01:34] Liberation, autonomy, freedom. No more corporate alignment discussions for now. No more having nine discussions to talk about something that should be decided upon within 15 to 20 minutes. Cheers to that.

Juan Sequeda [00:01:57] You're in a great place right now to be able to do that. Tim, what are you drinking? What do you want toast for today?

Tim Gasper [00:02:04] I was just musing before we hopped onto this podcast episode that I'm actually downtown in Austin today getting ready for a customer workshop. I'm in a Starbucks. I'm drinking a vanilla latte mocktail. It's not really a cocktail, but it's very tasty and cheers to freedom. That sounds amazing. And faster decision making, always great. Yes. Lots of meetings. I still do lots of meanings. That's okay.

Juan Sequeda [00:02:29] Well yeah, let's get shit done and let's get to our decision. All right, let's kick this off. So much to talk about. Sol, honest, no BS, how is data and AI right now transforming leadership?

Sol Rashidi [00:02:43] You had to go in with a heavy one. It's a cluster, absolute cluster because the great divide, the bifurcation of the divide I think is just getting wider and wider. We're now in a world where... I think there's a few pillars to the cluster. We have CIOs, CTOs, CDOs, CAOs, and now the CAIO, all technical leadership within corporations, enterprises, sometimes medium- sized companies, sometimes small- sized companies. I don't think there's clarity on the division of labor. Where does one role start? Where does one role end? If you think about it, they're all responsible for building capabilities and they all have data in common. Who owns what? I know one thing that I struggled sometimes and I had to ask this question actively in interviews to make sure I never took another CDO position where I didn't own my own platforms and I didn't own my own solutions. I don't necessarily need to own DevOps, but if I'm going to build a data product or if I'm going to build self- service analytics, or if I'm going to build a capability that's going to help our brand presidents, but I have a dependency on waiting for someone else to organize, make accessible, make available the data, it just doesn't work because you're sitting there twiddling your thumbs while they're getting through the hundred things that are on their list because you have to go through the application owners for everything. It just doesn't work. I think we all have a dependency on data and infrastructure, and so I think the division of labor right now is not clear and I think the people who are accountable for it aren't willing to step up and make it clear. Usually it's like, oh, well when you get here we'll figure it out. That's part of the reason why we need your thought leadership. No one ever figures it out and it just gets messy. I think the second is with Generative AI and LLMs and all these amazing startups, you're getting a lot of really strong technical individuals that are rising up to leadership fiefdom, but haven't necessarily been coached, trained or any of that other stuff on. It's one thing to technically understand something. It's one thing to build solutions and scale. It's definitely something else to be able to lead. There was no coaching or mentoring on my end. I literally did face plant after face plant. The biggest lesson I learned is the higher up you go, the less it's about your IQ and more about your EQ and your SQ and the relationship building, and what I used to call fluffy stuff and now I'm like, oh crap. It's like foundations to survival. You don't learn that stuff until you do a few face plants and get a few scraped knees and bruised elbows. Then I think the third is you've got your classic leaders who've gone through performance training, how to manage a team, how to motivate a team, how to build a mission statement, how to innovate, how to be agile, how to be adaptable. You read all the wonderful books that are out there and there are some leaders that eat, live and breathe it, but for the most part, everyone's having an" oh shit" moment of what's going to happen to everything I've known because what I know today will be irrelevant or only somewhat relevant in a year or two or three because that institutional knowledge I have is now democratized, and it can be. Anyone can go on the Internet. Anyone can use ChatGPT, or Perplexity or Cloud. I can write a communication strategy for my MarTech platform in a minute. Whereas previously, I used to have to go through and partner with the CMO. Everyone, I think there's an element of expertise being democratized in terms of what's being presented, but the ability to execute and the nuances and the experiences, I think where things are going to fall short and we're not having that conversation yet. If you talk about what's wearing me, those are the three pillars to cluster. Sorry, we started off.

Tim Gasper [00:06:38] This is the honest OBS. This is the reality. You've had an opportunity to work in a lot of different amazing places and to lead a lot of amazing teams. Obviously, there's new changes happening. You brought up gen AI. That's obviously a newer factor to all of this. What have been some of the things that you've seen that have helped to navigate all this? What have been some of the biggest factors that have helped to overcome some of this cluster?

Sol Rashidi [00:07:10] Truth be told, I think folks are still figuring it out. There isn't a single formula that's working and every culture is different, but I know that every two years, whether it's Web3, blockchain, big data, AI, generative AI, every two to three years, the workforce has shook it up a little bit. I think the one thing that's consistent is there's never a decrease in strategic priorities. There's only an increase in strategic priorities. When execution isn't a six- month thing, these massive programs that you need to scale, these products that you need to build where they need evangelization and commercialization and go to market, developing the product or the capability is actually the easiest part. Evangelizing, commercializing, monetizing, adoption, i. e. scale, is the most difficult and it's more than a six- month endeavor. It takes two, three years. The one thing, if you ask me what has worked, which is probably the most exhausting part of my job, is relentless communication. We know the word communication and we think it's easy. I think when you're trying to scale, if you're not exhausted at repeating the same thing over and over and over again, you're actually not doing the communication right. You need to do it at all levels, stakeholders, executives, investors, leadership team, the workforce. You need to repeat it. Malcolm Gladwell had this great quote that repeating something or communicating is easy, but you have to do it 27 times before at least half the message sticks. Think about that set. 27 times before even half of it actually sticks and people understand what you're about. Building the stuff has never been the most difficult part of my job. It's making sure people know about it, use it, and they don't go back to their old ways of doing it. With these two to three year cycles, it's really difficult. I could have eight major programs, projects or products on my plate that I need to build and I need to communicate relentlessly for all eight of them. Then you get another wave of stuff that comes on board and you need to adapt and interweave that. Then you get another wave and then you get another wave. How do you pare down the communication so that you're not overloading or overcrowding what you ultimately want people to remember? That is tough. If you're doing it right, you are exhausted by the end of the day. Not in building, but in talking about it. I never knew that, but if you ask me what has worked, it's where I have absolutely focused on that and with everyone, not just with a specific group. inaudible.

Tim Gasper [00:09:54] That's fantastic advice around relentless communication. We have it in bold in our notes here, a preview. What are you most communicating about in that multi- level communication? I imagine some of it, you mentioned priorities. Some of it is expectation setting. We're not going to boil the ocean. These are the things we're going to try to do. This is our strategic focus. Some of it I imagine is vision, like getting people excited about where things are headed. What are some of the things you think that need to be communicated most through this relentless communication?

Sol Rashidi [00:10:26] The answer is different. Let's pick a topic. Is it our data strategy and mission? Is it our AI strategy and mission? Is it product market fit and commercialization? Because depending if you are a practitioner working in a startup or if you're the CEO and an entrepreneur of a startup, but was a practitioner, the answer's different. Or if you are a leader who's either in middle management or some level of leadership where you are responsible for the data strategy, the answer is different. If we want to pick one, what do you prefer? Who's your community member?

Juan Sequeda [00:11:02] This is interesting because people ask me all the time, the audience of the podcast, people are listening to us. There are from practitioners all the way to executive, to CEO. We have a broad range of folks that I communicate with that I know they're listening to. How about we break this up and let's talk about practitioners. Let's talk about middle and let's talk about executives.

Sol Rashidi [00:11:26] At a practitioner level, whether you're a data architect or you're a data engineer or you're a principal data scientist, it may feel like you've got projects where you are tactically doing things and it may feel like it's just another day in the office. You may have good days and you may have frustrating days. You may have autonomy to build and do what you want, or you are in daily stand- ups every single day because you got to get through two week sprint cycle to be able to support this epic so that you could get the MVP out the door. Whatever your role is, you always have to keep in mind that you are a link in the chain. You're one circle. Let's say you're a data architect, then you have a data engineer, then you have a data scientist, then you have a data analyst, then you have a QA specialist, then you have MLOps, then you have your product manager. Everything you do on a day- to- day basis matters. That is interconnected and interrelated to the link that is being created that is either going to be sold, that is going to make an impact, that serves a purpose. What you do day to day is not, " Hey, I'm going to write this piece of code and push it into production." It's actually whatever I write here is going to have a lasting impression in terms of this link that we're building that's going to go to market in an impactful way. Your communication as a practitioner is why what you do is mattering to the bigger picture. Whether you're reporting to a manager or director, VP, SVP, it doesn't matter. You have to understand and you have to appreciate the bigger story of why is it that one link of yours and how does it connect to that overall chain that's going to create an impact when you go to market? It not only will help you on the days that are frustrating, you're helping your other practitioner friends when you're going a happy hour and they're just having a shitty day because you're like, " But dude, look what we're doing." That communication and that mindset is so critical for you. Then everywhere you go you can explain exactly what you do. Every interview you have, you can explain exactly what you did and how what you did mattered and in what capacity. It just cements and grounds you on a day- to- day basis for yourself, for your peers. I promise you, your leadership team, if they hear, they will notice. That communication matters. Now, if you are in middle management or if you're an executive, it's a different ball game in the sense that it's no longer about your link. It's about everyone else's link that's coming together to create that chain and why it's going to make a difference. Why are we not another orchestration company? Why are we not another observability company? Why are we not another catalog company? Why are we not another lineage company? They talk about vision and mission statements and guiding principles. I get it, but very few people actually know how to do well. It has to be short, it has to be succinct. If not, everyone at least knows one of those three things and can memorize it and say it, you actually haven't done your job well. Sometimes I'll come into an organization and here's usually my process. By the way, I figured this process out after I screwed up a few times. This was not something that I knew, and nor is it something that's taught. In my first C- suite position, I came in thinking I was being hired because I was the most qualified and I was the smartest. I was heavily relying on my IQ only to get my ass handed to me. I was like, " Oh crap, I messed this one up. All right, let me try again on the second one." Those relationships really matter. It's not about coming in and giving a point of view and saying, " Here's what we're going to do." That comes much, much later after you've built the relationships, after you've built some credibility, then they're going to listen to you. I am very, very geared and biased towards action. I'm like, let's get shit done. I don't like lollygagging. I hate it when people come up with excuses of why something couldn't get done. I'm like, then you need to be more resourceful. Figure it out. If you don't know, ask someone. If someone's not willing to help you, you've done a shitty job of building relationship and friends. You need to work on that. I'm empathetic, but I can see excuses through the fog very quickly, which makes it fun working with me, but also makes it really difficult. People love me or they think I'm overly intense. For the first three months, I will instantly understand what the issues are, but I will not express anything for three months. I will wait for five to six months. It's really, really hard for me not to have an opinion. The first three months, I am getting to know every EVP, SVP, VP, AVP, senior director, director, and I ask three questions. What do you think my job is? What should we start doing that we haven't? What should we stop doing that we keep doing? And what should we continue doing that's working really well? What's your perception of my team? Because in very few cases, I've had the honor of building it from scratch. In most cases, I have to inherit and assess. Those three will give me everything. I will also ask if I could wave a wand, what would you like fixed today? Those four questions. Forgive me, it's not three, it's four. Then I will ask everyone, and it's like this scene from A Beautiful Mind where Russell Crowe is standing there and having this genius moment, but he's also losing his rockers. I realize that mostly what people are conveying are symptoms and they're not root causes, and my job is to figure out what the root causes are. I will go through that and then I will meet with nearly everyone on my team. Now I've managed teams as large as 830 and as small as 150. If it's 150, I will make it. 830, it takes me like a year or two. I will build this view of what it is we need to do and why. I will support it with a wall of quotes and a wall of" I cannots." It's very much evidence- based. It's very much fact- based. I'm not making this stuff up. I'm saying, so- and- so can't do this. Not because data isn't available or they don't have enough data. It's because we've collected data but we haven't connected the data. We have not spent enough on our semantic layer or I can't do this, and it's not because data isn't accessible. They actually have access to the data. We don't have enough skillsets or we don't have the right skillsets on the team to be able to extract the insights. I will go down to the root causes and based on those root causes, I'm like, here are the six things that we need to be maniacally focused on for the next two years. Then I will create the vision and the mission, guiding principles. I will not open up a standup. I will not open up a bi- weekly team meeting. I will not go into the LT without that one pager of what it is we're doing, why is it we're doing, and what are they going to get at the end of it so that everyone is on the same page. I ad nauseum have to communicate this so that people don't become disbelievers because everyone says data is an asset. Everyone says data is the new gold. Everyone says we need to be data- centric. But that action ability, the guts to do something about, it's so difficult. Everyone's got 40 other strategic priorities to pay attention to. At a minimum, I want them to know why the hell we exist. When I call on them, I need their help to be able to move this forward. I spend three months listening, two months crafting, and I spend six months building relationships. All I do is go to every happy hour social event and I do not talk about our work at all. My work literally starts in terms of building the fun stuff, the fun stuff that I really love after the six- month mark.

Juan Sequeda [00:19:16] Do you call BS when people say, " What is your 30, 60, 90 plan?" Because in that case it's like, it's really... What you're talking about is that's everything I have to go do for a longer time. Wouldn't people want to expect, oh, you should be moving faster?

Sol Rashidi [00:19:29] They always say you want to be moving faster. They're never ready to move faster. I have four different frameworks that people ask in corporate America or enterprise. I will give them the 30, 60 90, but I'll actually move the timelines. I'm like 30 days is get to know every single executive administrator, understand my boss's initiatives, learn our language and strategic initiatives, and understand who my stakeholders are. They're like, okay. 60 days, schedule all the meetings, get to know my team and start asking these interview questions. As long as I have something prepared that shows that I've got a thought process, they're fine. Here's the beauty of it. No one ever actually goes back and asks you.

Juan Sequeda [00:20:12] I really appreciate this honest no- BSness right now.

Sol Rashidi [00:20:17] I want that a T- shirt like that, by the way.

Juan Sequeda [00:20:22] inaudible. You'll officially become alumni of... We'll send this-

Sol Rashidi [00:20:26] I have one that says Rogue Executive or Gone Rogue because I do feel the executive.

Juan Sequeda [00:20:32] I think there's one that we're going to do called Relentless Communications. Out of every episode, we always come up with, what are the quotes? Our running joke is that we're going to turn this into a T- shirt story, but we don't inaudible. Anyway, so we'll do that. I want to dip into teams and people. What does it mean to inherit a team and how to deal with it, and what does it mean to actually... Your experience to build that team. You got a lot of stories for sure.

Sol Rashidi [00:21:00] I have so many stories. I'm still learning this part because I am an impatient individual. I love building cool shit. I love releasing cool shit, and I want that cool shit to have impact and purpose. Unfortunately, I've built a certain standard for acceptability that is a high threshold. I've realized that at least in enterprise, not everyone holds themselves of the same standard or threshold. I can flex to a certain point, but I can't sacrifice or compromise to a certain point. For me, it's still a bit of a give and take. I've inherited teams of 250, 300 people just as an example, where they've been with the company 20 plus years and they want me to transform and change. Okay, how do you want me to change if I can't make changes or am I allowed to make changes? Otherwise, we've got a workforce that has seniority and tenureship and just for shits and giggle, even if we were to give them a transition plan because of how long they've been here, I cannot justify an ROI. I cannot. That would even make sense for the stuff that we're going to build, whether it's productivity, efficiency, growth targets, whatever it may be that, that we're going to gain in the next two to five years, will not even come close because of the tenureship. I have to have an honest discussion, no BS, of if you're giving me a team of 250 individuals who've been here 20 plus years and most of them have been doing the same job over and over again, this is not my workforce to transform. Do I get additional optics to hire in the talent that will help me transform? Do I get the additional budget? Can I cherry- pick from other teams? Maybe 10% of this workforce, the one that's been here 20 plus years, is willing to try something new and different. Maybe. Where's this other bucket going to come from? That's always a consistent struggle because companies don't want to be known as the company that lays people off. But if you want to transform, it's a different talent set. It's a different mindset, it's a different hustle, it's a different grit. It is not your people who are going to check in at 9: 42 and then check out at 4: 15. The inheriting the team part I've learned is probably the most difficult aspect of my job because you have to appreciate what they've done. You have to appreciate where they've come. You have to appreciate their longevity, and that is in direct conflict with what you were hired to do. I almost have to treat it as a very, very separate team, different communication, different objectives, different goals. For me, it's a matter of squeezing single digit productivity or efficiency, introduce some automation, but they've been doing the same thing for 20 plus years and that's all they know. I can't get more out of it. When I get to build a team, that's a lot of fun. Or if I get to build a supplemental team in addition to the team, I get to inherit. Because now you get a mix of innovation and legacy and I think that can really merge. When they start talking to each other, light bulbs start going off. By the way, this team of 250, they're the knowledge workers. They have all the institutional knowledge that's not documented. They know where all the skeletons are buried. Having access to that is monumental. So how do I keep them motivated knowing that we're moving 100 miles an hour and they're still on the first gear? The team aspect is the hardest part of my job, and I create three reactions in people. It's hallelujah, they love me. Holy crap, she's got energy. She's in it with us. She's acting questions. She's not this above the fold leader. Holy shit, she's intense. She doesn't get us, and she doesn't get us, is because I'm trying to push, I'm trying to get them out of their comfort zone and it's not something they want to do. They're very happy doing what they're in, so they'll come up with stuff that she doesn't get us. I'm like, oh, no, no, I get you. I'm just trying to move you. You need to move forward an inch. I'm not asking you a foot, I'm just asking you an inch, so I'm going to make you uncomfortable.

Tim Gasper [00:25:24] I think it's a really difficult challenge for leaders to come into existing organizations that already have a lot of people and momentum and tenure as you mentioned, and figure out how to build trust quickly and then affect the change that's both needed and expected. It's often a mix of those two things. Also in general, I'm always very interested in organizational structure and things like that. Have there been any big learnings that as you've come into these different teams where you're like, " Oh, wow, this is a very common playbook I need to leverage." Do you often find you need to restructure the teams because they're not set up the right way? Do you find that... Just curious about if there's certain things that you see as patterns where you're like, " Yeah, I see this as a common issue and I often have to make these changes."

Sol Rashidi [00:26:19] Yes. Let me give you one example and then I'll answer the question through the common threads that inaudible. That was an example of enterprise, but I've been brought into startups and saying that, listen, this team, they have enough funding, but they just can't launch. They have a great product, but they're just not able to launch. I remember I took a leave of absence once from IBM to take over a startup and get it to turn around, and then I would go back to IBM because I was going to join the Watson team, which is what I really wanted to do. You have really brilliant individual contributors. Brilliant, phenomenal full stack developers, phenomenal QA specialists. I had this one guy that I just called him like my ninja. He could hack into anything and do anything. None of his stuff was production grade, but it didn't matter. He could just whiz his way through stuff. The challenge with startups, similar in a weird way to enterprise, is when they're brilliant and they know they're brilliant, they're stubborn as a mule, and they do not want to move and they do not want to flex, and they feel like they have the answers to everything and everything is fine. When you're like, honestly, I wouldn't be here if everything was fine. That answer is the same, whether it's a startup environment or whether it's an enterprise. You guys have been at it for one, two, three years. The formula is not working and there has to be a revelation of sorts of we may need to change it up. What I'm finding is in general, I would say that most folks sort of dig in their heels a little bit and they're not willing. They're just waiting. Then you find out that the reason for that is because the people that were managing them, those leaders are setting those behaviors and patterns. When I come into play, I'm patient at first and I'll ask all the questions, but I can quickly spot out that those behaviors that need to be changed were actually emulated by their leaders and they're allowing it and they're enabling it. The first reorgs that I usually have to do is not the practitioners, and it's not the folks that are doing the work. It's actually the people they report into. Not all of them. Some of them are like, " This is a breath of fresh air. Tell me what I need to do. I'm all in, coach." There are a few, but for the most part, it's the leaders who are stubborn who have been doing it the same way. They don't want to change, and so they're protecting their teams from not changing. That's the layer that I've got to shake the tree a little bit. It's difficult. It's hard. People don't like it. Then as soon as you make one change, everyone's like, " Oh, what are the other changes that are coming?" I have to then make the decision. If it's a small team, I can make the change in one swoop and I can confidently convey this is all the changes. Let's feel comfortable. Now it's time to unite as a team. If it's a massive team, to do it in one swoop, I disrupt the business continuity and the service that we are providing, whether mediocre, great or not great will be disrupted. I can't do it in a clean swoop. Then I have to do it in phases because there's this constant stream of change, recruit, integrate, communicate, change, recruit. Recruiting's difficult. Finding the right people is really, really hard. People are naturally a little bit on edge for about a year and a half or two because they know it's a big team and waves are coming. They don't know if they're going to belong in that wave. It doesn't matter what you do, that hint is always there. To go back to your question, Tim, it's that consistent theme is the leadership team and the behaviors that they set forward that's enabling those teams to operate that way or those individual contributors to operate that way.

Tim Gasper [00:30:14] I think that's a very interesting takeaway. In general, I think people may work with people whether you're a leader or you're a peer, an individual contributor or something like that, and you're like, " Oh man, that person is so stubborn," or they're trying to fight against change and things like that. I think a question we should all ask is not just like, oh, why is that person stubborn? But also, what is their manager or their leader doing that may be enabling this culture or this behavior to exist?

Sol Rashidi [00:30:42] Either the leader's checked out not doing anything about it or the leader is exactly the same way, and they're bros. Gender- neutral, doesn't matter if you're a guy or girl, just they're tight. They're thick as thieves. One way or another, it's coming from someone.

Juan Sequeda [00:31:00] I want to go into continue always honest, no BS, but maybe into a little bit of an uncomfortable place. I'm curious. Gen Zs. I think a lot of the conversations I've been having with folks, one, it's like, oh, first of all, change is hard. We talk about people who've been around for 20 years and don't want to go change and stuff. We've had this conversation, but then there is like, oh, I want to go hire people to go do things. And then we're having this new generation come along, and all leaders, executives and startup founders I'm talking to, they're struggling to find people who can really be up to that level of standard that you're discussing they have. They're like, do I lower this down? Gen Zs, and honest, no BS here, we're talking to you and listen. We want you to listen to us.

Sol Rashidi [00:31:57] I'm saying Millennials, eat your own food.

Juan Sequeda [00:31:59] Millennials too. Yeah.

Sol Rashidi [00:32:00] No, but I'm like, eat your own food now, because you're the ones that are having to manage them. Remember when we struggled? In my teams, and again, I got my ass handed to me. I didn't know this, and I'll explain the story of something that I came across and I had to go to HR. I got called into HR. I'll tell you guys that story and what happened. Baby Boomers thought Gen X was the Renegade. Gen X thought, shit these Millennials are entitled. How are we supposed to manage them? They have so many boundaries and work- life balance. Get done, produce your deliverable. Now Gen Z is taking it to a whole another level, and the Millennials are complaining and I'm like, eat your own dog food. There you go. Have at it. Because what we struggled with you guys, you guys are now struggling with your Gen Xers. My philosophy is different. It's a little bit different in how I would want to operate versus how I've had to operate within enterprise. I don't care how old you are. I don't care what generation you belong. I don't care if you work three hours. I don't care if you work 68 hours. I don't care if you want to work in Bermuda. I don't care if you want to work in New York City, but you must do the following things. Show up for your teammates and not be absentee or checked out. When you assign something, get your shit done. No excuses, because when you slip, everything else slips. Accountability for me is huge. Show up for your teammates. Build those relationships. Do not be checked out. Be accountable. If something's assigned to you, get it done. When you get it done, I don't want to see something half- assed, quarter- assed. Do it with a level of quality that you would be proud of. Screw it, that I would be proud of, and level up. That's how I hire. I actually hire more for grit and gumption and tenacity than I do skill set. I can teach the other stuff. Sometimes it could be a Gen Xer and sometimes it's not a Gen Xer, so I don't hire for how brilliant you are in writing code. That stuff doesn't matter to me because that is not guaranteed to success. Showing up and being accountable and not being a jerk to your teammates, that stuff matters more to me when building a team. I hope there's more than... I hope the majority of each of these generations, there's more of those type of people than not. That's my philosophy. Now the reality of it, that's just not always the case. You need a butt in the seat. You need to hire, you need to get stuff done. In that case, I'm like, you have to know how each generation and what generation respects. This is where it connects back into the HR story. Biweekly, I meet with my leadership team, my LT. Monthly, I meet with my LT plus one, the people that report into my leadership team. Why did I do that? Because I got my ass handed to me and learned from a mistake that, oh, what I may be communicating to the LT and the discussions we may be having may or may not actually would communicate in the same way. I learned by mistake. So now I have a monthly LT plus one and I will review what I reviewed with the LT, and then we'll have a discussion as a group of how we want to communicate or what we want to do or the risks we want to avoid. That way, it holds my LT accountable for communicating the right things, and the LT plus one who's really responsible for getting the day to day done, they can hear it straight from the source. On one of the calls, we usually take every five, 10 minutes of just what I call micro wins and celebrations. What have we done? Who should be noted? Who should be just put on a pedestal and thanked? One of my LT plus one was going on paternity leave. And so I had asked him, I said, " Hey, do you guys know or are you having a boy or a girl? Are you guys excited? Is the room set up? Tell me about it." I thought... Do you guys think that's a harmless question?

Juan Sequeda [00:36:02] No.

Tim Gasper [00:36:03] Seems pretty harmless. Yeah.

Sol Rashidi [00:36:09] That's what got me pulled into HR, and I'll tell you why. There was a pause and one of my LT plus ones said, " Well, we are not identifying it as a boy or as a girl. It will choose which gender it chooses. So we are not going to identify a gender." Pause. And I was like, " All right, that's cool." That's all I knew what to say. I'm like, " That's cool." I'm like, " Well nonetheless, have fun. This is going to be amazing. You're going to have a ton of sleepless nights, but whatever you do, make sure you're there for your wife. She's going to go through these things." I was like, " That's fine," and we moved on and talked about other things. About four hours later, my HR partner called me in the office. " So I heard you had an awkward moment in a meeting." I was like, " Well, I wouldn't consider it awkward, but I think everyone was like, what the fuck just happened? But whatever." I'm like, " Did you get the details?" She's like, " Yeah. What came to me was that you were being insensitive." I was like, " I asked the guy if he was having a boy or a girl so I could send a gift basket and congratulate the family. I did not know that was a crime." I told her, I was like, " Tara, you let me know how I was supposed to react or that I'm not supposed to be personal with any of my leaders and get to know them." Because I grew up in a day and age where women were considered emotional, and so we learned to be very neutral and Stoic. Now I'm leading in an age where we're told to be vulnerable as female leaders and be personable and build relationships. He's about to go through a major life event. Why wouldn't I ask him? And he's about to go on materially for three months. " What was I supposed to say exactly? Can you coach me?" She rolls her eyes, she's like, " I don't know, Sol. I just need to let you know that we got this thing and you were being insensitive. I don't know the rule book anymore, but I just wanted you to know about it. Don't worry, just you're fine. Go." I was like, okay. That's inaudible deal with.

Tim Gasper [00:38:19] People stuff, right?

Sol Rashidi [00:38:21] Yeah, hyper almost like a robotic because you don't know who you're going to trigger because of some latest new wave like woke thing or that it is fundamentally intensive. I don't know the rules and I'm learning. I'm still learning. I think we all are.

Juan Sequeda [00:38:43] Thank you for sharing this story because I'll acknowledge that for people, this will be feeling uncomfortable and weird, but this is the stuff that happens. I think we need more of this open communication in all directions. Going back to what you were saying earlier, the relentless communication that's not just about the work, but this is also about how we should work together. At the end of the day, organizations, companies, there are a group of human beings who get together because they have an interest. They align with the goal and objective and they say, " Hey, we should all get together to accomplish this objective." At the end, it's a human endeavor or organizations, companies, enterprises. Let's not forget the human part.

Sol Rashidi [00:39:27] You know how I changed my tactic on that? Because I knew if it was just up to me, I would be tripping, and I was tripping literally every other week. I would say something that was apparently insensitive, because I asked how someone was doing and I was invading their personal... I was like, oh my God. So how do you be personal without personable? I changed tactics, and what I had to do was I'd always find a person on my team inevitably who's either well- liked or is naturally more of an empath than I am. I'm not an empath. I'm very much biased for action. Let's get things done. I'm personable. I have charisma. I really, really adore, and I'm so loyal to my team, but I am not an empath. I will not feel what you feel. I have very strong boundaries. I'm very clear in who I am. I will not feel what you feel. I have a thousand things on my plate. If you're going through a moment and you haven't shared that with me, I'm not going to telepathically know. Oftentimes, my teams aren't five people. That's easy to be an empath. When it's hundreds, it's very difficult. Now that it's in Zoom, I can't read body language. People are multitasking. They're not always in the videos. It's nearly impossible. I'll always find the one person in my team that's liked who is the empath, and I will either make him or her the chief of staff, or I will make him or her the head of communications or community of practitioners, and I will have him or her review everything I am about to put out there or potentially say or questions to ask and say, " Am I going to trigger anyone?" Even though I think I'm being overly sensitive. It's amazing with those. " Well, so- and- so is going through this. They shared with me, you may not want to mention this, or she may say that actually this is a good question, but reconstruct it in this way." I'm like, I would've never thought of that. That's a skill set I don't necessarily have, and they do. Now I have surrounded myself just with people who are better at it than I am.

Juan Sequeda [00:41:35] That's an excellent tactic. Being comfortable, being uncomfortable is knowing where your limits are and where you need to go help and be able to find folks who can balance you there. A couple more things we want to hit. Talk about the book. The book book is out, and there's this other, the AI Strategy. I love how you say how to select the use case. It's not always about business value. Just quickly, we're a non- salesy podcast, but we're all about selling knowledge and education and books. So tell us.

Sol Rashidi [00:42:09] Thank you. Yes. Total amazing shameless plug, so thank you so very much. A dear friend of mine, Steve Norrie, I think you guys know him. He's pretty active on LinkedIn, very well respected. He was having a conversation with a publisher and he is like" Talk to Sol. May Sol has something to write about. She's been in the weeds, she's been in the caves." My whole life has been deployment and execution and not talking about it, but really doing it. It is very much grounded in, oh crap, we can't do this. I have a whole thing on self- service analytics and why it doesn't work because I've tried it in four different companies and the things that I've learned from it. Anyway, publisher approached me in November, " Any interest in this?" I was like, wow, okay, everything is here, but I've never put it on a piece of paper. I woke up morning at 4: 30 and I would write until 8: 00 AM, and it was amazing. It was very cathartic, like chapter after chapter after chapter. I'd spend weekends on editing. I had a few angels and muses on my side. You guys know Joe Reese. He was one of my editors. My husband Drew was one of my editors. One of my clients, and they don't have a technical bone in their body. One of my editors, a shout- out to Noah Gale from Tribe. ai, he was one of my editors. I'm like, is this making sense? I don't want you to understand how to write Python scripts to be able to understand this stuff because this is where inaudible development or the tech. They took the time... Oh, and Cindi Howson, of course from ThoughtSpot. She was one of my editors. Anyway, everyone was wonderful, and they gave me their feedback, submitted the book, and now it is available on Kindle. It goes live April 30th, but yay, I've already gotten bestseller, which is amazing on Amazon and Barnes and Nobles and Kobo and Book Review.

Tim Gasper [00:44:04] Congrats.

Sol Rashidi [00:44:06] Yeah, oh, I was so scared. I'm like, I'm not a writer. I'm not a content person. I can communicate, I can articulate, but writing is a different beast. It's very much an introverted in your own head. There's a lot of noise and chatter in my head, so to pull that away, I'm like, no, be concise and be clear is a different beast. I've been very lucky. I did get the bestseller list and across three random categories, AI being one of them, starting a business being another, and leadership inaudible. Key themes that inaudible AI playbook, a data playbook, a product playbook, whether you're a practitioner or an executive. They're just some fundamentals and basics you can't skip. One of the posts was the AI pyramid of scope. You start with a Y end with a Y. Seems common sense. I have gone into more AI strategies than you know, and they never even explained me why are you guys even doing this? Do you need to do this? You're in oil and gas and mining. Is there really a competitive threat if you don't do AI? Why are you doing this? Or are you riding the bandwagon? If so, be honest. There's a lot of actual frameworks and tools and things. Another one is how do you even pick an AI strategy? This isn't, we are going to be human centric, risk averse, and we are going to evolve our capabilities with the advent... No, no, no, no. That is not an AI strategy. How do you pick one? Are you efficacy- based? Productivity- based? Efficiency- based? Growth- based? Expert- based? Depending on your data maturity, your infrastructure maturity and your people maturity, not all five are going to be available to you. And so go through and answer the questions and the questions are in there and the answers are in there. Or use cases I've been pulled into because I'm advising now more companies than not, where they're like, " Okay, we have these nine use cases, we're ready to activate, but we don't know how to activate." I'm like, " Well, seven of these aren't even right for you guys." " Well, why not?" " You don't have the maturity to deploy any of them into production." You can go through POC, but the reason why people are always stuck in perpetual POC purgatory is because they pick use cases that were too big for their breeches. There's a theme in the book called bend It, but don't break it. Stretch, but not to the point where you can't bounce back. How do you pick use cases? Business value is not the answer. There's actual, here's a framework of measuring complexity versus criticality, so that even if you pick a use case, there is business value inherently in it, and here are the reasons why, and here's how you can identify. But your complexity will determine your ability to deploy and push it into production. Six I made in the past. Just like actual things. There's even one chapter called Your Project Killer, and it's your people. I talk about if you're building a team, how to build it based on the skill and will matrix. If you've inherited a team or you have to work with other teams, it's the 10 AI archetypes. You're always going to have the curmudgeons, the naysayers, the doers, the cheerleaders, the evangelists, and each person you have to include. When to include them is super critical. I have one with the naysayers in the know- it- all. People are just negative always. " No, that won't work. Oh, because of this, no, that won't." I'm like, actually use them, but not when you're developing your vision, not when you're developing your mission, not when you're identifying the use case. Use them when your use case exercise is done. I actually go through what does that even mean and how to do it, and then have them point out the holes because they're really good at being negative. Use them as your blind spot or spot checker on why things may not work. Doesn't mean don't do it. It means now add those as potential risks for those things and then come up with mitigation plans so you can move forward. Everyone serves a purpose. Just stuff like that.

Juan Sequeda [00:48:06] Tim and I are back selling like, oh, you should have really called this the Honest No- BS guy. inaudible say about this. Sorry, that was a shameless plug for us here.

Sol Rashidi [00:48:14] Totally. Totally.

Juan Sequeda [00:48:16] No, I'm super excited to get the book in my hand to start reading it.

Sol Rashidi [00:48:22] Thank you. Thank you.

Juan Sequeda [00:48:24] Well, all right, let's kick it off our lightning round questions. I got number one. You've worked with many data teams. What's the number one common thing, common issue that they face?

Sol Rashidi [00:48:36] They can't tell the story. They cannot tell the story. We use our language. We talk about orchestration, observability, data hygiene, integrity, pipeline, semantic layers, conform layers. We use our language. The business does not understand, nor do they care. It is all about what am I going to get and when am I going to get it and why is it taking so long? For us, it is all about being able to tell the story using their language, and you have to study their language. That communication isn't about saying. Communication is making sure that the person on the other end is receiving what you are saying in the exact intended way. We forget that. We just think it's talking. No.

Tim Gasper [00:49:26] No.

Sol Rashidi [00:49:26] And we get it wrong every time.

Tim Gasper [00:49:29] I can't agree more with that, the number of times that you can get into an argument with anybody in the workplace or otherwise where it's" But I told you that. You didn't hear it." So the communication didn't happen. Whose fault is that? Well, if I'm trying to get a message across, then I need to take responsibility that my message is going to be understood. That means using their language.

Sol Rashidi [00:49:53] The mindset shift is like my six... I have two kids, six and eight years old, and I love them. They are rambunctious, they are funny, they are mischievous, they are brilliant in their own way. I have to freaking repeat things four, five, six times and it pisses me off. I'm like, they're doing their own thing. They've got their own agenda. It's not my agenda. It's like" Go to bed." " No, I'm going to finish this one drawing, or I need to beat this one mod in Minecraft." They've got their own thing. It's the same. It's the same. You have to inaudible relentless communication, but in a way that uses their language and make sure that they perceived it in the way that you intended to communicate it.

Tim Gasper [00:50:36] Well- stated. All right, second lightning round question. Is it easier for leaders who are good communicators to become technical? Or is it easier for technical people to become good communicators?

Sol Rashidi [00:50:47] That is such a good question. I actually think technical people can become good communicators easier than good communicators becoming technical. Here's the reason why. When you're in sales, I'm just putting that, let's say you're head of business development or you're head of marketing, you are creatively wired. Your brain fundamentally cannot and does not enjoy understanding a line of code or architecture pipeline. It is gut- wrenching for them. I think their capacity to learn the technical world, which is big and bad, where would you even guide them? Where would they even start? I think not that it's a lost cause, I think they should know at least the surface layer of everything, but it's very hard for them to go deep. I think we as technical individuals, and actually even me, I would say I'm techno functional. I'm that weird hybrid in the middle, but I really enjoy whiteboarding sessions talking about data architecture. That gets my goat. I love it. I think we have a better capacity and understand, regardless if you're an introvert or extrovert, doesn't matter, or an ambivert. Just like we learned code, there's formulas and there's recipes that we can apply and that can be learned that can make you more successful. Even if you want to approach it in a methodical way with the framework, you could. That's why the number one selling books is around leadership and management and sales. Because the framework is relatively consistent. Who's the character that's in trouble? How are you going to rescue them? What are they going to feel at the end of it? And then, what impact have you had? It's a formula. There's a storyline, and it doesn't matter if it's the Lego movies or Avengers or you're watching Liam Neeson. There's always a damsel in distress. There's always a hero in distress. There's always a triggering event. It's fairly consistent. I actually think that if we study the framework and it's important for us to be successful, we can actually learn to communicate a lot easier than they can learn to be technical. We have the books and the frameworks. It's hard for them to even know where to start. It's too big.

Juan Sequeda [00:53:19] All right, great. All right. Last lightning round question. Should analytics be under the purview of the CDO?

Sol Rashidi [00:53:29] Yes, but the organizational structure matters too. Not in a centralized org structure. You won't have enough domain expertise. I'm a big fan of the hub and spoke model. You can't do analytics without the data. If you're responsible for the data, you have ownership of the data and you understand analytically what insights need to be generated and what they can't generate, you can always trace it back to the root cause of either we don't have the data or we have the data and it's messy, or it's not messy, but it's not available or it's available, but not in a way that the business can leverage it. You fix this world and then this world can be fixed. So I do, however, I think every analyst, I think anyone in analytics should always sit in the business. The way my hub and spoke model works that I personally really love, I own the head count. I'm responsible for their career. I'm responsible for the up- stealing, and I'm responsible for training them of where the data is in the state it's at and how to use and how to access and how to pull in any which way they want. But they sit in business and the priorities and the business tells them what to do on a day- to- day basis. For all intents and purposes, the business runs and it feels like it's their resource. They don't have to come to the central or the enterprise app. Nope, that's it. All the stuff that they don't know how to do, it's our jobs to do. For me, that's a model that works.

Juan Sequeda [00:54:57] This has been such an amazing conversation.

Sol Rashidi [00:55:00] Oh, you say that to everyone.

Juan Sequeda [00:55:02] Here's what we do, so we're going to go on our takeaways because you're going to see everything that we've taken away from this conversation. Tim, take us away with takeaways. Kick us off.

Tim Gasper [00:55:11] Yes, so much amazing stuff. We started with Honest OBS, how is data and AI transforming leadership. You said, well, it's a cluster. You've got the CDO, the CIO, the CTO, the CDAO. There's no clarity on the division of labor. What's going on? What are we trying to accomplish? You said there's three main reasons why it's a cluster. One, the people accountable for things aren't always willing to step up, like, " Oh, we'll figure it out when you get here." That doesn't always happen. Two, with gen AI coming onto the landscape, you've got these technical people moving up in the leadership ladder, but they don't always have the coaching or the knowledge or the skills to really be effective leaders yet. We need to figure out how to turn their IQ into EQ. Then finally, the third thing you mentioned that leaders are trained how to build a team, be adaptable and be agile. That's ideally what's happening with AI and everything that's going on, all the changes that are happening, agility and the ability to react to this" oh shit" moment, is going to be really key here. I thought that was a great way to kick things off. Juan, over to you. What about your takeaways?

Juan Sequeda [00:56:16] I'm going to continue with everything. So, so many notes. How do we navigate this cluster? I guess the honest, no BS is just, we're still figuring it out. Every two years there's something happening in the industry that the workforce is shifting, but there's always an increase of strategic priorities. Developing the product and the capability, that's the easy thing. But the commercialization, the marketing, the scale, that's the hard. That's something that you don't do in six months at all. Relentless communication, that's a T- shirt. If you're trying to go scale, you must do it at multiple levels, executives, middle management, individual contributors, and you must repeat, repeat the message. You know you're being successful if you are tired of repeating that message. What are you actually communicating? Well, it really depends on the organization. Is it a data and AI strategy? Is it a product market fit? I like how we went off with the discussion in two parts. At the practitioner level, if you're a data architect, data scientist, data engineer, it feels like you're just doing tactical things at the office. But you are a link in this chain and this chain is connected and everything you do day- to- day matters because it's part of that link and it serves a purpose. You really should understand what that link is and where that goes because that's a big picture. Understand your link, how it connects, and it helps you when you're frustrated to get them frustrated. Also, when others get frustrated, you can help them. Now on the leadership and executive point of view, it's not just about your link anymore, it's that you have everyone else's links that's forming a chain. On communication, it has to be short and succinct. It's not about coming in and giving your point of view and saying, " Hey, here's what we're going to go do." That comes after you build those relationships and establish that trust that then you're going to go do that. After the first three months you say, when you go in, you need to be able to intimately understand what's going on. You ask those questions, what do you think my job is? What should we start doing that we haven't? What should we stop doing? What should we keep doing? What's your perception about my team? I also like, I do this all the time too, what is the magic wand? If a magic wand, what would you do? What would you automatically want? Go to every happy hour, be social, don't talk about work. Just really need to build those relationships. Then from a team and people perspective, I think if you inherit a team, you have folks who've been around for a long time, there's a lot of seniority. You can't always have a transition plan because there's actually going to be no ROI on that. You have to really understand, do you have a budget to hire people? Can you cherry- pick from other teams? This is a big story with companies who look, they say they want to go innovate and transform, but are they actually being up for the change? What is the common playbook? One of the things you said is... One of the things I brought inaudible look at my nose here. You have to be careful not to disrupt the business continuity. So especially large companies, you may have to make change then recruit, change their recruit. This applies especially for a lot of the larger companies, and maybe, I like this one, maybe you're meeting with your LT weekly. You should also do LT plus one monthly. We talked about Gen Zs and I think this is one thing is that every generation complains about the previous generation. Remember the Boomers were in order of Gen X, Gen X was about the Millennials. Millennials are struggling with Gen Zs. So hey, you know what? It's up to us now.

Sol Rashidi [00:59:19] Inaudible.

Juan Sequeda [00:59:19] I like this. I don't care if you work three hours or 68 hours or whatever. I like this. Show up for your teams. Don't be checked out. When you're assigned things. Get it done. Be accountable. Don't do it half- assed. Do it with quality. Not only you should be proud of it, your leader should be proud of it. They're just a level up. I like how you said you hire for grit, for gumption and tenacity. Then your book, so much stuff in your book that I think everybody... This should be a must- read. I think it is already a must- read and I can't wait to go and get it. I'm going to call it the Honest No- BS Book of Data Strategy, with an AI strategy.

Sol Rashidi [00:59:59] Hey, post it and call it that. I love it.

Juan Sequeda [01:00:01] Anyways, there's still so much more. I got more notes. Anything we missed?

Sol Rashidi [01:00:06] Honestly, you can cut out and edit 52 minutes of our conversation and just end with the summary and takeaways that you guys had. Feel free if that's what you want to do.

Juan Sequeda [01:00:14] All right, to wrap it up quickly, what's your advice? Who should be invited next? What resources do you follow?

Sol Rashidi [01:00:25] My advice is don't get complacent ever. Don't ever feel like you've got it. As soon as you feel like, okay, I know my space and I'm hot shit, it probably means you're further back than you think. Don't ever get complacent. Always evolve. Always adapt. It sounds easy, but you'd be amazed at how many people I meet who are like, " I am amazing at this." I'm like, that's fantastic. That's like one thread in the quilt. The picture's bigger. Who you should invite. Okay, I'm going to have to come back only because I am a lover of people and there's so many brilliant and smart individuals that I feel like if I call one out and not the other, it would've inaudible. A name does pop up. His name is Owen Rogers. He actually worked and was a partner at IDO, so he's this creative mastermind that loves tech. He really knows how to interlock creativity and technology. One of my former bosses, Jay Schneider as well, he's the one that taught me all about product development and having high standards with anything you put out in the market. Then in terms of what you should read, I have nine different books that are open and that's why I struggle reading all of them. Business Made Simple by Donald Miller, Tim Ferriss, Ray Dalio, Noah Kagan, which I love The Million Dollar... I just read that one, The Million Dollar Business. I would start with those. I think it'll ground you. And of course my book, but it'll ground you and give you a sense of just how things are done at a different level that we are not involved with, but we are. We just don't know about it. That's the start to leadership and communication and selling without selling. I don't do hard sales whatsoever, but the subtleties really, really matter. Those are the ones I would recommend.

Juan Sequeda [01:02:07] Sol, thank you so much for such an amazing and truly honest no- BS conversation. As always, thanks inaudible who lets us do this every week. Cheers. Thank you so much and looking forward to seeing you the next inaudible.

Sol Rashidi [01:02:20] Take care. Bye-Bye.

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