Zach Coseglia, Inspiration Junkie and R&G Insights Lab Founder, Describes the Journey to Combine a Data-Driven and Human-Centered Approach to Solving Problems
Welcome to There Has to Be a Better Way?, a new podcast series from R&G Insights Lab. In this first episode, co-host Hui Chen interviews Lab founder Zach Coseglia about his lifelong hunt for better, smarter ways to solve problems and how this podcast will contribute to that search.
Zach Coseglia: Welcome to the Better Way podcast, brought to you by R&G Insights Lab, the legal world’s first and only analytics and behavioral science consultancy. I’m Zach Coseglia, the co-host of the Better Way podcast and the co-founder of R&G Insights Lab.
There has to be a better way, right? There just has to be. That’s the question we’re asking with this podcast—and it’s a question I ask myself all the time. But it’s not enough to just ask the question. In fact, asking the question—without doing something about it—is actually sort of impolite. And so, this podcast is for and about those who are on a journey to find the better ways. And we’re interested in highlighting all sorts of folks who are searching for and finding better ways to do their work and to make a difference—in the legal world, in compliance, relating to culture, and beyond.
Hi, everybody. I am joined here with my co-host and colleague Hui Chen. Hui, do you want to introduce yourself?
Zach Coseglia: Hui, the initial goal of our first episode—this is the inaugural Better Way podcast—our goal was for our listeners to get to know us a little bit better. So, you’re going to spend some time interviewing me and talking about my journey. And then in the next episode, I’m going to interview you, and we’re all going to learn a little bit more about your journey. But before we get there, we wanted to just talk about what we want this podcast to be. I know, and we’ll hear in episode two I’m sure, that one of the things that drives you is having a strong “why” statement for things that we do. So, what’s the “why” for this podcast?
Hui Chen: I recognize that podcasts are increasingly the platform people use, so the idea of having this platform where we can explore questions that challenge us, confound us, and just share ideas about how we are trying to tackle those problems, in search of a better way of doing things. And we’ll talk more about this “better way,” Zach, but my hope is that we are going to be doing quite some adventurous exploration here. How about you—what are your thoughts on this?
Zach Coseglia: I fully agree. In some ways I think of this as an innovation podcast where we are talking about ways in which we’re trying to innovate and hack challenges within our own lives and work, but finding and highlighting folks who are doing the same thing in theirs.
Hui Chen: Absolutely—and we want to learn from people, including all of you who are listening out there. So, we want to put our ideas and other people’s ideas for us in this podcast, and we want you to chime in. And who knows? We may want to invite some of you onto our podcast to talk about your exploration for better ways, what your experiments have been. One of the things I always have found to be very helpful to me in my professional journey is to look outside of our little world and into other professions, whether it’s health and safety, whether it’s public health and aviation safety. I like diving into those areas, because every time I dive into something that’s different from my own field, per se, I learn an awful lot. So, we’re hopeful that we’ll also be taking some journeys outside of our own little worlds, and seeing what’s out there that can give us inspiration.
Zach Coseglia: 100%. It’s so funny—so, I’m going to be self-deprecating and say that I can be a complainer, which is okay. But I’m also, I think, an inspiration junkie: I find places where I can be inspired. And I love what you just said, and it’s something we’ve talked about before and that we will definitely talk about more here on this podcast is the places where we can find inspiration that are maybe somewhat unexpected. That’s why it’s so important to me that we make sure that this podcast is a place where we’re talking about our work, we’re talking about organizational challenges, but we’re not limiting ourselves to finding inspiration in some of the obvious places.
Hui Chen: Absolutely.
Zach Coseglia: Also, can I just say… I want this to be fun. This should be fun.
Hui Chen: Absolutely. It’s supposed to be an adventure.
Zach Coseglia: It should be totally an adventure. We want people to come on this adventure with us. And I hope also that part of what we do is give folks ideas that they can take away in their work, because I’m certainly looking for ideas. And I want to just underscore what you said: I hope that we figure out a way to use this to create a dialogue with people who are listening, so that we can hear from them too. This is about as close, I think, at scale we can get to a two-way conversation, and I hope people will participate in that.
Hui Chen: I am excited about that—that’s what, to me, would bring excitement. So, we really do invite you to join us in this dialogue.
Zach Coseglia: All right, so the idea is that you would unpack some of my better ways, that you would interview me a bit in this first go-around.
Hui Chen: All right. Let’s dive in.
Zach Coseglia: What have you got for me?
Hui Chen: I want to talk about the Lab, and why did you start it? Tell us what inspired you to start this search for a better way?
Zach Coseglia: R&G Insights Lab: I guess one of the things we talk about in the Lab a lot is the power of storytelling, so I guess maybe I’ll tell a little bit of a story about our origin. Going back several years, I was in-house working as a lawyer, but also doing work that was definitively not legal in the compliance ethics and risk space.
Hui Chen: Note everybody, he says, “not legal,” not illegal.
Zach Coseglia: Yes, just to be clear—definitively legal, but not lawyer work. And in that space, I found myself somewhat dissatisfied with the service offerings that were out there. We had law firms that were doing incredible work—and I had the privilege of working with some of the brightest, most talented legal minds—and then we had consultants who would provide a broader set of skills. But I was like, “Where can I find these two things together? Where can I find top-notch legal services mixed with a true multidisciplinary team that’s well positioned to address modern organizational challenges that sit at the intersection with law and risk?” And I couldn’t really find it—so, I guess the short answer is I decided to create it.
Hui Chen: That’s pretty exciting. I want to talk about that frustration a little bit. We worked together at one point—you were my outside counsel, then you were my successor in one of the in-house jobs that I had, and we had shared this journey with some overlap. But when you were actually doing a lot of this innovative work, particularly on data, that’s what I heard about from the outside. At that time, I was in my own consulting practice. I heard about what you were doing in terms of data analytics. And this is something that I often talk to clients about, is you need to have these data-driven programs, data capacities, and to be using behavioral science in some of your program designs. My frustration, both as an in-house person and as a consultant, is I couldn’t offer those. I know it’s important to have data capacity. I know it’s important to have behavioral science. And it’s certainly not enough for me if somebody just comes up and says, “I’m offering legal services. But I was a psychology major undergrad.” That’s not enough of an expertise for me. And so you were able to first in-house, so let’s talk about your in-house days first. So, you started building a data analytics program, basically, in-house. Tell us how you convinced your compliance leadership, company leadership, to invest in people whose skill sets are not traditional legal and compliance, so data analysts, programmers, what not—how did that happen?
Zach Coseglia: First of all, for everyone listening, let me just ground us, because I think that there’s a lot of different organizational challenges that we will talk about and the opportunities for better ways in them. Today, or at least right now, we’re talking about compliance. We’re talking about the better ways for compliance. And by the way, I should also just say: We don’t have all the better ways. We didn’t create this because we feel like we’re going to tell you all the better ways.
Hui Chen: No, this is a quest.
Zach Coseglia: This is a quest, a journey, an adventure, as you said. We’re looking for them. We think maybe we’ve found some, but we’re definitely very much on the quest. So, in the compliance space, I think my frustration was in fact more than just a skill set or a service provider one. It was that in the world of compliance, of ethics, of managing risk within an organization, I have felt, and I still feel often, that we treat it as a nearly exclusive, legal, regulatory and enforcement discipline, when in fact it is also a deeply human one. And that realization or pinpointing that was a big part of not only the creation of the Lab that we have now, but also an important component of the work that I did in my prior life at Pfizer when in was in-house. So, to answer your question, that’s where it started. Let’s acknowledge that, that this is more than just a legal regulatory enforcement challenge—this is also a human one. So, what do we need if we’re going to look at a challenge in a more human-centered way? And data is at the very top of that list, because what we’re ultimately doing is moving beyond policies and procedures, and really trying to understand the people who are making decisions, who are trying their best to comply (in most cases), who are acting as leaders and mentors in ways that ultimately (and this is the key word) create a culture that shapes individual experiences and individual behaviors. There’s really no way to take this more modern approach to compliance without relying very heavily on data, so it started there.
I also think, though, to answer your question of, “How do you convince a huge organization that this is worth investing in?” There were a couple of components to it. One of them was I really believe when it comes to compliance and managing risk that when we use data effectively, we have an opportunity to deliver insights at a scale that old ways wouldn’t have enabled us to do. So, if old ways were transaction testing and more traditional auditing or monitoring, a more analytically-driven approach gives us the ability to look at behaviors across a wide swath of transactions, not 20 or 30, but 20,000 or 30,000, to look at patterns. In addition to that, it creates efficiencies. Everyone loves efficiencies, so if we can do the work faster and better, that’s a pretty easy sell. And so I think that’s part of the narrative too of how we actually made that case.
Hui Chen: This is actually a fascinating answer to me because in my work with many compliance officers, I have often felt like I’ve run into three groups of people. One group of people is the traditional. They don’t do data. They don’t do behavioral science. They do the seven elements from the sentencing guidelines. Then you have the group that’s all about data. That’s a very small group in fact—it’s very, very small. But they’re really into data, they understand it, and they’re really trying to make very good use of it—and some have succeeded at really doing it very well. Matt Galvin who is now the compliance and data analytics counsel at the Fraud Section in the DOJ is one of these—he’s a leader of, I would say, that prototype. Then there’s a whole other prototype that says, “We’re all about behavioral science and culture. We don’t do data.” Many of the data people say, “We’re data people. We don’t really touch this behavioral science stuff. And we don’t do people.” People and data are different things. Data is data; people are people. But you’re the only one that I’m hearing, that’s saying, “In order to understand people, I start with data.”
Zach Coseglia: 100%. Yes.
Hui Chen: So, give us some examples of how data allows you to understand people and culture.
Zach Coseglia: Yes—for sure. So, it’s critical. To the extent that part of what we try to do here is to share some of the better ways that we’ve found. For me, big headline: Combining a data-driven and a human-centered approach is the centerpiece of my journey and of the work that we do. So, I’ll give you a few examples. One example is when we are trying to understand behaviors, we can use data to help us understand how people are behaving. We didn’t invent this—let’s be clear. We talked about drawing inspiration from other fields—this is what marketers do. Marketers are looking at data that tells them how humans are behaving, the decisions that people are making, in ways that help them ultimately market products. I actually think we’re taking that same point of view and we’re using it for better. We’re trying to understand the decisions that people are making, the ways that people are spending money within an organization, the ways that people feel within an organization, the experiences that people have had within an organization—whatever data that we’re able to get our hands on for a particular challenge, we’re looking at that data to ultimately understand patterns of behavior, to understand what makes folks kind of tick, what decisions are people making. So, the two are so closely tied in our point of view. But we also bring the two together because culture is such a big part of the world of compliance and ethics and risk, which is what we’re talking about right now and where we spend a lot of our career.
I think that part of the challenge is that culture, for example, is an area where we’re talking about human experiences, how culture shapes human experiences and how human experiences shape the culture around the people. And we’ve made a misstep if we allow ourselves to define a culture or to measure a culture based on just what we see with our eyes. We’ve got to collect data in order to really be able to understand how a culture is operating and whether or not it’s operating as we expect. And I know this is such a huge part of your point of view is we want to actually measure whether or not the outcomes that we’re seeking are in fact achieved—and that’s what science is all about. Science is about having a hypothesis, and then testing that hypothesis and coming up with a protocol whereby we are using data to measure outcomes. And that is a big way in which we can use data in this space, but also in just about every organizational context to reach better outcomes. We reach better outcomes by finding out whether or not the interventions that we’re taking are in fact helping us achieve our outcomes.
Hui Chen: Again, every time in these conversations, as you’re talking, I feel like I could go 1,000 places from everything that you’ve said. So, I’m going to leave that culture assessment out for the moment only because I know we’re going to have an episode with the team’s culture psychologist for that topic. But for those listeners who are not as familiar with using data to assess, let’s drill down a little bit. Can you give a very concrete example? What data have you used or you’ve seen people use to understand or predict what type of behavior?
Zach Coseglia: One of the examples that I love—and I’m going to preface this by saying that it’s something that’s in earlier stages, so I won’t have the end result for you yet because sometimes it takes a little bit of time—but one of the examples that I love is that we’ve been working with a client to actually measure the effectiveness of their compliance training, which surely will be a topic that we will talk about more. If you think of each of these episodes, “having a better way to [fill in the blank],” we will have at least one, “a better way to train,” for sure, and probably also one that’s dedicated to a “better way to measure whether your training is working”—such a hot topic. But we’ve been working with a client to develop a clinical trial to actually test whether or not the training works. And the way that we structured that clinical trial was really interesting because we said, “There’s a traditional way that these things are being done. It’s often a company lawyer or company HR maybe walking through a slide deck. It’s got a lot of legalese, maybe a lot of background about the laws that are driving some of this, bullet points, voiceover, what I sometimes call ‘rote cooperate drag,’ and it feels like we’re just checking a box.” And so we thought, “Okay, let’s see how that works, but let’s also then try to come up with something that’s more creative, something that’s more interactive, something that leans into what the research tells us about the power of storytelling, which is something that I mentioned—and let’s compare the two.” And then we thought, “In addition to just comparing one way of doing it versus another, let’s also then add a couple of additional interventions in there. So, let’s see.” Again, we’re trying to think like a scientist being creative and curious. We thought, “What if we put a message from the CEO at the beginning of the training? Let’s see how that might impact things.” Now, of course, part of that also is then measuring how people feel about the CEO because that could have a meaningful impact on whether or not that’s an effective intervention. And then we also thought, “What if in addition to that, we put at the end (and this is pulling from the behavioral science literature) what’s called a ‘saying is believing’ exercise?” Where instead of folks having to fill out a knowledge check alone, they actually had to do an exercise where they would write a letter. No one would actually get it—it wouldn’t be sent, but they would have to go through the exercise of writing a letter to a colleague explaining to them why this training was important, the key elements, what the takeaway was and what they hope their colleague would get out it. And we said, “Okay, we’re being curious. We’re looking for different ways.” And then we go about putting together a protocol to test it. So, we’re going to establish baseline understanding of the concepts and the training. We’re going to then give the training with all these different kind of cohorts. We’re going to do some measurement of the outcomes during the training. We’re going to do them three, six, and 12 months out, and then look and see were the outcomes achieved. Were the messages retained over time? At what point in time did we start to lose some of those key message? Again, this is just one example, but it’s an approach to compliance that I feel like is grossly underutilized, and that is actual measurement of whether or not the things that we’re doing are having the intended impact.
Hui Chen: Now, if I go into that, I feel like we’re planning out future episodes as we talk. We can start talking about: How does one design these experimental protocols? How do you specify your goals? And how do you run control groups and consistent protocols so that you actually have a defensible basis for these experiments that you might want to run?
We do have to wrap up despite our desire to keep talking, but we cannot leave this episode without getting an introduction to this team that you have built here at the Lab, Zach. I can say in the couple of months that I have joined, this is really truly a remarkable team. So please, if you can spend just a few minutes—give all of us a sense of who they are and what they bring to the work at the Lab.
Zach Coseglia: Yes, of course. We’re going to meet them in short order, I’m sure, on future episodes. But one of the real innovations of the Lab, one of our “better ways” is the team—making a team, building a team that doesn’t look like a team that you might see at any law firm and that you might not see tackling this work.
- We have Dr. Caitlin Handron who is a Ph.D. cultural psychologist. She studied at Stanford.
- We have Nitish Upadhyaya who is our director of behavioral insights. He’s got a background in innovation and user-centered design. And he’s a behavioral scientist who studied at the London School of Economics.
- We have Megan Zwiebel who is an incredible lawyer and writer, who is our director of operations and efficient delivery. She works across all areas of the Lab. And one of the places where she brings so much value is tapping into her experience as a journalist to help us do better storytelling, which is as we’ve talked about, is an important part of much of what the Lab does.
- We have three new hires who are starting, which include creative business-minded consultants, data analytics experts, and visualization experts.
- We have two seconded lawyers from Ropes & Gray, Leah Dowd and Jeff Irwin who we’re so lucky to have as a connection to the firm, but also because they’re incredibly talented.
- Importantly, but finally, we have Amanda Raad who is the co-founder and co-leader of the Lab. This has been our baby for a number of years, and we’re so happy to have so many other people be a part of it now. But the Lab is very much the result of years’ worth of work, partnership and collaboration between Amanda and me. And I look forward to having her on a future episode so she can tell her origin story and how the two of us came together to ultimately build this Lab. She also is one of the most brilliant lawyers that I’ve ever had the good fortune to work with and one of the kindest people that I have ever gotten to know, and a dear friend. So, I am looking forward to bringing her on this podcast, as well.
Hui Chen: I have to say, I’ve been part of this team now for a couple months, and it’s just extraordinary. I just so appreciate the expertise that everybody brings. We will be introducing them to you one by one in future episodes, and I think you would be equally amazed at what they all have to offer. I think we’re now at the time where we need to ask you to help us wrap up with some guiding principles that the listeners can take away.
Zach Coseglia: The guiding principles: My three C’s of my guiding principles to having a successful journey to finding better ways. The first is be curious. We talk a lot within the Lab about the power of thinking not like a lawyer, but thinking like a scientist, and I think that that starts with a sense of curiosity. How could we do this better? Might there be a better way? What if? So, guiding principle number one is be curious. Number two, which is very related, is to be critical. I don’t think that that’s being critical in a negative way, I think it’s being open to the idea that the way that we’ve always done it, the way that you’ve seen it done, isn’t necessarily the best way, and be on the lookout for signals that maybe there is a better way. And then the third is to be courageous. Because, as I said, if it’s impolite at the outset, if it’s impolite to identify a better way or a broken process, or a way of doing things that isn’t working and not do anything about it, I think that the opposite end of that is it’s courageous to actually speak up and to come up with ideas. I always say, at the end of the day, we want this multidisciplinary team with all of these different skill sets, but what’s often most important to me in building any team is just having a group of people who show up with ideas, and I think it’s really courageous when you do that—not just identifying a problem, not just identifying an opportunity for a better way, but coming up with a potential solution.
Hui Chen: That’s awesome. So, curiosity, critical thinking and courage—the three C’s. I think we’re coming up on our time for doing these Proust questionnaires. Zach, do you want to explain a little bit about what those are and why we want to do this?
Zach Coseglia: Yes—so I said at the outset that I wanted to make sure that this was fun. I want to make sure that the work that we do and the podcast that we put out there is not rote and corporate, and so we thought, “How can we get to know our guests a little bit better?” And so rather than come up with a better way, we just stole one from a bunch of other people, which by the way, is a pretty good strategy—if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. If you don’t need a better way, don’t find one. And we didn’t think we did. So, inspired by Proust, inspired by Bernard Pivot, inspired by James Lipton, and inspired by, I think, Vanity Fair Magazine, does this too, we’ve created our own standard questionnaire that we’ll ask all of our guests. And I guess I am the first person who will answer the questionnaire, so let’s do it.
Hui Chen: As one of the founders of the Lab, you get to go first, so here we go. First question is about ability, and you can actually choose one of two. Question A would be: If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability that you don’t have right now, what would that be? Or variation B: Is there a quality about yourself that you’re currently working to improve? So, choose one and answer that.
Zach Coseglia: I think I just need to say for the record the answer to the second question is yes—so many. But I’m going to answer the first question, because I think that there’s only one right answer to this question, and it is the ability to manipulate time.
Hui Chen: Very good. Second question is about mentorship. So, who is your favorite mentor? Or who do you wish could be your mentor?
Zach Coseglia: I’m going to do an actual mentor, a woman named Dr. Marilyn Root who was a dean and a professor at BU when I was an undergrad. I adore her. She had more of an impact on my life than she will probably ever know. The thing that she always said to me that has stuck with me for nearly 25 years is, “Find the joy.” And I’m still looking for it.
Hui Chen: That’s great. Question number three is about work place. Either what is the best place where you have ever worked? Or what is the best job, paid or unpaid, that you’ve ever had?
Zach Coseglia: So, my partner wanted me to answer when I used to be a waiter at TGI Fridays, but that is not going to be my answer. My answer has to be the Lab. How often do you get an opportunity like this to really build a novel business of your dreams? I’m incredibly lucky.
Hui Chen: Next ones are easy, straightforward, no choices. What is your favorite thing to do?
Zach Coseglia: I think at the end of the day, sitting down and watching Jeopardy is probably my favorite thing to do.
Hui Chen: All right. What is your favorite place?
Zach Coseglia: My home in Vermont, especially in fall with the cool air.
Hui Chen: I want an invitation to it.
Zach Coseglia: Yes.
Hui Chen: What makes you proud?
Zach Coseglia: What makes me proud? I think what makes me proud is being authentic. It’s not always easy. It should be. But it not always is. So, being authentic to myself, “living my truth,” as they say, is definitely one of the things that makes me most proud.
Hui Chen: What email sign-off do you use most frequently?
Zach Coseglia: Always, “thanks,” sometimes with a comma, sometimes with an exclamation point.
Hui Chen: What trend in your field is most overrated?
Zach Coseglia: I thought about this a lot, and I can’t wait to see what others say. I think that I’m going to say over-reliance on benchmarking. I think benchmarking is really important. I think it’s nice to be able to understand what other people are doing. But I think sometimes in the search for best practices, we actually miss opportunities to find the better way.
Hui Chen: I have to interrupt flow of this questionnaire and say how much I agree with you on that, because I have unfortunately seen entire industries being pleased with themselves because they compare themselves with each other and they’re all doing horribly. But since they’re all doing horribly, they think they’re all doing great. So, it’s a problem.
Last Proust question: What word would you use to describe your day so far?
Zach Coseglia: Satisfying.
Hui Chen: That’s nice. That’s a very good word.
Zach Coseglia: Yes—this helps. This was a lot of fun. It really was.
Hui Chen: Very nice. That’s all we have time for today. Thank you all for tuning in to the Better Way podcast, and exploring all the better ways with us. For more information about this or anything else that’s happening with the R&G Insight lab, please visit our website at www.ropesgray.com/rginsightslab. You can subscribe to this series wherever you regularly listen to podcasts, including on Apple, Google and Spotify. And if you have thoughts about what we talked about today, the work the Lab does, or have ideas for better ways that we should explore, please do not hesitate to reach out—we would love to hear from you. Thank you again for listening.