In this interview, Valeh Nazemoff, senior vice president and co-owner of Acolyst, discusses her four transformational intelligences approach. She digs into why she decided to create this concept, the best way to handle a single day's tasks, and her support from the government.
Josiah Renaudin: Today I am joined by Valeh Nazemoff, senior vice president and co-owner of Acolyst. Thank you very much for joining us today.
Valeh Nazemoff: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
Josiah Renaudin: No problem at all. First, could you tell us just a bit about your experience in the industry?
Valeh Nazemoff: Sure, I'd love to. I have a background working for CA Technologies. They were formerly known as Computer Associates, so a very large global, international software company and during my time there, I also was doing my masters and I had the opportunity to explore and navigate within all aspects of the company—from research and development to quality to engineering to sales and all the way to marketing. This was to fully be able to understand how the organization as a whole functions in terms of software, engineering, marketing, and delivery, and services and so much that's involved.
That's, I believe, was what helped me become more tuned into what's going on in the software side and on the engineering side. Then I went and moved over to Acolyst. Acolyst is actually a company my mother owns and I have since become a co-owner and I was put in on projects. These were government projects that are very complex, so very interrelated with all these other applications.
When you've got one application, there's many, many other applications, and I was involved to the point of becoming a project manager. I've had the pleasure of working with senior level and executives on the government side and also with the engineering team, analysts, design team, and you name it.
I've been in positions where I've rolled up my sleeves and have just dived in and have been fully exposed to the lifecycle, and that's pretty much a lot of my experience in the industry in terms of engineering, being exposed to high-level executives, not only in my own company, but also for government clients and our partner clients such as Lockheed Martin … a lot of their system integrators with Northrop Grumman and CSC and a lot of other big names out there.
Josiah Renaudin: You've created a four transformational intelligences approach in order to help clients and other key decision makers drive value within organizations. Can you talk about why you decided to make this approach? What was your inspiration for doing this?
Valeh Nazemoff: Absolutely. There was a huge gap in communication and when you're on a project, for example, and you're speaking to the executive, the client, and they're struggling and they're getting tons and tons of reports and they're going through hundreds of pages and they just don't know how to make sense of it, then you start asking “why?”
Why are they not sure many times what questions that they need to be asking from their management team? They're not able to make decisions because they don't have the full insight, and you start wondering and start questioning and you then start working with the project team and the engineers.
Then you find out that while they're given requirements and they're given tasks to design and engineer, but often they're not tasked to see the big vision of why the executive is trying to transform and create something new and innovative. That's where there's that huge communication gap, and I'm hoping to bring a cycle on the communication so that engineers start questioning things. They start being able to question to the point of offering additional value to the customer and helping the customer at the executive level to say there are additional things that we might be able to do that were not considered.
This was really the inspiration for noticing what's going on and really helping both parties or many parties, because there's many layers in an organization to help focus, and having some sort of a guide and a reference tool so that they can tune it, have clarity into what questions they should really be asking that would help drive that value and transform the business as a whole.
Josiah Renaudin: That leads well into my next question, which deals with … how can an executive ever really be expected to effectively sort through all of the different reports and data that are presented, not just on a daily basis, sometimes on an hourly basis. If you were leading a large team of often highly skilled workers, how can you not only sort through that data, but also understand exactly what is being presented to you?
Valeh Nazemoff: They can't sort through all the data in all the reports. Let me give you an example. You're driving and you are exposed to a ton of data, internally within your car. You have your radio. You have your navigation system. You're cross-checking how much miles you're going so the cops don't catch you. Then you've got external data, such as signs, billboard messages, the other cars that are driving. Through practice and through the habit of driving, you end up being tuned into the environment, both internally and externally. What it drives down to is being able to filter and focus. Really focus is the key here.
What ends up happening is, if you or I end up texting and we are unfocused, we could potentially get into a car accident or some sort of a traffic jam or something, but when we're focused and we've gone through the habit of being able to recognize certain data, then we're able to eliminate a car coming into my lane or your lane and saying … I need to maneuver and also I need to cross-check instantly. If someone's behind me, should I put on my brakes or should I go to the next lane if someone is driving on the side of me and be able to say, “what are the impacts?” The same thing applies when an executive is going through a report.
One being to identify what's critical information that's relevant to what they need for them to make a decision, because they can't go through all the reports and all the data. It's too much, especially in this day and age. It's an overload of data.
Once you're able to, by practice, be able to filter and hone in into exactly what it is that you need and going through the exercises that I have in the book, it's more of … I've got these questions and I'm going through these items. Now I know and now I understand what is the key information that I need on a daily basis or an hourly basis so that I can make a decision, and I can assess the impact at an instant so that I don't get into a car accident for example.
Hopefully I've fully answered your question here by presenting an example of driving a car, but to expect an executive to go through all the reports, it's not possible. That's why it's very, very important to focus and key in on what are the critical data that's needed to make that decision and through practice, you're able to evaluate what those specific data is and are and will be needed.
Josiah Renaudin: You did absolutely answer my question, but I do want to branch off of that a little bit. You talk about all these distractions and I think today, more than ever, we have a phone to worry about. Like you said, we have a GPS that's sometimes speaking to us as we're driving. We have so many different things going on where you might even be home after work and you get an e-mail on your phone about something you forgot at work. Is it harder now in these days more than ever to focus, to be able to hone in what you need to get done and not get distracted by everything else that's going on around you?
Valeh Nazemoff: Yes. It is more difficult, more challenging to focus, so there's a need of practicing to focus and making that a part of your life, and to hone in on what's relevant and important to focus in on. Every day I'm sure a lot of people get tedious tasks that are not priority. This becomes a time-management issue or concern, but above that you need to assess in a business environment what is critical to focus on and what's a priority. In my book, I talk about four key intelligences that are really, really important to focus on and drive the attention. They're all interlinked with each other and then once you go through that cycle, it makes sense, it's a lot easier.
I'm not stressed anymore. I'm not struggling. The four intelligences are financial, customer, data, and mastermind. That ends up, once you start constantly, repetitively … does what I'm doing apply and it doesn't make an impact to the business in a positive way? Then that's something that maybe I should be focusing on. Where do I put it as a priority level?
And if there's tedious tasks, then those can wait or be delegated to other people. We are overloaded and it is a matter of being able to focus, but in the right way. It is a practice. It's not something that you can say, Valeh, can you give me a medicine pill for this and it will solve it and take away all the problems?
No, I can't do that, but what I can do is provide you a guide so that once you go through it and also through practice, it becomes a habit so that you can recognize certain patterns so that it becomes much easier for you to be able to break things apart and reevaluate and assess the direction that you're heading in the business. Hopefully I answered that question.
Josiah Renaudin: Absolutely. I know that your specific approach has roots in neuroscience and psychology. Can you talk a little bit about those roots?
Valeh Nazemoff: Yeah. Honestly, it's about the way we think. It's how we process information and it's more about how we make decisions. How do we think? Why do we think? What kind of questions are we asking ourselves? I don't think we take the time to do that. I think what we end up doing is we just, “I've got to do this, my boss told me I have to do this, or I need to create a new program or I need to acquire a company or I need to write a new application or we're going mobile.” I'm just going to quickly design a mobile application? It doesn't work that way. There are certain questions that we need to be asking.
I'm not just talking about the planning stage. I'm talking about the questions that need to occur for what's the real purpose of doing this that might be above and beyond the design or the project level? It might be above and beyond why the manager, the leader, the executive has directed someone to do a certain project or launch something.
How is this impacting society? It becomes more of … why am I really doing this? Then it becomes easier to process the information. There's a bigger picture to why I'm doing this mobile application for example and why I'm designing it and how it's going to impact society.
If I am engineering it, it becomes more of “you know what? I'm designing it, I'm engineering it, I'm coding it specifically for X, Y, and Z purpose, and you know what?” We can do this even exponentially better because we can add new technique. We haven't even thought about partnering up with somebody else or there's additional advances or triggers or events that we can add to the mobile application. I'm just giving that as an example.
Josiah Renaudin: You were talking earlier about how focus is something you have to practice. You can't just take pills and all of a sudden you're able to be more focused and be a better leader in an organization. What do you see as the most effective exercise that benefits an organization in this style of thinking?
Valeh Nazemoff: One for the self is being able to meditate and focus and hone in. The other thing is, as a team and an organization, helping people sometimes get out of that comfort zone. What happens is we become routine and we end up doing things repetitively every day and we stop thinking. It becomes a habit, but if you shift and you do something that ends up being uncomfortable, you start questioning … why am I doing this? Why are we doing things this way?
I'm going to give you an example of something that I've done that I actually had fun with. I had fun with and then people appreciated it later. I once took my team to the grocery store and I started asking, OK, we're at the grocery store and I want to know, why are the fruits always up front?
Why when you come into the grocery store, the fruit section is the first thing you see? Why are certain items at the top level of shelves? Why are some things at the bottom level of some shelves? Why are certain promotional activities occurring and not others? I started questioning the team.
First of all, they were out of the office. They were out in an environment that they were familiar with, but we were there for a different purpose, so it became uncomfortable. It got out of their routine. The questions, they were like, “why are we being asked these questions?” Once they started brainstorming about something else, they started having a dialogue, and they started brainstorming.
One of my other questions was what would you do differently here at the grocery store? Initially, they might not have seen the value of why I was doing this, but when we got back and next day or a couple of days later, all of a sudden, creative flow of thought started happening. People were more engaged and they were thinking of other possibilities of what they could be doing in their own environment because they had thought about and recognized what someone else could do better, the grocery store in this scenario, and they applied it to let me start thinking about, what can I do better?
What can we do better as a team or the company or the business? You end up having people get out of the comfort zone, which helps them to start asking questions, which helps them to realign themselves, which eventually helps them to start refocusing.
Josiah Renaudin: I think that's really interesting because like you said, it doesn't even matter always what you're having a discussion about or what the topic is, it helps that the creative juice is flowing. It also helps start a dialogue between you and your coworkers so you can really push another issue forward even if you're discussing, like you said, the grocery store, which has probably nothing to do with the project they're working on, but it might give them ideas about that project.
Valeh Nazemoff: Correct, exactly.
Josiah Renaudin: Can you talk about how your work has been supported by governmental departments and agencies?
Valeh Nazemoff: Yes. My projects that I've worked on, they've included software development, lifecycle SPLC, project management lifecycle, TMLC, and what we've added on the projects that I've worked on are FCD app, which is the financial, customer, data, mastermind intelligence model. It has really helped us, my team, my organization to understand the overall mission of the customer and the objective and not just at the project level, not just at the engineering level, not just at the design team, not at the analyst, but more above and beyond that of what that entire purpose is.
That's what we've done and we've supported our projects that way and that has caused us to come within schedule, within time, and budget. We've been able to successfully meet our budget and our schedules on various projects. That's at the project level. For us, it became more of … OK, we're very passionate about it.
We understand why we're doing certain things and it's not just work for us, but it's more of solving a bigger picture. I think that is what gets people motivated and doing because it's not just about it's a job, it's money, and it becomes that routine day to day, but it's much more and bigger than that. Once they understand what's bigger than that, then they're able to apply it, not only in their professional lives, but also in their personal lives and being able to live a better life basically.
Josiah Renaudin: We're going to move on to the final question and I do want to thank you again for your time, Valeh.
Valeh Nazemoff: Thank you.
Josiah Renaudin: No problem at all. What more than anything are you looking to accomplish with your transformational intelligences approach?
Valeh Nazemoff: What am I looking to accomplish? Let me give you a little background. I love to solve puzzles and for me, an organization in chaos is like a puzzle for me. In today's, as we discussed, business world, everyone is overwhelmed with data. They're asking questions of how do we process it? How do we analyze it? Where do we start? How do we fix it? Things like, how do we get to the root cause? How do we collaborate? How do we work as a team and communicate better? There's all these various, various questions and what ends up happening is people end up struggling, not knowing how to answer these questions. They end up discussing and many times they lose the clarity and they lose their passion.
What I like to accomplish is bringing people back to the important elements that are required in business and at different levels so that they can refocus. They can live a better life. They can have clarity. They can live a stress-free life. They don't have health issues. That's really what I'm trying to accomplish as a bigger societal impact.
On a personal level, I've had many mentors, and I've also mentored many students from George Mason, Marymount University, University of Mary Washington, and many others. It's a joy to be able to provide a formula, a methodology, a framework so that people can apply in their business, in their environment, so that they can utilize the information to have again a better life and a better impact in society.
My personal goal is to pass on and share that information, what I've learned, what I've experienced, and what has been passed on to me from many people and bringing it and sharing it in this book, for example, and what I have to say or share in society.
Josiah Renaudin: All right. Fantastic. Once again, I really do appreciate you spending the time talking about this topic with me, and hopefully I hear more about the successes of your approach in the near future.
Valeh Nazemoff: Thank you so much for having me, inviting me.
Josiah Renaudin: Thank you.
Valeh Nazemoff is the senior vice president and co-owner of Acolyst. She's responsible for working with client executives in meeting their strategic initiatives, identifying new and emerging technologies, and implementing industry standards and best practices.