Beautiful, Critical Data

Beautiful, Critical Data

Beautiful data, critical to understanding people and teams

We live in a truly fascinating and complex world. People, in particular, never cease to surprise us – both in good and bad ways! At CharacterScope we embrace the complexity and diversity of people, and we’re naturally curious about what data can tell us about them. We can’t help but look at a network diagram of our viewpoints ‘universe’, below, without wondering what causes the patterns and trends that we can see clearly emerging before our eyes. (Click on the image to explore it in full 3D)

3D network visualisation of the CharacterScope Viewpoints Network. Click the image to explore in full 3D.
Beyond curiosity, there are also pressing, urgent questions that our work asks of us. Challenges that we face around performance, diversity, and growth. And often, the answers lie in our people. But figuring out the right answers as business leaders can sometimes feel like divining for water. It’s so tempting to look for clear-cut answers. But genuine data on real people is rarely clear-cut: it’s rich, nuanced, beautiful, and subtle. Trends and correlations tend to be modest. Rather than shouting at you, the data whispers. But by listening carefully, with an open mind, it can give you a significant edge. Not clear-cut answers, but a 20%, 60%, or 70% edge.

Diversity of teams

We work with a lot of teams, and naturally we get to see a great deal of diversity and richness. We see ‘teams’ which might perform better as separate cohesive sub-teams; teams oozing diversity but lacking a shared foundation; teams with a clear set of shared values but lacking resilience and diversity in an environment where it’s clearly needed. Data, whether it be a team solo or viewpoints report, a visualisation or bespoke analysis, prompts the conversation and leads to action where it’s needed.

Showing a team their ‘similarity’ network, like the one below, is truly fascinating. It’s a chance for a team to have a conversation about their specific diversity – a conversation grounded in fact. What does the structure of the team feel like? I look like an outlier; what does that mean to our team in practice? We’re thinking about hiring X; how would that look, and what would it mean for us as a team? Network diagrams like this are great for showing clusters, cohesion, diversity and outliers. Like the greatest teachers and coaches, well-presented data won’t give us easy answers, but it can prompt us to ask the powerful questions that need asking.

Network Similarity Diagram for the CharacterScope Core Team

This is the ‘similarity’ network for our core team at CharacterScope, simply showing members who are more similar in character as closer together, and those more different as further apart. You might say that the team is grounded at one end by our key founder, Mark Loftus. But there are so-called ‘outliers’ – like Lisa and Dan, who work quite differently, with different and complementary sets of strengths. This team functions well because of that diversity. Interestingly, we have noticed that dissimilar pairs tend to work remarkably well within a team (a subject for another time)!

Organisational insight

Stepping up a level from teams to the organisation, we get a different perspective. Teams become points of reference, individuals become anonymous but crucial ‘data nodes’, and we can look at our people in a number of fresh ways. As business leaders, we can start to ask questions about the relationships between teams and, crucially, about the effectiveness of our organisation as a whole. What are our key strengths? Our gaps? The violin plot below gives an example of how we might understand our organisation’s critical ability to maintain direction, compared to another division or organisation.


Spot the difference – a violin plot comparing ‘Sets Direction’ across two organisations
The power of data

Exploring data, especially in a visual way and with an open mind, can truly open us up to insights and lead to effective action. We know that it grounds us in reality, and if we stay honest, it can give us the ‘brutal facts’ (to coin James Stockdale’s phrase) that free us to actually make the best decisions. That might mean adjusting the way you hire, re-imagining your performance review process, having fresh conversations as a team, or deciding to take your own personal growth in a new direction. At least with the right data, the power is in your hands.

CEO strengths and weaknesses – The European Magazine

CEO strengths and weaknesses – The European Magazine

The strengths and weaknesses of a superhero CEO

Mark Loftus for The European

Building purpose into a business is an admirable ambition. But these ‘heroic’ leaders still have weaknesses to balance out their strengths. During ten years as Unilever CEO, Paul Polman became highly regarded as a corporate change champion, encouraging the firm to adapt its thinking and give back. (CEO strengths and weaknesses)

When revealed he would leave in 2018, chairman Marijn Dekkers called him “one of the most far-sighted business leaders of his generation” for redefining responsible capitalism. As someone who’s professionally analysed and coached leaders for over 20 years, Mr Polman’s recent reference to so-called “heroic chief executives” struck a chord with me.

Are those people really protecting the defenceless once they leave the office, charging around in masks and capes? Well, yes and no.

Discussing inequality and climate change, Mr Polman said: “The fact we are having these issues of populism and schisms in society is exactly because we are not addressing the underlying issue to evolve capitalism and make sure it works for everybody. [We need] heroic chief executives willing to step up and move outside of the comfort zone and take personal risks. I tried to do the same with Unilever.

It’s a matter of willpower.” Bruce Wayne – or Batman – is a prime example of a hero driven by an unwavering energy to use his wealth and intelligence for good. But who are some of the real-world examples of “heroic chief executives” Mt Polman has referred to? And, given every hero has a flaw, how can they manage their weaknesses?

Richard Branson

Richard Branson’s Virgin empire has spanned everything from music to space. In 2004 he launched Virgin Unite, a charitable foundation funded directly by the business and Mr Branson. (CEO strengths and weaknesses)

To read the piece in full on the The European website click here and go to page 48.

Previous Business Vision article.

Business Vision – Hidden secrets of the Innovator

Business Vision – Hidden secrets of the Innovator

Hidden secrets of the Innovator
Mark Loftus for Business Vision

“Managing Innovators requires care and nurture. Some will need encouragement, to be told when to push on, and when to quite. But identifying the innovators in a company is not always straightforward.”

To read the piece in full on the Business Vision website click here and go to page 50-51/112.

HRreview – Why it’s time to disrupt talent management

HRreview – Why it’s time to disrupt talent management

Why it’s time to disrupt talent management
Mark Loftus for HRReview

“The shift from Talent to talents, from the few to the many, and from talent planning to talent leadership depends on creating and embedding and building a culture of leadership. And this must start with an organisation’s talent professionals.”

To read the piece in full on the HRReview website click here.