At a glance
Q: Many accounting and finance professionals are preoccupied with what the future of their work will look like amid waves of automation and an integration of artificial intelligence. How do you find yourself approaching this question?
I don't want to compete with the machine. You can't compete with machine intelligence. You want to augment the machine intelligence.
A way to think about it is that as machine intelligence gets better and better and better, what human intelligence has to do is augment and supplement that machine intelligence rather than compete directly with it, because I cannot do calculations in my head or on a pencil and paper as quickly as Excel. Nor should I.
[Machines] don't know the context of the situation. They don't know how to take what Excel is saying with existing tax law, with the existing situation of a particular client.
So when we think about things as big-picture contextual, that kind of human thinking, I think, is going to be very hard to replace, at least in the short term.
Q: You draw on countless research and data to qualify our behaviour motivations, successes and failures in our careers and personal lives. How important is data in understanding and predicting behaviour?
Well, I think data is important, definitely, but more broadly, I think evidence is important.
In the past 25 years there has been an explosion of research in behavioural science. If you go into that research, you can begin to find the evidence-based ways to make better decisions, to find greater motivation, to improve one's timing and to reckon with complicated emotions like regret.
As a generalist, as a non-academic, as a non-specialist… I'm willing to look across disciplines and try to make sense of it and bring those research insights into people's lives in ways that help them work smarter and live better.
Q: Do you ever find that data from different disciplines contradict each other, and how do you deal with that in formulating an opinion or using the data to inform a decision?
Sure. Sometimes. What I do is I try to triangulate as much as possible and look at different disciplines and see what they're concluding about a particular topic. And so relatively rarely do you see a direct contradiction.
Q: What advice can you offer when applying this approach to navigating or finding potential answers to controversial or politically fraught questions?
I think there's something to be said very clearly for intellectual humility. I don't think that's a deep concept, but I think it's important to recognise that we don't know a lot. We don't know everything. And it's important to approach any of our work or any of our decision-making with some degree of humility.
Here in the States, a big issue is, "OK, what kind of work should be remote and what kind of work should be in person?" And there's a big raging debate about that.
Q: What sort of tools would you use in a discussion on the topic of remote work versus in-office work?
What we know – and we've known this for decades – is that people do their best work when they have a reasonable degree of challenge in what they're doing, but they also have what is known in the literature as decision latitude: they have some say over what they do, when they do it, where they do it, how they do it.
It's possible to have jobs that are not very challenging, and people don't flourish in those, truly. It's possible to have jobs where people are challenged, but they don't have a lot of decision latitude. And that ends up being the perfect recipe for burnout.
The better solution is to look at whether it's remote work or whether it's in office work and say, "How can we create the conditions in which people have significant decision latitude, they have some sovereignty over what they do, how they do it, when they do it, where they do it?"
What's more is that they're in jobs that are challenging, that are compelling, that allow them to be their best selves. And when we pair those two things, that seems to be the ideal.
When we're missing even one element of those, things can go awry.
When you push some of the decision-making authority to people and you do this in a more collaborative way, you're more likely to get greater engagement, greater buy-in, greater psychological safety and all those other elements that we know contribute to flourishing, effective workplaces.