An organizational psychologist’s guide to rewriting the future

I interview Valeh Nazemoff about her recent book on how to navigate the intersection of technology, business needs and human behavior.

You would expect an organizational psychologist to give advice that’s specific and succinct, and Valeh Nazemoff does not disappoint.

When I ask her to describe the most common challenges she encounters with clients, it all boils down to two essential questions. First, is the organization confident in its performance  and ability to improve? Second, is the information they’re working with accurate?

“Many clients are not able to say yes to either of those questions,” says Nazemoff, senior vice president and co-owner of consulting firm Acolyst based in Selbyville, DE. “Executives are really overwhelmed by this flood of data, they’re not sure what questions to ask, everyone’s in reactive mode and they’re not exactly clear on what data they need and why they need it.”

Nazemoff’s response to these challenges is The Four Intelligences Of The Business Mind: How to Rewire Your Brain and Your Business for Success, a recently published CA Press book. Drawing upon first-hand experience working with clients ranging from the Social Security Administration to Lockheed Martin, she outlines a framework for thinking through the increasingly complex decisions prompted by the intersection of technology, business needs and human behavior.

‘Four’ power to you

In the book, Nazemoff breaks down the four intelligences as follows:

  • Financial intelligence: How to invest for growth while mitigating risk
  • Customer intelligence: How to attract and keep customers using multiple channels
  • Data intelligence: The ability to visualize information for rapid decision-making
  • Mastermind intelligence: The leadership that transforms teams and corporate culture.


Although this may sound like a straightforward, hierarchical approach to self-development, Nazemoff said it’s more cyclical in practice. For example, as leaders or organizations get better at working with their data, they may realize they need to change the way they gather data specific to customers or financial information.

“It doesn’t always mean going back to the very beginning,” she says, “but you can jump back a step and make tweaks, especially as you learn where something is going to have an impact later on or introduce risk somewhere.”

The ‘mastermind’ effect

When I talk to CIOs, they frequently cite projects to improve customer intelligence or data intelligence, but “mastermind intelligence” describes what for many is the Holy Grail: the ability to foster a culture of innovation across the organization. According to Nazemoff, though, this becomes impossible without the other three intelligences and a genuine commitment to cross-disciplinary collaboration. This was the secret ingredient in a project she worked on with the U.S. Postal Service, which drew in not only the CIO but the CFO and the marketing department, among others.

“Everyone is a stakeholder who is meeting a targeted goal for the mission of the company,” Nazemoff points out. “The beauty of mastermind intelligence is bringing people together in a non-judgmental way, leaving ego aside and coming in and really collaborating and communicating to bring up some creative and innovative, thought-provoking decisions.”

Of course, cultivating the four intelligence isn’t necessarily easy. Among the most common mistakes, Nazemoff says, is a failure to define data and its use case consistently across the organization. This is what sometimes leads companies to invest in technology they don’t need, or that requires more customization and third-party support than they bargained for. The other thing to watch for is the definition of who’s being served by the technology or the business overall.

“Marketing will define a customer one way, HR will define them as somethings else, and so will the CIO,” she says.

Nazemoff’s book, which sounds applicable to any number of business decision-makers besides the CIO, may be a great way for organizations to start 2015 off with a fresh approach to tackling their toughest challenges. After all, rewriting the future will require not only a lot of hard work, but also a lot of intelligence — maybe even four different kinds.

Image credit: E8 Album on the HQR Initiative

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