Welcome to The Higher Edge Podcast!
Oct. 18, 2022

Chief Data Officers: Giving Context to the Language of Data (featuring Olivia Kew-Fickus)

With data becoming increasingly important to people in many roles, the Chief Data Officer has become an exciting new position that’s replicating quickly throughout higher education.

The CDO is tasked with empowering institutions by providing key insights and critical context that help make sense of this vast array of information.

Olivia Kew-Fickus (https://www.linkedin.com/in/olivia-kew-fickus-53aa3023/), Chief Data Officer and Executive Director, Data & Strategic Analytics at Vanderbilt University (https://www.linkedin.com/school/vanderbilt-university/), shares how her experience working at the boundaries of different cultures has helped her advance the strategic use of data within the institution..

Join us as we discuss:

  • Carving the role of CDO from a blank slate (7:24)
  • How early work in Ukraine has shaped her approach as a Chief Data Officer (14:09)
  • How studies in languages and liberal arts helps with understanding data (18:52)  

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[00:00:00] Announcer: Welcome to the Higher Edge, a podcast for the brightest minds in higher education to hear from the change-makers and rulebreakers that are driving meaningful, impactful change for colleges and universities across the country from improving operations to supporting student success. These are the stories that give you, "The Higher Edge".

[00:00:30] And now your host, Brendan Aldrich 

[00:00:35] Brendan Aldrich: hey everyone, and welcome to The Higher Edge. I'm Brendan Aldrich and I'm here today with Olivia Q Fitas, who is the Chief Data Officer at Vanderbilt University. Uh, an independently private supported institution founded back in 1873 Bi Cornelius, Vanderbilt, and located in the heart of Vibrant Music City, the gorgeous Nashville, Tennessee.

[00:00:56] Now, what you may not. Is that so many of the [00:01:00] vaccines that have been so critical to protecting all of us during the pandemic, such as the, uh, Moderna vaccine, a similar one developed by Pfizer. Uh, the antibody treatment developed by AstraZeneca and even the antiviral drug, Remes Avir, all have their roots in research that was conducted by Dr.

[00:01:15] Barney Graham and others, such as Mark Dennison at Vanderbilt University since the 1990s. Olivia, welcome and thanks so much for joining us here on the Higher Edge. Well, thanks 

[00:01:24] Olivia Kew-Fickus: so much for having me. I really appreciate it. Hey, 

[00:01:27] Brendan Aldrich: Olivia. The role of the Chief Data Officer is an exciting and, and fast growing position in higher education.

[00:01:34] As a result, the people that are in these roles often come from a wide variety of backgrounds and bring some fascinating perspectives to the position. Uh, could you tell us a little bit about your background and journey to becoming Vanderbilt's Chief Data Officer? Right. 

[00:01:46] Olivia Kew-Fickus: Sure. I'd love to. I, it's, it's an interesting story because I have to say even 10 years ago, this is not a role I would've predicted that I would have had, and nor is my background.

[00:01:55] The background that, that, if you were just kind of randomly thinking about it, you would think would [00:02:00] lead someone to be a chief data officer. And it's also a little bit involved. I'm gonna go right back to the beginning. I was born in the UK and we moved to the US when I was just three years. and to the state of Tennessee when I was 12.

[00:02:12] But that background gave me a real interest in international affairs and, and international things and, and also languages. And so I ended up, when I went to, to university to college studying history, I had a degree in history and I spent a lot of time overseas doing languages in Russia and in. And I fully intended when I graduated to do a PhD in history, in Ukrainian history specifically, and I was indeed supported by Rotary to spend a year in Ukraine learning the Ukrainian language and, and getting to know that country better.

[00:02:45] And right at the time I was there in the, in the mid 1990s, the US was spending a lot. In the former Soviet Union to support democracy development and as a, an American who spoke Ukrainian and Russian, I found that it [00:03:00] was really easy for me to get into international development work, and I ended up getting a job on a project that was supporting local government in Ukraine.

[00:03:07] So I did that for a number of years. After a while, I transitioned to a. Based in Los Angeles at Cal Poly Pomona, which is one of the C S U institutions. And I was running international training programs there. Um, did that for a number of years and I ended up getting a job working in international development at the University of Birmingham in the uk.

[00:03:27] which is about 85 miles north of London. As I tell people, the, the music stops sometimes. And I was at Birmingham for 16 years and, and I started working in international work. Then I had children and I decided maybe international work was less fitting with that lifestyle. And so I moved into research administration and then more kind of general administration.

[00:03:49] Was the school manager for the School of Education for a brief time, and the role of director of strategic Planning became available. Um, I. was asked to [00:04:00] apply and I applied for that job and, and got it. And, um, took over this, this team that included a significant data component. Um, and this was the first time I'd ever really had a lot to do with data, um, except as a kind of a consumer of it, you know, putting it into presentations for the president and stuff like that.

[00:04:19] And, um, and so this was, um, you know, I was a little nervous about it. It was a new thing for. And my team actually were amazing. They, they trained me and helped me and answered lots of questions. And we had one of those rules, you know, no question's. A stupid question, . Um, right? As long as you don't answer it, ask it too many times, we'll tolerate you and answer it

[00:04:39] And I found that as I started working on that, I just became more and more intrigued by the data element and I ended up leading the introduction of Tableau server at bi. . I led the introduction of a, a data governance process and was heavily involved in GDPR As that rolled out and just it became, [00:05:00] it started taking up more and more of my time.

[00:05:01] I really enjoyed it and I still did the strategy part and the planning part, the two things that were part of my title, and I always came at that data from a, a strategy perspective, but I really felt that I wanted to move more and more in that direction of, Also as I, you know, as time was passing, my parents were getting older and we were looking for whether there was a new move and, and this role came up at Vanderbilt as executive director and institutional research.

[00:05:28] And so I thought, well, I'm, I might as well apply for that. It's exactly in the right area to be near my parents and it sounds like it might be interesting. And Vanderbilt's a really interesting university so long in the short of it, I applied for that job and got it, and moved my family from Birmingham to Nashville in 2019.

[00:05:45] Quite a change. And I, I started, uh, just a couple weeks after the former, uh, chancellor Vanderbilt had decided that he was retiring, and so I was kind of given this charge, help us make [00:06:00] everything, all this data stuff more strategic. And then really everybody just got absorbed with other things. And so I was able to kind of get on with what I was doing and that was great.

[00:06:09] I had a, a blank slate and a certain amount of trust and free reign to figure out what I was gonna do. And I began working more closely with it and with the leadership in the provost office, which is where I was sitting at the time. and was starting to develop a sense of where we were going with data governance and data strategy.

[00:06:24] And then Covid hit

[00:06:28] and, and so we of course made that pivot and in the middle of all of that, Vanderbilt got a new chancellor and then a year later a new provost. And so we, we've been through a lot of change, lots of change. Lots of change, but also lots of opportunity and lots of chats to unfreeze things and think about doing things differently.

[00:06:45] And so we've, we've been able to move things forward a lot. And in the summer of 2021, my office was moved out of the, the provost office and into the chancellor's office, and that was the point at which I, I became the, the chief [00:07:00] data officer and took on that title form. 

[00:07:02] Brendan Aldrich: Now where the chief data officer sits and what they do in an institution can, can really vary quite a bit.

[00:07:09] So what does, what does that look like for you at Vanderbilt? 

[00:07:12] Olivia Kew-Fickus: So it was a new role at Vanderbilt and um, and that means that really, um, it looks like whatever I want it to look like . Um, it's been a real privilege and 

[00:07:22] Brendan Aldrich: you and I have talked about this, the chief data officer being so new that you really do get this chance to have that blank slate.

[00:07:28] What do I think this role can? 

[00:07:31] Olivia Kew-Fickus: Absolutely, and I, I spent some time doing some research, particularly, I think Gartner has done a lot of work on what is a chief data officer and what are the challenges and, and how. Quickly, chief data officers often turn over because it, it is a difficult role with lots of expectations.

[00:07:46] And, and so I think that that's, that was helpful. But mainly I was guided in kind of shaping what I thought this role should look like by what I thought needed to be done. And uh, and a lot of that is affected by, , [00:08:00] the things that are causing chief, these chief data officer roles to emerge. You know, they're, they're quite new and, and, and there's kind of a question of why are they suddenly emerging at this time?

[00:08:09] What's changed? And I think a lot of that is to do with, you know, we have, the technologies we have now are able to capture data better than they used to with the internet. There's just a lot more tools to capture it. And then the growth in storage and the growth and processing power and, and particularly the move of a lot of that to the cloud has really made things possible that weren't possible before.

[00:08:32] And it turns out that managing data at that scale is kind of hard. Sure. Who would've guessed? . And so that has really created an opportunity, um, for, for those of us in the data field to grow our, our influence and, uh, The other thing that I've learned is that data is fundamentally cross-cutting. It's, it's not just about the technology, it's about the business use case.

[00:08:55] It's about the process to create it. It's about the skills that people have, and it's also [00:09:00] about the ethics behind it. And I was, I was listening to a podcast recently and I was a, a woman from m i t and she said something and I'm, I'm paraphrasing, but, uh, what she. , all data is wrong the first time that it's put out there, and that's because it always has to be put into context.

[00:09:17] You have to understand the context of the data, the context of the question that's being asked, and that's why it's cross-cutting. That's why you have to have that strategic background as well as that technological background. And so what I believe is that CDOs are successful when they are able to help people in their organizations to do.

[00:09:39] That work of, of putting it into context. They have to both make the data available by building up the data resources, but they also have to make people able to interact with the data. So that means you have to help people to build up those skills. That's about data literacy, that's about helping people to frame the questions.

[00:09:59] It's [00:10:00] about making sure the data is of a sufficient quality, and all of those things are about that kind of interplay between where does the data come from? How does it get into the system in the first place? What's the business process that put it there? What are the things that it can tell you in that form, and what are the things that it can't tell you?

[00:10:18] How is it structured? You're constantly playing back and forth between these very technical things about what. , you know, what's the, the database structure and the tabular structure in the system, and. What does the provost really wanna know? , and you're kind of constantly going back and forth between those things.

[00:10:36] And then finally, uh, I think there's the question of data ethics. And for me, some, those are some of the hardest questions I face. Okay, we've got all this information, what actually should we do with it? And there are questions about privacy and there are questions. Access. There are questions about usage and, and I actually think those are harder in a private institution [00:11:00] like Vanderbilt than they might be in a state institution and harder in a place like Tennessee where there's very little legislation about privacy than they, they would be in a place like in the UK where, where you had gdpr.

[00:11:11] So you had all these guidelines around, around you already. There's, there's an awful lot of judgment calls and I find that a lot of that work can't be delegated in the. , there's lots of legitimate points of view. And, and so one of the things I'm trying to do right now is to put in place some of those decision trees and guidelines and just sets of questions so that we have a way to think through those ethical issues.

[00:11:34] So I, that's kind of, that's kind of what I, what I think that the role looks like. But what's interesting is where it sits, because a lot of people think of the CDO role as a technology role. Um, but as you can hear, I don't think. Given my background, I don't think it's a technology role. I, I think it could be done successfully by people who are not technologists.

[00:11:54] But I do think that it is a role that does need to have a real appreciation of the technology. I don't want [00:12:00] to downplay that the technology's a massive enabler. Um, if you don't have the technology right. Then all the rest of it can't happen. But I don't think it is a technology role and that's why at, at least at Vanderbilt, it's, my team sits in the chancellor's office that gives us the breadth that we need.

[00:12:16] We do not sit in it, as I said, we were moved out of the provost office because increasingly we found that it wasn't just the academic areas that needed our support. It was, it was about bringing all that academic and non-academic data together. That was really, I. , 

[00:12:32] Brendan Aldrich: you know, that's so fascinating as well cuz that's so different from college to college.

[00:12:35] It's 

[00:12:36] Olivia Kew-Fickus: broken through a lot of obstacles that we were having previously by being in the chancellor's office. It's, it's really helped us. And, and I've even heard the CIO say, you know, that was what really made a difference to, to my office, which is now called Data and Strategic Analytics, being able to do some of the things that the Vanderbilt needed.

[00:12:55] Hey, 

[00:12:56] Brendan Aldrich: for everyone listening, hang tight. We're gonna take a quick break to hear from our sponsor and we'll be [00:13:00] back in just one.

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[00:14:05] Brendan Aldrich: Thanks so much for listening to our sponsor. Let's get back to the show. Olivia, when you were discussing your background, you'd mentioned that you began your career in international development in Ukraine.

[00:14:15] Now obviously, Ukraine's been in the news quite a bit. I wonder if you might take a little bit of time to share your thoughts and perspectives on working in Ukraine at that time and how that's helped shape your work. 

[00:14:25] Olivia Kew-Fickus: I'd love to. I mean, I'm, I'm really super proud of my ties to Ukraine and um, and I'm always really happy to speak about it because I think it's just an amazing country.

[00:14:36] I still have a lot of close friends there. I engage with them, you know, especially now every few days to make sure they're okay and, and to, to find out how things are going. And it's obviously been just devastating to see the, the kind of destruction that's happened. These are places I know that I've lived.

[00:14:52] I've walked these streets, you know, I mean, This is not just abstract, and I think that's how I would approach talking about Ukraine is, is [00:15:00] that is actually from the history of it, I think most people don't understand quite what a long and tragic history Ukraine itself has already had. There's an amazing book I would recommend to people by a historian called Timothy Snyder.

[00:15:13] Um, it's called Bloodlands. And it talks about what's happened in Ukraine and, and Belarus kind of this space between Germany and Russia, I guess during the 20th century. And it, it, it covers, if you just go back a hundred years, so the 1930s after the, the Russian Civil War, after the implementation of communism there, Stalin.

[00:15:37] Collectivized Agriculture and Ukrainians were not particularly keen to be collectivized. Um, and so there was some resistance. And in order to stamp out that resistance, Stalin just created a manmade famine. He sent in his, his secret police and just withheld food, withheld seed grain, went back again and again, and took old food from these people.[00:16:00] 

[00:16:00] Estimates are that between four and 7 million people died in 1932 to 33 in Ukraine, um, from this manmade famine. If that wasn't enough, then Stalin went through a series of great purges to try and, and create, you know, ideological conformity in the, in 19 36, 37. So more people died. World War II comes along, Ukraine was.

[00:16:26] The Eastern front for most of World War ii. From the point Hitler attacked the Soviet Union in 1941 until the end of the war, and in fact, Ukraine was the territory that Hitler wanted to take over. He wanted what he called layman's realm, and Ukraine was that agricultural, you know, Nirvana. Ukraine is like Iowa.

[00:16:47] You know, Ukraine is like, it's, it's ideal for growing things, right? It was this agricultural space. And so there was a lot of fighting. Again, the estimates are about 8 million. Ukrainians died in World War ii, [00:17:00] mostly civilians. And so when I was in Ukraine, you would talk to people and every single person would say, well, my grandmother only survived because my grandfather was one of eight children, and seven of them died and he survived.

[00:17:15] They had very distinct memories of that when I was living in Ukraine. And so I think that's really the people thing for people to take away. Ukrainians are survivors. The people who are there now have already survived. They and their re their families, their parents and grandparents have already survived so much.

[00:17:35] And yet what they did since the end of the Soviet Union is they built. This country twice they went, took to the streets and told the Russians they did not want them meddling in their politics. and the Russians wouldn't take no for an answer and they've in, they invaded the country. Um, and Ukrainians have pushback.

[00:17:54] And said, you know, no, we are not. This is not happening. And I just think it's just the, one of the ironies of [00:18:00] history that Ukraine was actually really quite divided between Ukrainian speakers and Russian speakers when I was there. And they have managed to meld out of that something, which is now Ukrainian identity.

[00:18:11] It's, it 

[00:18:12] Brendan Aldrich: ended up strengthening and bringing them together. Absolutely 

[00:18:14] Olivia Kew-Fickus: ended up strengthening and bringing them together and ended up strengthening their commitment to being a democratic country and to being a country that looks to the west, looks to democracy, looks to capitalism, and looks to being innovative.

[00:18:29] And so I think that really tells you something about Ukrainians. They're very can-do. They're, they're survivors and they're gonna figure out how to survive. And, and the, the amazing advances they've made just in the last few weeks have been so inspiring. So I really hope that we in the West can continue to support them because I can tell you they are not going to give up.

[00:18:48] We certainly 

[00:18:49] Brendan Aldrich: all can hope for and look for a better future for that region, you know? And your work when at the time you're doing a lot of translation you mentioned, and that translation. has also, you know, whether we're talking about [00:19:00] translating languages or concepts, really is a central part of, of who you are and the, and the way you address your work.

[00:19:06] Olivia Kew-Fickus: Absolutely. I mean, it's, whether it's Lang translation from one language to another, or from kind of one. Point of view to another. I think that really helps inform what I do as CDO daily. I draw on those skills of my ability to code switch, whether it's, uh, talking to an IT person about what a business user might want, or talking to a.

[00:19:29] You know, provost or vice Provost about, um, this is what the data will tell us and won't tell us. And, and this is how we analyze how good it is, and this is how we, we figure out how confident to be in that message. Learning how to do that has been incredibly helpful to me as I then try and do this translation back and forth between different tribes, if you will, within, um, within university adminis.

[00:19:54] Brendan Aldrich: When you are working at Vanderbilt, you've not got necessarily a small organization, although we talk [00:20:00] about direct reporting and, and dotted line reporting sometimes. But tell me a little bit about how, how your area's organized at Vanderbilt, uh, with the different teams that you've got. 

[00:20:09] Olivia Kew-Fickus: I inherited, um, the institutional research team at Vanderbilt when I came, and it was already not small as institutional research teams go.

[00:20:19] Um, and was kind of in two parts. There was, there was an analytical part, what you might call traditional institutional research, and then there was a more technical part which was called the BI team. Those two parts still exist within my unit, what I now call institutional research and assessment and what we call data governance and solutions, which has, has grown, but still has that bi core has a data governance piece within it and then also has a data consulting piece within it, which is a group that is looking much more about innovative uses of data and thinking about how we, we kind of start pushing those boundaries.

[00:20:50] The piece that I then really brought into the team was this concept of, of data partner. and we have, we have two partnering teams. Um, we have a [00:21:00] team called Academic Partnering. Then we have a team called Administrative Partnering. And they, um, they, they partner with the units of the university on how to use data.

[00:21:10] And the model came from the University of Birmingham. I cannot even claim to have created it cuz I inherited it when I took over . Um, uh, when I became. Of strategic planning and I inherited a team of college planning partners, and those were individuals who, we had five colleges, one in each college. They were really embedded in the senior leadership of their colleges.

[00:21:31] They were trusted and they were seen as part of that, those senior leadership teams. That was the model that I brought to Vanderbilt. It's, it's evolved a little bit differently at Vanderbilt because we have a lot more, um, diversity. The size of both our colleges, but also the way that our, our non-college areas, our, our non-academic areas are structured.

[00:21:52] Um, and so sometimes we have a dedicated partner. So the graduate school, for instance, has a dedicated, we call it a senior partnering consultant, but [00:22:00] sometimes we have. There are already people working in data in that area. So the division of administration, for instance, already had a number of people working in data, and so we've just been able to work more and more closely with them in order to advise them and help them make sure that their data is, is starting to plug into the ecosystem that we're creating, but also being structured in such a way that.

[00:22:20] That other parts of the institution can use it more effectively. Data has to be understood in context. And context can only really be understood by a human being. So data and a human being who knows the context have to go together. And what 

[00:22:34] Brendan Aldrich: I love about that idea of these outreach teams is that it's, it's so much more proactive.

[00:22:38] It's not data from the standpoint of, let me know what you need, but data from the standpoint. Let's go out and make sure that you're empowered by and that you have the information that you're looking for. And I'm a absolutely positive that that kind of collaborative approach is paying, uh, dividends for you and the team there at Vanderbilt.

[00:22:54] Speaking of collaboration, have you been able to engage with other chief data officers [00:23:00] in the community since you returned to the states? 

[00:23:03] Olivia Kew-Fickus: It, it's a great question, Brendan, and, and it's one of those things that's a priority for me this year in the UK I was really heavily involved in the Higher Education Strategic Planning Association, which, um, which is the UK Professional Association for Strategic Planners, and it was just a wonderful network.

[00:23:21] I was actually on the executive committee for a couple of years and was heavily involved in, in their training program. And so when I came to the US in 2019, I was very dedicated to the idea of getting involved into all the networks and was waiting for the conference season in the spring of 2020. And of course then that conference season.

[00:23:43] That conference season. Um, so, uh, COVID changed that direction a little bit. Um, and, uh, I got to, uh, enjoy the, um, the pleasures of. F online conferences, which, which have their benefits but are absolutely not the same [00:24:00] thing. And I've been involved through a number of those in some of the IR networks, particularly the ones that are more focused on R one institutions, uh, and the AAU and so on.

[00:24:09] But one of the things I've really enjoyed just recently is getting more closely plugged into edgy. Cause I was involved. Their horizon report for data and analytics. And that was a really, I really enjoyed doing that. It was great to, to be involved with that. I was, um, I was on the panel and then I, I was also asked to write an essay and, and engage with their webinar.

[00:24:29] So that's a network I, I'm looking to get more plugged into. And, and then also to get, Out to more conferences in the next year and, and to do more outreach in the local community to get plugged in a little bit to some of the things that are going on in Nashville. 

[00:24:44] Brendan Aldrich: You know, it's, uh, something that you've been exposed to now since you've started at Vanderbilt, but a lot of people might not know about is that Vanderbilt has just this vibrant and dynamic personality amongst institutions.

[00:24:55] Uh, can you tell us a little bit, what have you, what have you enjoyed so far about your time at. . [00:25:00] 

[00:25:00] Olivia Kew-Fickus: I have found Vanderbilt to be one of the most optimistic places that I've ever worked. There is really this attitude of if we can, if we can conceive of it, if we can dream of it for ourselves, then we can figure out a way to do it.

[00:25:15] I find that. , I get a lot of enthusiasm. Um, it's not always like, oh yeah, go and do that tomorrow, Olivia, cuz there's still the same constraints you'd have anywhere with respect to resources and timing and, and priorities and so on. But it is, there is this sense of, okay, that's, you know, let's build on that.

[00:25:33] Let's think about that. And then as I mentioned, we've got, we've had new chancellor and a new provost, um, in the past two years. And so that always brings a level of energy and, and enthusiasm, um, that comes with new. Coming in with new ideas and, and so our, our new chancellor, um, Daniel DeMeyer, one of the phrases that he has really used a lot during his time at Vanderbilt and focused on has been radical collaboration.

[00:25:57] When he first came to Vanderbilt, he talked about how he [00:26:00] was, he was enthused by the image of one Vanderbilt and how we can become more than the sum of our parts. That's been great. Within the institution, it's. Moved things forward that were already happening, but moved them forward at a greater pace. And he's also encouraged us to think about radical collaboration externally.

[00:26:17] So I mentioned wanting to become more involved in the Nashville community. Um, he's encouraged us to think more about the local community in a way that maybe Vanderbilt hadn't had, sometimes hidden itself behind what, what, what's been called the magnolia curtain? How do we get out of that and start engaging more with the community?

[00:26:34] And so those have been really encouraging things. 

[00:26:38] Brendan Aldrich: You know, it's amazing. A lot of times we talk about, uh, working in higher education and that it's a very, it's a very mission-driven kind of thing, you know, so we talk about the mission of being able to improve operations or support student success.

[00:26:50] Sometimes you hear less about the, the levels of, of collaboration or, or as you're mentioning, optimism that can exist. And I think it's so fantastic to hear about, [00:27:00] especially that idea of radical collaboration, uh, about how you and Vanderbilt team are moving forward in some really exciting. Now one of the things, uh, Olivia, I'd love to ask, uh, guests on the show is whether or not you have a story from your own career, uh, that helped, uh, shape the way that you approach your work or the way that you look at things.

[00:27:19] And I was wondering if, if there is, if that's something that you might, uh, share with our listeners to help give them. The higher edge. 

[00:27:26] Olivia Kew-Fickus: I moved into leadership fairly early in my career. Uh, arguably too early. I wasn't really ready for it, and so I had to do an awful lot of leadership learning on the job.

[00:27:35] And, um, for a long time I thought that the role of being a leader was to have all the answers. I remember when I was interviewing for the job of director of strategic planning at the University of bi. and I had to make a presentation to a large group of people, including everybody who would be in my team if I got the job.

[00:27:54] And I said some things that I thought were, were clever, but. were read by the [00:28:00] team, in fact, correctly as criticisms of them and where they were at that moment. And I still got the job. And which was a, you know, that was an amazing vote of confidence actually. , right? But my manager told me in the feedback, he said, you know, that was, there was some people who've really expressed some concerns about what you said.

[00:28:18] And you need to remember that as a leader, um, that people are watching. and they're reading a lot into what you're saying. And that, that as a leader, you have a responsibility to to, to create that space for people. It took me a while to gain back some credibility with that group of people. And I, I did, many of them told me when I was leaving Birmingham, they said, we weren't sure that you were the right person, but, but you were, that was good.

[00:28:44] Um, which was very gratifying. But I also, in that process, I. The importance of a number of things, including kind of showing emotion and being vulnerable. Not always having the answers, but giving people the framework in which to work. Those, those [00:29:00] answers out, and I learned through that, that my role is to unlock the team.

[00:29:06] It's not to have all the answers, is not to, to tell them what to do. It's to unlock them as a problem solving unit and. I've developed over the years some rules of thumb, and my team hears me say these things repeatedly. They probably get tired of it, you know, I'll tell them, look, we're doing something we've never done before, and that's okay cuz we got smart people in the room and we'll work it out.

[00:29:28] Or I'll tell them, okay, we don't need to know how to get all the way to the end. We just need to figure out what's the next step. You know, as long as we keep moving. Well be good. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Yeah. Too often we think of all the reasons why this is gonna go wrong, but if we can at least just move it forward, even if something goes wrong, that's fine.

[00:29:45] We don't have to have the solution right now. And even if something doesn't work, we've, we've learned something from it. We've learned that it didn't work. You know, , it wasn't the right answer. that, that, that's, that's not a bad thing to know. I 

[00:29:58] Brendan Aldrich: love that. Especially the [00:30:00] idea of, uh, don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

[00:30:02] It's such a good way to remember that we don't have to have everything worked out in advance to be able to do fantastic work that can make a difference for so many people. You know, Olivia, thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing your experiences with us. Well, 

[00:30:16] Olivia Kew-Fickus: thank you so much for having me, Brendan.

[00:30:17] It's been a real. 

[00:30:19] Brendan Aldrich: Before our listeners, we've been talking to Olivia Q fk, the Chief Data Officer for Vanderbilt University. Olivia, if listeners would like to reach out to you with any questions about today's episode or to continue the conversation, what's the best way for them to reach you? , 

[00:30:34] Olivia Kew-Fickus: probably the best thing to do is to, is to reach out to me on the, um, HigherEd email, which Brendan has kindly, um, uh, offered to me

[00:30:42] And 

[00:30:42] Brendan Aldrich: that will be, uh, olivia@thehigheredge.com, O L I V I a@thehigheredge.com. 

[00:30:50] Olivia Kew-Fickus: That's probably the best way to reach me. 

[00:30:52] Brendan Aldrich: Well, Olivia, thank you so much. It's been a thrill to have you on the show. Thanks again for coming on and being a guest with us here on the higher edge. For everyone else, I'm Brennan Aldridge [00:31:00] and we'll talk.

[00:31:02] Thanks 

[00:31:02] Olivia Kew-Fickus: for listening to The Higher Edge. For more, subscribe to us on your favorite podcast platform. Leave us a review if you loved the show, and be sure to connect with Brendan on LinkedIn. Know someone who's making big changes at their higher ed institution that belongs on this podcast. Drop us a line at podcasts@thehigheredge.com.

[00:31:23] The Higher Edge is sponsored by Invoke Learning in partnership with Westport Studios. Views and opinions expressed by individuals during the podcast are their own. See how Invoke Learning is empowering higher education@invokelearning.com.[00:32:00]