What are we asking the questions for?

What are we asking the questions for?

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This article unpacks questions and framing as I tend to focus on the conflicts, tensions, and compromises that face any CDO in the first 100 days — ranging from the effects of a poor job description to how a company’s culture means that data-led decisions are not decisions.

I love this TED talk from Dana Kanze at LSE.  Dana’s talk builds on the research of Tory Higgins who is credited with creating the social theory “Regulatory Focus”  This is a good summary if you have not run into it before.

Essentially the idea behind “Regulatory Focus” is to explore motivations and routes to getting the outcome you want. The context in this article is to explore how a framed approach to questions creates biased outcomes. One framing in Regulatory Focus centres on a “Promotion Focus” which looks for “gain” which can be translated as finding or seeking hope, advancement and accomplishment.  The counter is a prevention focus that centres on losses that looks to find safety, responsibility and security.  

In Dana’s research, which is the basis for her talk about why women get less venture funding, she categorises “Promotion” questions as ones that will ask the following questions as they seek to focus on GAIN. When talking about: customers seeks data about acquisition, income looking for data to confirm sales, Market seeking to understand the size,  Balance Sheet will want to know data on assets, projections should focus on growth and questions on strategy will want to understand the vision. 

Dana’s research shows that “Prevention” questions will be framed as LOSSES, therefore a focus on customers would seek data on retention, income questions look for data on margin, market questions would focus on shape, balance sheet questions will centre on liability, projection data wants to confirm stability, and strategy to ensure execution capability.

Whilst Dana has collected this data as part of a noble and useful study on why women get less funding from venture capital, investors tend to bias and ask women prevention questions with a framing away from gain towards losses and downside risk.  However, we should reflect on this data and research for a little longer.

Does your executive team tend to focus on promotion or prevention questions?  Do different executive roles tend to frame their questions based on gain (upside) or loss prevention (risk)?  Is the person leading the questions critical to the decision-making unit and will their questions frame promotion or prevention for the company.  Whilst a rounded team should ask both, do they?

As the CDO, our role is to find “all data.” and not data to fit a question. Data that shows your company's approach to how they frame questions for Prevention or Promotion is just data,  but this data will help you as a team make better decisions. 

A specific challenge in the first 100 days is to determine what questions we, as a leadership team, ask ourselves and how our framing is biasing our choices and decisions.  We are unlikely to like this data and how power aligns with those who prevent or promote a proposal or recommendation.  

Based on listening to questions and those in communications, I have been building an ontology of questions and been categorising them for a while now.  I am interested both in the absolute bias, the bias to people, the bias to project types and also how bais changes depending on who is leading the project and questions.  Based on a sample size that is not statistical, I believe that Dana’s work has far wider implications than just venture funding. 


Whilst our ongoing agile iteration into information beings is never-ending, there are the first 100 days in the new role. But what to focus on? Well, that rose-tinted period of conflicting priorities is what </Hello, CDO!> is all about. Maintaining sanity when all else has been lost to untested data assumptions is a different problem entirely.