In undertaking the fellowship, numerous public and private sector leaders and academics have generously given me their time to answer all manner of questions over the last two months.  I’m profoundly grateful and my thinking has clarified considerably as a result. One question that I have asked, in a range of different ways is “Why do I find it relatively easy to recruit bright, excited graduates with great ideas about what we might do with the data available to us, but comparatively hard to find people with same passion five to ten years into their career?”

Well, that’s a deliberate provocation! Of course, there are many career analysts doing fascinating and fantastic things. At the core of this though is a real conundrum.  How do we attract, and more importantly train and retain, a cadre of really high quality analysts who can derive the insights we need from the data we have? Two themes came consistently from those I asked:

  • A sense of higher purpose – that the work being done made a difference
  • That the work itself was interesting – unleashing their creativity

These responses echo much of the burgeoning literature[1] [2] [3]. The idea of higher purpose of work being linked to people having joy in their work (and thus being more productive, successful and impactful), is starting to be studied more closely and the evidence for this seems quite compelling. One corollary of this is to imply some link to content knowledge (if the subject of the data is of no account, how can a higher purpose exist?). This doesn’t necessarily mean that analyst must themselves be a content expert; but analysts and experts need access to each other, and the ability to communicate and collaborate. Both sides need to understand what the other can bring.

For those of us charged with leadership of analysts this should give us pause. Are we asking people to do things that are interesting and vital or mechanistic and marginal? If we truly want to contribute to a better New Zealand, an honest answer to this is likely to be essential.


[1] Harris and Mehrotra 2014, Getting Value from your data scientists, MIT Sloan Management Review

[2] Newcombe 2016, Analyzing Analytics, Governing

[3] Perlo, Balik, Swensen et al IHI Framework for Improving Joy in Work, IHI White Paper, 2017