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Female Disruptors: Holland Martini of GoodQues On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

“If you can’t say it in one sentence, you don’t know it well enough”. This idea will put you in your place real fast. Data can be complex, and its implementations even more so. Not everyone can “speak data.” And data is pretty boring to most people, so it’s important to be clear in what you mean and storytell to get people excited.

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Holland Martini.

Holland Martini’s role as Co-founder and Chief Insights Officer at GoodQues is the realization of a 10+ year career in quantifying the impact of marketing creativity — and her current work is fully committed to the emotional intelligence needed in our world. She helped design GoodQues expressly as a hybrid market research and strategy firm to break the orthodoxy of qualitative and quantitative methodologies, ultimately bringing more empathy to the data field. Their goal is to make business decisions more human — period. Prior to her current role, Holland was utilizing advanced analytics to consult on big brands such as J&J and Mars, and was the lead for Data Strategy at ad agency Grey. With a degree in managerial economics, and years of experience in business effectiveness driven by human connection, Holland’s work unlocks the potential of empathic innovation.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Much to my own surprise, my path towards a career defined by empathy started with my mind for math. I was lucky enough to have a Grandfather who pushed me to pursue this passion, despite math being a male-dominated playing field. Over time, I discovered that what truly excited me about math and statistics was its ability to help me better understand people. I was always regurgitating “did you know” insights about people, and discussing how and why we do the things we do.

After years of studying economics and financial analysis, I decided the application of my skills did not excite me, and the culture of the finance world did not suit me. I explored how my skill could be applied to my passion and discovered there was not much out there that was readily available in terms of cultural fit and real innovation. I entered into the marketing world, and found myself having to pave my own path — coining the role of data strategy, and pioneering the art of mixing data and creative. This eventually led to GoodQues, with the sole mission to help make business decisions more human through data. This is the first time I realized I essentially created a job fit for my passion, because one was not already out there. That’s a good feeling, and the future is dependent on more people doing the same.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Data has been commoditized and so true empathy can always be a disruptive advantage.

And let’s be honest: Data is commoditized by an extremely homogeneous group of people, which results in data being looked at in a very one-dimensional way. My work, and the work of my company at GoodQues, has specifically set out to give a multi-dimensional, empathetic look, at data. Why haven’t focus groups where people are eating dry sandwiches behind a two-way mirror evolved into fun dinner parties yet? Why has the standard questioning methodology for surveys, devised decades ago, been accepted as the only way? By breaking the orthodoxy of these methods, my work has resulted in unspoken and disruptive insights, that shift the very foundation of how many businesses were running.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

OOF. I was running a financial model that helped a huge yogurt company decide if they should keep the product or stop producing it. The result of the modeling was to stop producing it. Two weeks later I realized there was a mistake in the model. But it was too late: I was 22-years-old and told a company to make a $20 million dollar decision that was “wrong.”

Guess what happened? Nothing.

They still do not make that flavor anymore and life went on.

My lesson from that (other than always triple-checking), was that data can not be the only factor when making a decision. Bold, I know. But data can not predict the future, only help better inform it. The yogurt brand had me run the model because they knew the flavor was gross. Culture was telling them that. Consumers were telling them that. My wrong model told them that. If they relied solely on data from the “right” version of my model, they would have kept the flavor and probably lost money. That was probably my first understanding of the importance of how you use data and how to apply empathy to the analysis. We’re creating for culture and people, always.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I was lucky enough to have amazing mentors throughout my entire journey. Not surprisingly, mostly men. But at the time, and still now, men dominated the industry.

Jonathan Lee, the current CSO of Grey New York was a mentor that not only taught me, but let me teach him. That’s what made him the best mentor for me. I know that sounds like a bit much, but the point is when he wasn’t teaching me how to grow, he listened. By listening, he gave me the confidence to run with my own ideas, speak up in rooms where I was the only woman, and he pushed me to fight for what I thought and knew was right.

I have adapted this technique to everyone I mentor, and have been privileged to watch some amazing smart young women grow more confident and more comfortable in this field. I’m excited for a data sector where more women will have opportunities to connect and help each other grow.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Disruption can absolutely go both ways. I actually just applied to a Harvard Master program, and they asked me this very question as part of my entrance exam. Disruption is positive when it equates to progress. Take the Gillette “Is this the best a man can get?” campaign. I was honored to have been a very small part of its creation, as Gillette quite literally disrupted itself. It took its tag line and questioned its very being, which at — at the time — did withstand the test of time. It made noise across not only the ad world, but the global world at large. Changing times forced us to question why we were accepting certain behavior. This drove a positive instance of disruption.

Disruption goes awry when it is out of misguided intention, misguided information, or is simply one-dimensional. Pepsi, for example, disrupted the category with an ad featuring Kendall Jenner giving a cola to police, and essentially solving our world’s problems. The intention here was good, and kudos to anyone for taking on the real tensions in our world, but the work was a one-sided view. Disruption did not take into the account the deep rooted pain people were feeling, which could not be fixed by merely a soda can.

Disruption must advance truth, not create noise, to be a positive force.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

  1. “If you can’t say it in one sentence, you don’t know it well enough”. This idea will put you in your place real fast. Data can be complex, and its implementations even more so. Not everyone can “speak data.” And data is pretty boring to most people, so it’s important to be clear in what you mean and storytell to get people excited.
  2. “ You learn the most by eaves-dropping.” One-time CEO of Grey New York, Debby Reiner, told me this. And I’ve been doing it ever since — where appropriate of course. Listening to your managers and others around you is an amazing way to grow in your career. What conversations are they having? What’s important to them? How did they approach a certain solution? A wealth of information is sitting next to you if you just take your headphones out and listen.
  3. “Make yourself present.” During my first “big” meeting ever, at the ripe age of 21, my first boss slid me a piece of paper under the table, directing me what to say when we got a specific slide. I said one sentence during a two hour meeting, and blacked out while I said it. I asked why that was necessary and he told me to make myself present. Get comfortable being uncomfortable, until it becomes second nature.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

Data and applying empathy are not new concepts, which is why it’s surprising how infrequently it’s being done well.

We are in the midst of building new products that help decentralized data from being “owned” by a certain team, help make personas more tangible, and bring empathy to the center of organizations.

It’s a combination of all these things — the need for disruptive truths, the need for comfort in the discomfort, the priority to put humanity first — that not only make our path forward a clear one, but also inspire our movement down that path.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

Being heard.

And this is a two-fold dynamic. It is known that women are often not taken as seriously at work as men. But the other side is that women frankly don’t speak up as often. This is a cyclical, self-replicating problem.

To this day there are more male leaders than female, and because of those discrepancies in representation, there are less examples for young female disruptors to look up to, mimic, and learn from. By not having those examples and seeing other women take on those roles, we are at a disadvantage. But we overcome those disadvantages when we speak up. When we are seen, it allows other people to see us, and that’s cyclical as well. Good cycles can break bad cycles.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

As cliche as it may sound, the commencement speech By David Foster Wallace, titled “This is water” has always stuck out to me. As I mentioned, I was always fascinated by what people do, why they do it. I loved hearing stories and feeling the emotions of others run through my veins. In a sense, the David Foster Wallace speech encourages others to constantly seek out the stories around them. To look beyond the surface and truly feel all that life has to offer — good and the bad. You could say that Wallace’s point, of choosing to always consciously think about every situation and acknowledge what others are thinking, is the focal point of GoodQues. I encourage everyone to listen to the speech, no matter their age.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

A simple yet easy and essential movement would be the creation of places and spaces where people could talk and be listened to. The idea is simple but the impact could be revolutionary. Such a movement and cultural experience is a win-win for the listener and the speaker. As I mentioned and will always mention, listening to others results in the best guidance and inspiration. Similarly, speaking up and being heard is essential to making impact and opening up possibilities. Personally, spaces where I could be heard have been a key reason I have been lucky enough to have the trajectory I have had so far. But luck aside, those spaces were consciously created.

Having a place to practice both speaking up and listening would be invaluable to people looking to grow both personally and in their career. And our world has made clear: listening is not in abundance, so this could lead to change beyond the professional world.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Be comfortable being uncomfortable.” Of course, this assumes the conditions are safe. But this quote has driven me through all aspects of my life: work, relationships, hobbies, and beyond.

The first time I spoke up standing in front of a room, I was so uncomfortable I began to shake and had to kick off my heels so I didn’t topple over. (I didn’t wear heels for years after this). But being uncomfortable pushed me to grow, and the uncomfortable eventually became comfortable. I just learned to push through and it always helped me grow in one way or another.

I am also a seven- time marathon runner. And let me tell you that is uncomfortable. But when you get used to feeling comfortable in the uncomfortable, you see yourself reach goals you had never expected from yourself. In fact, that’s the only way real growth is achieved.

How can our readers follow you online?

I am most active on LinkedIn. My team at GoodQues and I are always trying to educate on empathy in that space, and it’s where we share our most interesting and provocative experiences.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!



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