HYCS # 38 – The Whys and Hows of Interviewing

HYCS # 38 – Interview Dos and Don’ts

The DIKW Pyramid shows how data can become information, then knowledge and finally wisdom.  Interacting with actual humans is what moves your data toward wisdom.  Here are some guidelines for interviews that yield information and knowledge.

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I would rather walk into a team cold and work with what unfolds that conduct interviews with each team member to piece together a picture of a team’s functioning.  Sitting with a group gives me more data than a bank of servers can sort through in a week.  But more importantly, it helps me make sense of that data in a way that interviews can’t.  As I observe a team at work over time, I start to see patterns in their interactions, and the data starts to organize itself, independent of my bias.  The data becomes information.  As I interact with the team, our interactions shape those patterns into knowledge that’s useful.  After only a few meetings, we can arrive at wisdom in the form of practices that keep the team on track.

There are many people who feel exactly opposite; for them interviews work best for staying in the role of neutral observer while helping them turn data into information. You need to figure out what works best for you, because despite the potential for complication, you can’t make sense of data, or find knowledge in information without working up the DIKW pyramid with people.


DIKW Pyramid by RobOnKnowledge

DIKW Pyramid by RobOnKnowledge

The DIKW Pyramid

This pyramid illustrates what happens to data as it moves toward wisdom.

Data level – This is the computer-generated report of the feedback from your 360-degree review, or the piechart you just plopped into your powerpoint presentation that shows customer trends over the last year.  Factoids:  They look impressive, but have no meaning.  Data is knowledge without meaning or utility, like this statement:  “John and Mary are the Royal couple. They’ve been married for 60 years”  Meh.

Information levelTo turn data into information, find patterns and relationships in the data.  This is the story the data has to tell.  Data can be turned into many, many different stories, none of them the whole truth.  “John and Mary are happily married monarchs,” and “John and Mary are the Royal couple of England and have an alliance based on fulfilling their duties,” are equally possible ways of putting together those two facts.  In your interview, you will be posing questions that explore the most likely connections among the data.  You will not be searching for the truth.  The truth is unobtainium.  You are searching for the best way toward your client’s goals.  Interviews are a good fit for this task.

Knowledge levelKnowledge is information that is relevant and useful to those who need to take action. “Mary is the Queen of England.  John is her Prince consort whose opinion she values.”  Aha!  I’ve learned something useful, and made meaning of the information I’d gathered.  Knowledge helps me know what to do.

The hypothesis is one path to creating knowledge from data.  It’s an educated guess that needs testing. Knowledge comes from the testing, not the guessing.

In order to turn information into knowledge, the people you got the data from need to do the talking and the testing.  They are the only ones that can turn their information into knowledge and action.  When it comes to changing behavior, this is a crucial point.

Most organizational and behavioral change initiatives fail right here.  If you don’t get this right in the diagnosis stage, your implementation will sputter.


Wisdom levelWisdom is knowledge has withstood the test of time across cultures.  Wisdom is knowledge that is useful and meaningful to people far away from the original data collection in both space and time.  This could be other departments or organizations. Wisdom is home grown and often must be relearned: “If you want to influence a monarch, go through a trusted advisor.” Change that transforms is driven by wisdom.  Attaining wisdom is rare as hen’s teeth, and worth striving for.

Dos and Don’ts of Interviewing


  • Take your time
  • Do prepare a list of questions ahead
  • Do have a hypothesis to test
  • Do admit to your biases openly if they are getting in the way.
  • Do use metaphors and invite your interviewee to use them in describing their situation.
  • Do guarantee confidentiality and anonymity
  • Do listen closely to the specific words and the music (their facial expression, tone of voice, your gut reaction)
  • Do create new hypotheses for testing on the spot
  • Do activate curiosity in yourself and the person you are interviewing.


  • Don’t lead or sell
  • Don’t be the expert
  • Don’t make promises – it’s too early to know what will happen
  • Don’t agree to keep secrets
  • Don’t get attached to a particular point of view

I see the data collection and determining action phases as the turning point in a consulting engagement, and turning information into knowledge as crucial to its success.  I want to help my client turn their data and early impressions into knowledge that changes what people do.  I want to give them a shot at accessing their organization’s wisdom.  It’s not all going to happen in the interview, or in any single conversation.   But when it does happen, the transition from data to knowledge to shared wisdom is the change.  The rest of the engagement is making room for what has already happened.