Scroll to top
Smarter change

16: Ingo Bentrott: it’s not about the algorithm

Consultants' Consultant
16: Ingo Bentrott: it's not about the algorithm

Ingo Bentrott is an academic who teaches business statistics and business marketing. Here is his Linked in Profile.

Ingo and I discuss making sure your data house is on good foundations: understanding where the data came from and what it means. Since we met improvising we talk about how improv has influenced his lecturing style. We venture into corporate politics, by way of the the Pomodoro technique and sail past the pirate ship of “no dickheads” policies.

Find the podcast on


Transcription of the Ingo Bentrott Podcast

Cindy Tonkin [00:00:07] Hi there this is Cindy Tonkin I’m the consultants consultant. I work with data science teams helping them work even smarter faster and nicer. If you’re brilliant and you want to be even better. This is the podcast for you.

Ingo Bentrott [00:00:24] My guest today is Ingo Bentrott.  He and I met improvising years ago and we’re just talking about improv. Are you one of those kinds of lecturers who strides around the podium, Ingo?

Ingo Bentrott [00:00:38] Well I remember when we were initially taking the classes and then doing some improv on stage. So I usually like a kind of stay within a couple meters of the podium but walk around. But one of the things we learn at improv was if you’re really just stuck:  So let’s say a student asks the question in front of 450 pairs of eyes looking at you – if you move… So sometimes I remember I’ll think about it but I’ll also like walk a few meters and for some reason you get the juices flowing.

Cindy Tonkin [00:01:25] the kinesthetic.

Ingo Bentrott [00:01:28]  I read this article in Scientific American but there actually is scientific veracity, there is evidence that somehow using your lower brain and the upper brain you get the juices flowing at the same time actually it.

Cindy Tonkin [00:01:44] it frees you up. “I need to move to think”.

Ingo Bentrott [00:01:44] It’s really true.

Cindy Tonkin [00:01:47] It’s more than anecdotal.

Ingo Bentrott [00:01:56] Yeah it has been scientifically proven. But I walk around so that is some of the improv techniques. When you’re stuck. you can’t be like No. You have to be “yes”. So it’s always a Yes and. And so even if my students something is totally out of left field. And let’s see let’s say they’re basically wrong in their interpretation completely off 180 hundred degrees off. You want to like “yes” and steer ’em back. So I think little things from improv like have really come in handy over the years. Yeah you got to yes and it’s never a no, but. You are always onstage. You know you never turn your back to the audience.

Cindy Tonkin [00:02:47] Which of course when you’re lecturing when you’re actually working with a group of 400 you have to keep these things in mind.

Ingo Bentrott [00:02:54] It really does help. And I mean we joke about edutainment. Yeah I’m sure you’ve heard that.

Cindy Tonkin [00:03:01] I use the term all the time.

A lecture is a performance…

Ingo Bentrott [00:03:05] There’s a pejorative sense of that but I mean it in a good way. A good lecture is a good show. Yeah. Then they walk away hopefully after an hour and a half learning something they didn’t know before. But if it’s not entertaining you’re not going to pay attention.

Cindy Tonkin [00:03:22] As an educator, what’s the story with telephones. How do you deal with the fact that people are tuning out and tuning into their computer and their telephones all the time? How do you deal with it?

Ingo Bentrott [00:03:33] I mean it’s pervasive. You can’t come down hard core on it. But it’s just more dealing with it. So I’m usually like as long as you’re not detracting from the lecture so long as you’re not in a very long time. The other thing is the students were watching this. This student got a call. But they’re in the front row and they picked it up and started speaking in front of while I’m lecturing. there I kind of draw them the line. That’s a bit different. Either you say sorry but to be fair that was once in the past 2 years. Most of them are like whoops sorry and turn it off. And that’s okay. So you just try to keep it to a minimum like hey if you’re going to do this just keep it on silent and if you need or if you really do need to take a phone call just go outside and come back and let me tell you it’s okay. But you really it’s I mean I would say like 80 percent of people in general, second screeners, you know you’re looking at you and you’re working at a laptop and then you got married at first sight playing on the background.

Side bar: Research shows you’re smarter when you can’t see your phone

Cindy Tonkin [00:04:44] It’s weird.  And that is so are you seeing a decline in attention as a result? The research would say that multitasking in that way is actually degenerating our ability to focus. Are you seeing that or…?

Ingo Bentrott [00:05:05] Yeah. And the thing to be fair to the students we’ve got so much on my phone and this and this it’s just everybody I think.

Cindy Tonkin [00:05:13] Oh yes this is not an age related thing.

Ingo Bentrott [00:05:16] Yeah. And then the other thing too I know people like they like to criticize millennials and stuff like that but to be fair they’re just as intelligent as any other generation.

Cindy Tonkin [00:05:30] Absolutely.

Ingo Bentrott [00:05:31] It’s just more of the focus issue. So in terms of innate ability they’re no different than any other generation. They’re just as smart. Yeah.

Cindy Tonkin [00:05:39] It’s the context has changed.

Ingo Bentrott [00:05:41] It’s more that. Yeah. So if you do have an entertaining… What we’re talking about initially you know you don’t want to make the lecture a joke. Where they’re just laughing and it’s a comedy show. Then they think you’re kind of a joke. But then again you don’t want to be too serious. So there is a nice kind of middle way balance where you want to kind of have a strategy like comedians talk of the rule of threes. So I kind of do this with slide like content, content then something kind of humorous. Content, content so that as soon as they’re kind of starting to get bored. This is interesting, this is funny, every third slide I try to have something to break the pattern. They go “ha-ha, I’m glad I paid attention to that. Then they’ll hang on for two more content slides. So so far that’s been good. I want to way this is anecdotal.

Cindy Tonkin [00:06:39] You haven’t done the research around this yet! It is partly about gripping their attention for long enough to get a point made, isn’t it?

Ingo Bentrott [00:06:46] Yeah. But like I say you know that people only like say you don’t want to make it ha ha ha every time and they’re laughing. They’re not actually writing down or absorbing. It’s a tricky one. But I think I mean given the constraints with the phones and the laptops and everybody on Facebook and all that we’re doing ok. You don’t want to be an ogre.

Cindy Tonkin [00:07:18] No I’ve tried that, doesn’t work.

Ingo Bentrott [00:07:19] You know you actually get rebellion because then it’s just that it’s I mean you look and then it was more like when we were at least in elementary school primary school where it was the kids against the teacher. Yeah. And you really don’t want that situation. So it’s more like “Hey I’m leaving and I’m giving you this info”. And the students are on your side. So you want to. You really don’t want to do that because then they’ll gang up against you. We’ve had lecturers where this didn’t go well. Well when they tried this Draconian approach.

Cindy Tonkin [00:07:50] Yeah exactly. Well it’s a modern question isn’t it? So in terms of looking smarter obviously improv was something that you do. Why did you go to improv, what was it that took you there in the first place.

Ingo Bentrott [00:08:02] Well I always liked comedy and I always liked making jokes and cracks and I was an undergrad I wrote for the student paper. But serious topics intermixed with funny quips and so but now improv was. I just thought I’d try.  And I saw friends do it and it was more to get you out of your comfort zone and thinking. But I’ve always wondered if more standup would be more because really lecturing is more like stand up.

Cindy Tonkin [00:08:35] Yeah. Look I’ve done a bit of both.  I did some standup courses. I mean I’ve just done one or two standup giggy things.  But it’s not for me because it’s not about people. It’s actually quite cutthroat and competitive in my experience. So you have your thing and you fight like hell to get the top spot in open mic. If you get a spot Ingo that means I didn’t get a spot.

Ingo Bentrott [00:09:07] It’s a zero sum game. exactly.

Cindy Tonkin [00:09:14] Improv audiences are much kinder as well. Improv audiences don’t want you to fail. Comedy audiences they’re waiting for you to fail and that’s what hecklers are about. “I want to show you how I’m smarter than you are”. In my experience and having spoken to a number of people who’ve done it. That said, for me, any way you develop your mind is a good way to develop your mind. Improv for me is the same deal, basically. I started because a friend said you will have the best time. And I did.

Ingo Bentrott [00:09:40] Well maybe the improv yeah because really in terms of what I’ve been doing since I’ve been 18 it’s more serious points but then throw a joke in. So I think with improv have a serious scene like you’re on a boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. You know “Hey Captain put the sail up. Yahaar'”. So you’re actually kind of not serious but a historic situation. You make it humorous. So maybe you’re right. I never thought about this I watched the people recounting stories with the stand-ups but you are right. Yeah. The zero sum game where if I get a 10 minute set that means you only get a five minutes. Yeah I listen to podcasts by stand-ups and they said that people steal your jokes too if you’re smaller..

Cindy Tonkin [00:10:30] Whereas in improv we’ll say “Did I steal your joke. Don’t worry. Here it is back”.

Ingo Bentrott [00:10:33] You know I’ve heard that actually I heard some there is some cut throat where people actually will do the 5 minute set and then the headliner. And what are you going to do. You’re nobody. Yes I heard about jokes.

Cindy Tonkin [00:10:51] there’s enough status in the improv world but even more when it’s in front of the audience.

Ingo Bentrott [00:10:56] You’ve talked me out of it.

Cindy Tonkin [00:10:59] Yeah, come back to improv!

Ingo Bentrott [00:10:59] Yeah we were talking about that earlier. But the scene is just I think that everybody is moving on. But also with the age. Do you think the age being that we’re the over 40 set?

Cindy Tonkin [00:11:17] You know the over 40s are a special interest group. The Del Close Marathon is in New York every year and it’s in memory of Del Close who founded long form improv in Chicago. And it’s a three or four day marathon and there are special interest groups who if you’ve got a member of your troupe in those special interest groups you get preference for getting into the marathon. And those are LGBTIQ, over 40 or disabilities. So being over 40 is a disability in improv. But that said there’s a group of people. I mean I find them and bring them together. When I ran my show part of my criteria was you had to be over 30 to even be in the show. Because I wanted people who had some experience. Because while there’s a huge number of people in improv who are young 18 to 25. They don’t have a depth of experience to do a scene for example at a funeral, because they’ve never been to one. They don’t have a depth of experience to do a relationship between people. I remember being in show one night I was there with my husband at the time. We’d been married 22 years. So the scene starts with two teenagers meeting each other and then they marry then it’s fast forward 20 years. And they came onstage hunched over on Zimmer frames. My god you were 20 before and now you’re 40 and you’ve be married 20 years. I turned to James and just went “That’s what they think we’re like”. Walking frames because they just don’t know. You put a 40 year old in that scene and they already know what it’s like to be in a 20 year marriage.

Ingo Bentrott [00:13:06] Well my son is five and he’s like yeah, daddy’s old, he’s 30.

Cindy Tonkin [00:13:13] Exactly. Exactly. The thing I love about improv and it consistently teaches me to be vulnerable. It teaches me to be resilient. There’s all the stagecraft we’ve spoken about but there’s also the resilience. That bombed. Try something else. Rather than I’m broken now I’ll never start again.

Do the important stuff first

Ingo Bentrott [00:13:42] I want to go back to the teaching. If I’m trying to explain something to the students, I can see the look on their faces. Then it’s like I step back and try to come at it from with another angle.

Cindy Tonkin [00:13:52] Yes. For some people just even the audience focus of improv:  how are they responding to this. People learn that from improv.

Ingo Bentrott [00:14:01] I remember some scenes back in the bar at the Clarence Hotel. I remember there was one day it was actually quite packed and you could see that the audience was all “yeah, yeah”. And at first I’m thinking oh I should switch over and get off stage and I have somebody else come up but I was hitting it like a pinball machine. And I realized I had to stay and keep going. Let the audience be happy.

Cindy Tonkin [00:14:25] Someone will bring it down it’s when it’s time.

Ingo Bentrott [00:14:27] I just remember that cause it was just boom, boom, boom, with the audience going crazy it’s like okay I’m going to stay here and give them a little more. I’ll give them what they want. And similarly if I was flailing it was time to step off

Cindy Tonkin [00:14:38] If nothing’s happening do something different (or get off)! So talk to me about in terms professionalism is there any anything else you do for working smarter faster or nicer. How do you keep yourself sane?

Ingo Bentrott [00:14:56] Well right now I just got the student marks from the summer exams so it’s the appeals process. That’s not a smart or fast thing. Sometimes in life there just sometimes is grunt work that you just need to do. That’s really the work trying to get to the fun stuff you enjoy. And then the sad part is you know I think as we’re getting more technologically sophisticated. I’ve just noticed that the more the fun stuff really it’s the admin tick tick tick compliant, tick tick tick seems to be going up. So to me working smarter is: I’ve talked to some people and what they do they would only do X amount of admin per day. Like once they hit two hours.

Cindy Tonkin [00:15:53] My brain is now full. I will do the rest later.

Ingo Bentrott [00:15:56] They use literally a timer. I use this thing called the pomodoro technique. Yeah it’s a great one. It’s the only one I’ve tried that really works.  You do the pomodoro set for twenty five minutes. That’s like “ding, ding, ding” when the fourth one is up Admin is done. Because you’ll just go insane. So that’s one thing. Now the other thing too is that your first couple hours of the day it kind of sets the tone.

Cindy Tonkin [00:16:30] Have you read Dan Pink’s “When“? Dan Pink published a book last year called When: the science of timing. He talks about depending on who you are: most people it’s the first couple of hours of the day. For me three o’clock in the afternoon is when I hit stride.

Ingo Bentrott [00:16:46] Okay I see what you’re saying but I think what I was talking to more like in terms of setting the tone for the day. So I kind of hit stride sometimes eight, nine 10 o’clock maybe later and sometimes it could be one or two o’clock. When I hit stride when I’m in the zone. But in terms of like getting up and just quiet in the house and just working on something for two hours I feel like those two hours are like four hours if I was at the office.  So I think it’s just the first two hours of the day just get up and do something. You tend to actually do the cool work and then even though you get caught up let’s say in the admin stuff which you want to pull your hair out. But since in the early morning say 8:00a.m. you were doing some cool stuff by the time one o’clock kicks around you already have you kind of have your appetite set at 8a.m. Yeah. So I just find if I don’t do something cool when I get up I won’t miss it later. But if you go straight to admin stuff when you wake up that’s I used to try that.  “Oh I’ll get it out of the way”. What you realize is you clear out 10 e-mails you check your emails an hour later there’s 20 new ones.

Cindy Tonkin [00:17:54] It will never end. It’s a fire hose…

Ingo Bentrott[00:17:57] So now what I’m trying to do the cool stuff.

Cindy Tonkin [00:18:00] So you’re talking essentially about priming yourself and also doing the most important thing the most interesting thing.

Ingo Bentrott [00:18:07] More stuff that you like to do that develops you as an individual. What you’re interested in.

Cindy Tonkin [00:18:16] Now I’m going to go off script. Been improvising the whole way through. Oh no. Podcast listeners. We’re making it up. Where are you from?

Ingo Bentrott [00:18:42] San Diego. I’m from California. Actually there’s a story behind that with the Southern California accent because most people non-Americans see the American TV and Hollywood. Well where does that come from. Hollywood, Southern California. So it’s really funny that the prototypical, stereotypical accent is in fact Southern California. so since I grew up in Southern California it would be what the whole world that accent. But if you head to the Midwest or Northeast or south you get different.

Cindy Tonkin [00:19:21] Oh yeah. And we kind of know them but yeah unless you’re an actor who’s studying the accents you’re not necessarily going to now.

Ingo Bentrott [00:19:28] So this is what I was saying but why did everybody gather it’s because of TV.  And then there’s actually one time a study about this because of Hollywood and movies and on TV that’s why the Southern California accent is the generic. And some of the chains I grew up with which I think are normal. Like in the Austin Powers movie. And he said “I want my baby back baby back ribs” and that was from Chili’s which is a Southern Californian chain. So I was laughing but I think when I saw the movie here in Australia and they wouldn’t get that. because they wouldn’t get that if they were from Ohio necessarily.  it was actually was a very Southern California joke. So yeah when I watch movies here I get you know I get a little bit more. But that’s where I grew up and transplanted here and I’m a dual citizen in both countries.

Cindy Tonkin [00:20:24] Do you go home often? Do you still call it home?

Ingo Bentrott [00:20:25] this is where it gets a little serious because of the parents getting older. It used to be once a year once every half a year now probably once every three months. I try to.

Ingo Bentrott [00:20:35] Yeah and they are still in San Diego.

Ingo Bentrott [00:20:37] One of the two are still kicking. So just as we’re getting older they’re getting older so yeah it’s a big. So yeah I’m just try to increase the frequency. So yeah I think I’m going to have to go once every three months now.

Cindy Tonkin [00:20:51] Yeah that’s tricky: just to organize that. The 15 hour flight is what kills you.

Ingo Bentrott [00:20:57] You never know. I mean dad was out of the blue. he was surfing and skiing one day. Stage four the next. that’s what I’m saying so thankfully I realized he was getting older so I was already every six months. Thinks just go pear shaped really quick. You know when you hit your 80s.

Cindy Tonkin [00:21:25] How old is your son now?

Ingo Bentrott [00:21:27] He’s five.

Cindy Tonkin [00:21:27] Do you take him with you when you go?

Ingo Bentrott [00:21:32] I did in July. Mom lives by the Legoland USA just down the street. He had a blast. You’re right in July. Why not?

Cindy Tonkin [00:21:52] It’s just it’s like Christmas but not Christmas. Christmas for Australians: July.

Ingo Bentrott [00:21:56] For us… and in December vice versa.

Cindy Tonkin [00:22:02] So talk to me about you teach data people to a certain extent.

Teaching data science

Ingo Bentrott [00:22:10] I teach introductory business statistics and introductory marketing. But professionally I was a data scientist. But we called it data mining back when I was a kid.

Cindy Tonkin [00:22:20] Someone last week said to me “what’s a data scientist”. I’m like “well do you know what a data analyst is?” Yes. “Do you know what data mining is”? Yes. “Well that’s what data science is”. Just to simplify it for the people who don’t know. So talk to me about what makes a better data person in your experience? What makes a better or worse data person?

Ingo Bentrott [00:22:39] Well I mean I do this I do some you know sometimes when consulting with clients that one of the big things that’s a lot of us “oldies” (it’s sad, I’m an old man). what we’re finding is there’s a lot of young people coming out that are red hot in terms of programming. Doing these high end algorithms that are quite sophisticated. But what we’re finding is they don’t really know what’s underneath. They really don’t have fundamental understanding of what IS data. what we’re calling now data literacy. But really the one thing in marketing we always stress is how was the data collected? When I ask a question on a survey how was the question asked. If you get a data set and it says gender in one column, well was that gender at birth, gender identification, You don’t get to just see the word gender in a column, one and zero.

Cindy Tonkin [00:23:51] What choices did they have?

Ingo Bentrott [00:23:58] Let’s keep with the macabre. “Are you scared of dying” or “do you have a fear of death” is a different thing. Can we consolidate those and into one question? All these little bits: the psychology of how was the question asked? Was there a bias in the response? So let’s say you’re super duper Harvard trained data scientist and you’re doing the best modeling in python and R that’s possible but if you are modeling on crappy data,  you just have a great model of crappy data. A beautiful house on a poor foundation versus an adequate house on a wonderful foundation. In my travels I’m really finding this more and more with the newer people coming out.

Cindy Tonkin [00:24:56] So they trust the data is going to be good rather than investigating.

Ingo Bentrott [00:24:59] Or they just make assumptions. what’s the term “assume” makes an ass out of u and me? So they just assume oh, gender 1 / 2. Male 1 2. But you don’t know what was the question on the survey element or in the bank you know some of the databases where this customer number… One of the things to and this is a simple one for anyone before the year 2000. The data was kept in multi-value fields so you’re customer number 1234. And technically in the multi-value database. That was one line of data. That’s your customer ID and the 30 things you bought. But when you export the data to be analyzed you flatten the data and then you actually get 20 records with the same customer number. So then they say “Oh the customer bought 20 things on the one order versus 20 on one order versus made twenty different purchases.  That’s where there’s a big difference actually. Yeah. Did they purchase 20 at once or 20 purchases on time? If you don’t look deeper into what’s going on. That’s the one thing we’re really starting to see is that people just go to the high level sophisticated programming to do this smart stuff.

Cindy Tonkin [00:26:37] But I actually know what I’m doing it with.

Ingo Bentrott [00:26:41] It’s like a roofer puts the best roof on the house, but if the foundation is sand, the whole house is going to fall including your beautiful roof.

Cindy Tonkin [00:26:52] So what makes a good data person is it is an ability to ask the question about where this came from? The ability to mine the history of it?

Ingo Bentrott [00:26:58] Holistically looking at everything. This is what’s interesting with all of the sophisticated algorithms that have been coming out: so being an old man of the data mining era. I actually worked with two of the authors of the major algorithms that are out there the boosted trees and the decision trees and CART. Really what we’re using now are just variants of algorithms that some of them were written as early as 1984. Boosted trees which is still being used the number one technique. If you’ve heard of Kaggle: it’s a data science competition.

Boosted trees I think Jerry wrote that in 2001. So I think Jerry already wrote that because we were using in 2003, 2004. So what’s considered cutting edge is almost a 20 year old algorithm. So long story is that you don’t need to have the fancy techniques. It’s really more about the preparation and understanding the data because now everything’s so automated once you have the data set up in the correct form it’s just basically hit a button. Go. So I would err more on the side of understand the data than understanding the algorithms because that’s really the model that we call the modeling stuff. That’s the last step. But that’s of all the time you should spend it in a project it’s probably 10 percent or less.

Cindy Tonkin [00:29:06] You’re the 12th the 13th person I have interviewed and asked this question of. And there seems to be a thread which is implicit in what you’re saying which is essentially they need to be a little bit curious. They need to understand the context. They have to find out what’s going on. It isn’t just the numbers. Yeah, you have got to know that’s how it works. If you don’t have the foundation right, you’re not checking to see if the foundations are right. You’re putting the roof on without looking at the house right. That’s kind of dumb. is that kind of what you’re saying is curiosity an element to that.

Do you dig numbers?

Ingo Bentrott [00:29:44] But that’s with any profession be it a doctor an actor. Is it a calling or a job? Do you really dig numbers, do you read books about numbers. I mean I know people that are chess people that read chess move books all day. I mean they’re really it’s like a calling. So I say with the curiosity it’s just more, like it or not, you’re doing a lot of stuff that’s just a job. in the old days it was a calling and I want to be a carpenter say:  some people like making really nice furniture.

Cindy Tonkin [00:30:31] There’s a beauty and there’s a love in the doing of that thing.

Ingo Bentrott [00:30:34] And I that I don’t know. Is that going up or down in society. I’m not sure.  I’m just saying I see a lot around that it’s a job. A lot of people that are good people, they’re not bad.  Because I said I suffer from this a wee bit but yeah I don’t think I’m not a bad person. But would a careerist versus… “hey I want to be a doctor because I want to help”. you know they all say that in job interviews “I want to help people” but they really do. Yeah versus other people like “Hey it gives me prestige it gives me money”. And I think it’s no different in data mining data science. Are you really into doing cool modeling and there are people out there. They once a week go to the industry meetings or clients or something and there truly are people who are really into this they’re really in and they love what they’re doing. Yeah but they’re the minority. I’m telling you.  So the curiosity I think that comes naturally if you’re really into something. You’re just reading up in your off time just what can I do with this.

Cindy Tonkin [00:31:48] I think I’ve just put up Chris Carr’s podcast and he works in financial services doing this. I’ve known him 15 years or something and he’s been doing it for a while. And he talked about he said people have to be sticky beaks. You have to have a little bit of a sticky beak.

Ingo Bentrott [00:32:17] To that point, what I try to do is I try know with the pomodoro technique I do what I call “One hour primary research”. So where I’m just reading books on making sure everything’s up to date, reading new techniques. Well as an academic you naturally kind of read articles. So I try to take one hour where it’s just what’s the latest, what’s happening, and also even at my age and experience using Corsera or edX to up skill.  There is an interesting bit: Daphne, she’s one of the co-founders from Corsera and a lot of people were worried, especially academics. Oh it’s going to cannibalize, take students away from the universities. Well it turns out the majority of users of Corsera have a postgraduate degree already.  Twenty, twenty five percent are doing it in lieu of a degree. The majority are people that are up skilling. I try to do that but once again if you’re working to put food on the table.

Cindy Tonkin [00:33:40] Like you say an hour a week.

Ingo Bentrott [00:33:42] Oh no, I try an hour a day. Also for your own sanity because you’re actually doing something. It’s like reading a new novel or something.

Cindy Tonkin [00:33:57] Do you listen to podcasts are you a podcast person. What podcasts are taking your attention right now?

Ingo Bentrott [00:34:05] I do ABC: the business they do that two minute business report, That’s a nice one. That’s good. I always felt it was a quick down and dirty.

Ingo Bentrott [00:34:17] But are there ones you would know that would work. Which ones are you listening to?

Cindy Tonkin [00:34:22] I’m at the moment I’m stuck in some entertainment podcasts about shows that I love. So I love the Good Place and I’m listening to the Good Place podcast. I love West Wing and I’ve been listening to the West Wing podcast.

Ingo Bentrott [00:34:33] You mean like from the show?

Cindy Tonkin [00:34:35] Yes, from 20 years ago it is now a West Wing podcast where they go an episode every week. They do the show and I’ve just caught up. Secondly it’s taken me months to catch up. And now every week I’m waiting for the next one so I can watch.

Ingo Bentrott [00:34:47] It would be like a radio show from like the 1930s.

Cindy Tonkin [00:34:49] So they’re bring in guests. They talk about the show so they see the show. They analyse the scenes “CJ did this, and Richard Schiff did this”.

Ingo Bentrott [00:35:01] So like when people discuss what the game of thrones.

Cindy Tonkin [00:35:03] Exactly. and they add to it though parts of the political context. This was a show about the census and they were talking about these points on the census. Let’s bring someone in and see what’s changed in 20 years.

Ingo Bentrott [00:35:18] Is that on NPR.

Cindy Tonkin [00:35:20] it’s on Radiotopia. I enjoy it because it’s funny it’s informative and I just love the West Wing. But I listen to Adam Grant I listen to Seth Godin I listen to people who talk about business in general and especially about the inter-relations of humans in the workplace because that’s what I do I help people be more human in the workplace.  Adam Grant had one last week I just listened to about how to you if you want change you need to have mavericks. You need someone who’s not quite fitting in. He took the example of Pixar when Pixar did several good shows and they needed to break the mold. They brought in Brad Bird who didn’t really fit the mold he’d been fired from Disney. And he assembled a team of mavericks. And it was all about if someone tells me I can’t do something I’m gonna bloody do it.

Ingo Bentrott [00:36:26] And did it work did it.

Cindy Tonkin [00:36:28] Yeah, that was the Incredibles. And the Incredibles went through the roof. But it’s essentially that if you want to do something differently you have to do something differently and that doesn’t mean keeping the people we’ve got.

Office politics: the no dickheads rule

Ingo Bentrott [00:36:39] Well one of the things and I do teach this to my students is, you talk about humans in the workplace is, I observed a lot of things from working in industry for 12 years. Who is the person to be scared of? (because there’s always politics). But it was the one to be scared of? The know person to be most worried about is the person who has the most to lose if they lose their job. For instance we had one guy who was a V.P. I don’t think he even finished high school but he was politically very crafty. And I would see him sell out loyal people that had worked for him for 10 years. To save his budget for the CEO he would sell them out in 2 seconds.

Cindy Tonkin [00:37:20] The kiss up kick down.

Ingo Bentrott [00:37:23] If you’re making like $150-200k (at the time who knows now in today’s dollars?) You have a high school degree. If you lose that job and you’re 50 years old you’re going to be making 60k.

Cindy Tonkin [00:37:35] If you’re lucky you’ll find a 60 thousand dollar job.

Ingo Bentrott [00:37:37] I just learned that. Because then there were other people who were really highly skilled.  one guy had a master’s degree in engineering from Cornell. And so people give him guff, he was like fine, I don’t care. because he knew he’d get hired again.

Cindy Tonkin [00:37:53] Do you think it’s something about how their self-esteem is wrapped up in the job as well? so it’s not just the financial thing but also “Who would I be if I didn’t have this job”?

Ingo Bentrott [00:38:04] This particular person maybe that’s saying a bit too much that they’re that self aware.

Cindy Tonkin [00:38:09] I don’t think they’d be conscious of it.

Ingo Bentrott [00:38:12] I think a lot of it is you develop, I mean me personally, I’ve seen this, this is anecdotal is that they have a lifestyle. So you’ve got the Mercedes the five bedroom house in the north shore you know you have all this in you. The money’s got to keep coming in. The jet ski. what I know was a lot of people I don’t think there was that like what about my status as a person.

Cindy Tonkin [00:38:35] I don’t think they’re in any way conscious.

Ingo Bentrott [00:38:38] I think it was more that they had this lifestyle that the money they need to do whatever to keep the money coming to sustain this lifestyle. But as I said there were other people who did the flip side of that. It was like “I know that if you find me I’ll find another job in a day”. And this goes to the Maverick. And I teach my students this. We had this total maverick sales person this guy. But he was bringing in just himself 20 million in sales. Just one guy.

Cindy Tonkin [00:39:13] I’d just like a percentage of that.

Ingo Bentrott [00:39:14] But the dude literally was like the old school on the golf course. That’s what he did. he was basically a scratch golfer. he could actually have gone pro because he spent so much time with the clients on the golf course.

So he would come in, if he came into the office, he’d come in like ten or eleven leave at noon. so they got a new V.P. he reported to some new person and they actually tried to rein them in. Like you need to be in here at eight o’clock and you need to treat your staff? And he was kind of rude. I don’t know if he violated any H.R. rules. But he was kind of not the pleasantest.

So you have to be nice to your EA your PA, whatever and come in at a time. And he was like you know no way.  So they kept trying to reign him in and finally he quit. And then the competitor hired him within a second. so that goes to like when you’re people.

In retrospect once again I was just an independent, I was just a young person at this point seeing this at a distance. If somebody is a maverick like that and they bring in the cash. do you kind of give them some leeway?

Cindy Tonkin [00:40:33] Or do you construct a system that allows them to be there and not give them people to manage. That’s the other thing.

Ingo Bentrott [00:40:37] But you had to have they have somebody set your appointments I think that was the problem.

Cindy Tonkin [00:40:41] As long as he didn’t have people reporting to him!

Ingo Bentrott [00:40:46] Raise from a business perspective that if you’re trying to make profit. if you’re not selling your product you’re going to go out of business and this guy was selling product like crazy. So do you tolerate a wee bit?  or give him a PA who could roll with the punches and pay that PA a little bit extra?

Cindy Tonkin [00:41:06] That’s a cultural thing. Are you setting that person up to succeed? Or are you basically trying to get them back into your mold. But that’s a cultural thing. I mean there are organizations that have no dickhead rules. But if he’d been there already 20 years it’s kind of like well I’m sorry you haven’t got a no dickhead rule. you’re just saying dickheads win. You recruit someone and they are a dickhead that’s a different question to, we’ve had these dickheads and we’re about to change to no dickheads. 

Ingo Bentrott [00:41:33] and the other thing too is some of these dickheads bring in the cash. I haven’t seen this here but I saw it in the US where in academia where there were some not pleasant folks but they brought in the money. And so you kind of have to maybe look the other way. nothing illegal or nothing “Me too”-ish, just more kind of gruff. But if they’re bringing in the cash and your company needs money to stay afloat. I am just seeing what I’ve seen and I’m just throwing this out there what do you do as an open ended question.

Cindy Tonkin [00:42:16] Socratic method.

Ingo Bentrott [00:42:18] There’s no right or wrong not it’s just. What do you do?

Cindy Tonkin [00:42:22] And essentially you’re creating a culture by saying yes.  And that’s what the maverick things about it’s about breaking the culture and starting a new culture. I have lost of clients at the moment who are going through a major change and restructures.  Marshall Goldsmith had a book called “What got you here won’t get you there”. So if you need to do something different than you need to think about it differently. Yeah but don’t fire your 20 million dollar sales guy.

Ingo Bentrott [00:42:51] Exactly. That’s what I think most of us realize there had to have been a better way. Rather than take his maverick into a cookie cutter mold. And like I said I think the easy if your PA is making 15 bucks an hour. Throw him or her 25 an hour. double your money. or find PA who won’t be bullied.

Cindy Tonkin [00:43:21] That was exactly when we run out of time. Sorry. In conclusion we didn’t get to all the questions. Any questions you specifically wanted to treat? Anything you wanted to say?

Ingo Bentrott [00:43:40] Man I think we pretty much hit on the good ones.

Giving is good

Cindy Tonkin [00:43:42] What’s your favorite charity Ingo?

Ingo Bentrott [00:43:46] here I pretty much just do Red Cross and the symphony they give money for kids to help get them instruments. But in the US there is one called Mama’s kitchen. Yeah. Which was delivering meals for AIDS and HIV positive, people that are basically pensioners, can’t get out. And I was thinking about this when I saw that question about the charity. The reason I donate to Mama’s Kitchen is that they had this scandal in the US. There was a thing called United Way and they got busted where for every dollar you contributed, it was something like for every dollar you contributed 20c got through because of people driving Mercedes and stuff. The root cause of all the people driving the Mercedes sector. So I remember Mama’s kitchen the reason I donated. But it was like something like crazy like 92 or 93 cents on the dollar actually got through. So I read about that A) it’s a good charity, you know helping people that are shut ins with HIV and AIDS and so and. So I’m always wary of charities and you just saw the Oxfam had some issues recently. ‘.

Cindy Tonkin [00:45:04] And the charity muggers stuff.

Ingo Bentrott [00:45:06] But they’re not. I think they did. After that it was United Way they a huge scandal in the US 20 30 years ago and I think now a lot of the charities will report.

Cindy Tonkin [00:45:15] They have to report now. There is a web page that tracks it all.

Ingo Bentrott [00:45:19] Because it was really some of them were just horrendous. It was something like 12 cents for every dollar you contributed. That’s kind of like that’s crazy. I guess what it goes to also is like some people maybe they donate for a tax right off. So I never looked at it like oh I don’t care if they’re spending but for me it’s like no. If you want to have a feel good factor of helping people you actually want to be helping them so they. So some people maybe they don’t care about twelve cents I don’t care I just write it off on.

Cindy Tonkin [00:45:59] But if you’re wanting to do good. You’d rather give the dollar to twenty dollars to the guy on the corner who actually doesn’t have a bed for the night. I mean you know directly to the shelter.

Ingo Bentrott [00:46:10] Yeah. We had a woman at the uni she used to work at the Wesley Mission. I think they were pretty good. And I think for Mama’s Kitchen people that would drive donated their car. Some of the food was donated by Coles and Woollies, to really get the overhead down. But I think Wesley she was saying is pretty good as well.

Cindy Tonkin [00:46:42] I’ll find the web page and link to it on the show notes. They track it every year or so this year. I like that too.

Ingo Bentrott [00:46:52] I tried to look for one that really uses the money effectively because we want to live in an effective society. ‘.

Cindy Tonkin [00:47:02] Well thank you Ingo; it has been wonderful to catch up on all the excitement! I’m going to stop the podcast.

Cindy Tonkin [00:47:16] This is Cindy Tonkin I’m the consultants consultant. And you’ve been listening to Smarter Data People. This is part of what I do to understand how it is that data scientists can be more effective in the workplace. Smarter faster and nicer. And if you have a team and you’re finding them harder to manage than they could be. If you’re constantly trying to squeeze more out of your budget and out of their time. And if you’ve got stakeholders or they’ve got stakeholders who are less than happy sometimes (maybe a lot more than sometimes) it can be really annoying and it can make you feel incompetent. I can help you help them get to the important problems faster. Target the wasted time and save you time and money and ultimately delight stakeholders so that you can feel competent again. It’s such a good feeling. Talk to me.

Related posts