DanMaycock.com

Data, Strategy, Leadership, and Innovation

3 Ways to Ensure That Your Idea Takes Root

When it comes to ideas, most disappear in the first hour they’re created because bringing something into the world takes serious effort. But no new thing can exist without real determination, struggle, and the effort of multiple people to see something come to life and flourish. Yet, some of the world’s best ideas disappear as quickly as they’re thought of because people shoot themselves down before telling another person what they’re thinking.

The simple truth is that often times our ideas don’t even get past the first handful of people because negative feedback is taken as justification to not do anything with the idea. What should happen of course, is that you take that feedback as a means to improve your idea and continue to iterate til it takes root.

How to do that though, can be easier said than done. Here then, are just a handful of steps that should help:

Tip #1 – Don’t let criticism get to your head

There are many successful people today living exciting lives built on their ideas, who had to fail at getting traction several times before they succeeded at getting their ideas to take off.

  • Akio Morita’s first rice cooker sold fewer than 100 units, because it burned the rice instead of cooking it. You may not have heard of him, but you’ve probably heard of his company, Sony.
  • Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor, because the editor felt “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas”
  • During his lifetime, Vincent Van Gogh only managed to sell one painting but painted 800 anyway, during his lifetime.

The potential and ideas were there in each of these people all along the way. These ideas they had just had to either go through several iterations, or wait until everyone around them caught onto the idea themselves. In each case though, these people refused to let the ideas and concepts they had die at the hands of themselves or anyone else they encountered along the way. That’s what separated them from people with good ideas who you and I haven’t ever heard of before.

Just like getting a car out of a ditch, it takes real effort to get your idea moving initially until it takes off on its own momentum. Be careful to not be your own worst enemy, by failing to get the idea off the ground because you weren’t willing to conquer your own fears and insecurities to get the idea on paper and begin sharing it with people, while using that feedback to refine / shape the idea along the way.

Tip #2 – Don’t be afraid to alter your plan of attack

The hardest ideas to surface can sometimes be around questioning something already agreed to, or pushing back on something half way built. The truth is though, that the most difficult ideas to surface can end up leading to the biggest improvements, as those ideas can help reveal blind spots missed along the way.

I’ve worked with companies that have had to choose between incorporating the next idea, shipping the product as is, or pivoting altogether because something drastic changed since the product road map had been put in place. Though it’s never an obvious choice which direction to go, shipping something they knew would be flawed always turned out worse in the end than delaying shipment to get the product right. It’s important to consider new ideas at every stage of product development in order to ensure that the right product ships every time.

Tip #3 – Continue sharing the idea, re-calibrate with user input, and persevere

Only through doing difficult things multiple times does it become easier, and being innovative and driving new ideas certainly is a muscle we must flex multiple times to get better at it. Repeating the process of developing ideas, refining them, and getting those ideas into meaningful outcomes is certainly worth the effort, but will always take effort (either internally or externally). It will also require dedication and determination, but will produce meaningful outcomes each and every time.

You need to always be willing to bring something up and share freely so that your company can continue to reinforce a culture of innovation and collaboration.

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3 Steps to take Data Analysis from “Well, That’s Interesting” to Revenue Impacting

Data is hot right now, and it seems everywhere in business these days there is another tool or framework on how to leverage data to drive a real difference in your business.

A good metaphor to understanding data effectively though, is training for an Olympic event (great timing for the metaphor, eh?). Most athletes train, not for the sake of training, but most likely because they want to stand on the podium with a medal as a statement to how good they are at the event. Anyone can train for the sake of training, but competing and winning is really the whole culmination of 4 years of tireless preparation and training.

The same is true for data visualization, in that the real goal should not be building dashboards and pretty charts, but pointing to the direct impact that data had on driving a top or bottom line impact on the company’s revenues. Yes, in larger companies it’s very hard to make a difference on the overall number, but every piece of data should tie to some positive contribution or else what is the point?

Yet, with so much data being made available, and so many people learning how to mine data for insights, there’s a lot of very pretty pictures out there which don’t move the needle at all. Yes, it’s great to hear about athlete’s and how they train, but the credibility isn’t there to the same degree as it is if they’e wearing an Olympic medal. If you’re a budding data analyst, or seasons chart builder, imagine if everything you built had a number next to it that said “this piece of data drove this quantifiable business impact”.

Though data visualization can serve qualitative benefits, such as monitoring a key business process or helping change a perspective on a topic, there should still be some way to tie even those things back to the difference it made (or could make) on the business.

Here’s three steps then, to help that mindset along

1. Understand the Reliability and Structure of the Data You’re Using 

All because you have data, and have access to data, doesn’t mean it’s useful or all that important. You having access to log files from a server, which spits out information on usage patterns of your e-commerce system throughout the day only matters if you’re able to impact that usage in some meaningful way, then tie it back to a positive revenue lift. More importantly though, you have to know the data is reliable and understand how to model it in a way that it produces accurate conclusions. Build some baseline metrics, and measure against numbers you know are correct before going into any complex modeling exercise. Once you put a chart in a slide, it’s out there. So make sure you’re starting from the right data set to begin with. 

2. Develop a Series of Hypothesis about Your Business

Once you know the data you’re working with, and have a good sense of how reliable it is, think about the business as it relates to parts you can actually control / influence. If you’re in advertising, don’t focus on product improvements. If you’re in product development, don’t worry about retention patterns on the website. Think about 3-5 gut instincts you have about how the business could operate differently, then use the data to test out those theories. Don’t simply mine the data, hoping the magical insights just pop out at you. Data, like a car, helps you get to where you’re going – it won’t take you there on it’s own. You need to at least have a rough idea of what you’re looking for, so you can build worthwhile visualization to help vet that hypothesis into an actual conclusion.

3. Focus on Low Hanging KPIs, then Expand from There 

It’s easy today, with technology making more data accessible with less effort, to try and go after ground breaking insights. However, you no doubt have areas of your business you can directly impact and know will make a sizable difference to the bottom line, that you need help in influencing. Start with thinking through 3-5 KPIs coming from your hypothesis that you can build from the data you’ve vetted, to influence key business people or back up your assertions with a new direction you’re moving your team in.

If you can measure it, you can prove it (as long as it’s reliable and true), but remember that it’s never a silver bullet or the whole story. Data can be powerful, but it can also lead people astray or get people focused on the wrong things. When done right though, using validated data tied to a hypothesis and measured in a way that drives a meaningful revenue outcome, it can make a big difference.

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Why Tableau is Worth Billions: A Case Study on Becoming a Digital “Port City”

It’s appropriate that Tableau is located in Seattle, as they both became popular for similar reasons.

Seattle, started as a logging town shipping lumber down to San Francisco, then hit a big boom during the Klondike gold rush followed by a big shipping boom. It then moved into a big boom in aerospace followed by the growing influence of technology – starting with Microsoft. Access to resources, and a connector between multiple places. Seattle was big on logging, because there was an ocean that made it easier to transport lumber south, with the means to make it accessible and useful. Seattle was big during the Klondike gold rush, because you could take a ship from Seattle over to Alaska, and provided the resources and shipping to get there. Seattle was big into aerospace, because William Boeing got things kicked off here so there was the resources and buyers to set up a shop and build an aerospace business. Seattle then became big into technology, because Bill Gates changed the world with Microsoft Windows and people could come and leverage the resources that created.

Now lets look at Tableau – From wikipedia: “In 2003, Tableau was spun out of Stanford [9] with an eponymous software application. The product queries relational databases, cubes, cloud databases, and spreadsheets and then generates a number of graph types that can be combined into dashboards and shared over a computer network or the internet. The founders moved the company to Seattle, Washington in October, 2003, where it remains headquartered today” 

Tableau then, wasn’t famous because it invented data or created a better way to store data. Rather, the platform made that “digital lumber” we know as data more accessible. It became a way for an average user to reach out into the data space and extract useful information, which they can then use. In effect, Tableau is the digital “port” city for many business owners, that provides access to that raw material and the capability to make it useful.

Becoming a digital port city then, isn’t all about what the platform provides in and of itself but the material it helps you gather / process / leverage. Social media is billions of messages, but Adobe’s Marketing Cloud promises to make quantifiable sense of it all. Server log files are completely useless in and of themselves, but Splunk helps turn all that into a meaningful dashboard.

Lots of tools exist out there, promising to mine assets and turn them into something useful. But as data became a boom, and the trend grew, you could also see the rise of companies like Tableau growing along with that tide. If cities in the 1800’s decided to use clay instead of lumber, perhaps Seattle may never have taken off.

What’s important to note then, is that becoming a digital port city can produce a tremendous amount of value as long as the resource you’re accessing is growing in popularity. However, everything (even data) only stays a popular trend for so long. The hope is, then, that you’ve grown enough to sustain yourself until the next wave takes off and you can successfully adapt along with it. Tableau is in it’s first major boom cycle, as Seattle grew with lumber. As history has shown though, Seattle had many boom and bust cycles as time goes on. How many companies also rise and fall within a single hype cycle (ex: Detroit) ?

Becoming a digital “port city” and staying that way really comes down to 3 things

1. Don’t oversell the hype (to yourselves or your clients)

No matter how on fire your company might be today, every marketing pitch or slogan only has so much gas in the tank. Focusing on the broader industry issue (ex: revenue growth vs access to data) means you’ll continue to stay relevant long after the initial hype has passed. Take advantage of a trend’s popularity, but don’t so closely associate yourself to that one thing that you can’t exist without it – what if Kodak had focused on better living through chemistry vs film? As film declined, chemistry surely didn’t go out of style. And as it turned out, Kodak had some of the most talented chemists in the world working for them because film is a hard thing to make. What would have changed, if Kodak’s brand became focused around something that wouldn’t ever go out of style, vs a single product focus? 

2. You’ll have to think of the post-hype at some point 

Yes, it’s important to stay hyper-focused on your core competency and capability during a big sales cycle, but long term planning focusing on “what do we do when people don’t care about X trend any more” is important. Google will have to figure out ways to make money, after online advertising. Facebook may not be the hot social network 100 years from now it is today, and Microsoft is already starting to evolve in a world that cares less about personal computers. Tableau, too, has the talent and revenue to think about what’s next in the data space long after people stop caring about 2D data visualization in the form of accessible dashboards. Though we have examples, every company has to overcome it’s own culture and leadership challenges to continue to evolve and adapt. 

3. Build a foundation around the longer term trend, while capitalizing on the current hype 

Say you’re Boeing, and you’re contemplating life after airplanes, or perhaps investments that build a platform of services focused on a single brand element of your company. Do you diversify, by extending your reach into other areas of aerospace, or do you step back and say “well, our real purpose is to connect people, so lets invest in other ways to connect people outside of just flying them together”. It’s a tricky question, with no easy answer, which could mean botched acquisitions and a confusing marketing plan if you’re too broadly focused. However, tying in telepresence as part of the “connecting people together” strategy may mean infrastructure investments in aerospace communications networks, that you wouldn’t otherwise make, to allow video chats in airplanes while investing in smaller start-ups that focus on video codecs and compression algorithms that might net you a decent return down the line.

Focusing on just building airplanes though, Boeing would never invest in a Skype, but down the line will it be too entrenched to see a decline in aerospace with the will to shift their focus? Skype would have been a bad idea for Boeing, but what about investments in technologies that make it easier to transmit video which is entirely something they could leverage today? It’s not easy to do, and a lot of companies get it wrong here, but focusing your core message and internal alignment on something bigger than the immediate trend or fad is important, if you want to build a company that’ll be around 30+ years down the road.

If you do those three things successfully, whether you’re a city near the Ocean or a data analysis tool helping unlock value, you’ll no doubt continue to justify the value you bring long after that initial wave has past. It’s why Seattle continues to thrive, whereas cities like Detroit have struggled, and why Tableau is worth billions as a tool that accessed data without developing/ hosting/ managing most of the backend infrastructure that makes up those data systems. Stay beholden to only one path, or one product and you could go from the top of the pile to getting buried by your competitors. Toyota would say it’s not a car company, but a transportation company – because cars are only relevant for a period of time, but people will always need a way to get transported.

Become a digital “port city” by making a useful resource accessible and useful, then focus on continually evolving as the thing people need access to changes.

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3 Reasons Why You Need a Chief Analytics Officer

Data has exploded in a way that rivals mobile’s explosion ten years ago. Everyone is out there buying masters degrees, data visualization licenses, and data scientists by the truck loads in a way that mimics corporations buying mac laptops, mobile developers, and app store branding when iPhones blew up the smart phone space.

The Analytics ‘Trend’ Isn’t New

There are a lot of great things taking place right now with all the interest around data analysis, but the funny thing is that data analysis is nothing new (neither is data science). There’s a good 30-40 years of work on data, from data architecture to database administration (not to mention the millions of excel spreadsheets that corporations are running critical business functions on) that live inside companies and create a legacy layer that this latest wave of data analysis is building on.

Other new trends, such as big data analysis and the cloud computing revolution, have further spurred companies to consider ways to extract usefulness from their existing data and move away from churn or ARPU and develop distinctly competitive analysis with phrases like “regression analysis” and “predictive analytics” becoming much more common in corporate board rooms.

Translating Data

The big problem is, as was the case with mobile, is that you have to be able to translate interesting technology into impacting ROI-laden investments that drive top or bottom line revenues (or create efficiency and lower costs of course, as well). There’s a good deal of buzz around big data being an overused term, and a hundreds of millions of dollars spent on visualization tools will, at some point, taper off when the average business user turned dashboard builder runs out of things to visualize due to saturation, bad data, etc.

So Who / What Is This Chief Analytics Officer?

A Chief Analytics Officer could be a Director of Data, or a VP of Analytics, but having someone at an executive level that can drive a centralized data strategy for the company should exist for these three reasons.

  1. Centralizing Your Data Resources Will Help Avoid Silo’ed Capabilities

To turn all this hype into profit, it means building a centralized capacity. A capacity which sites outside of the IT-to-business politics and hype to buy visualization tools, and instead focusing on building a stack of capabilities, from the data lake to the dashboards, geared around revenue generating use cases taken from business partners who need more usefulness from their data without having to build silo’ed data science teams that rely on fractured data sets.

When anything is this pumped up, every department is going to want to get involved and build capabilities, since every business group uses data in some form or another. The problem is that it takes a variety of experiences and backgrounds, along with investments, that need to be built at a corporate level with a plan to centralize some capabilities and decentralize others with a clear data strategy that everyone can get behind.

Centralizing this capability means one strategy, one leader, and limitless opportunities for everyone to participate without each department deciding their own game plan for riding this data wave.

  1. Consolidating data to maximize usefulness, while aligning that effort under a single leader

The topics around big data, and data lakes are growing overwhelming, with more and more companies working to consolidate all their data in one place to allow for both advanced analytics & traditional business intelligence functions. At the same time, a data lake built in the wrong way can cause latency along with too many executive peers building extensive requirements which ultimately brings any progress to a halt.

Bringing your data consolidation effort under a single leader, tied to a data strategy that brings the bigger outcomes into focus and alignment while leaving the smaller day to day details up to a single org unit means your company can spend less time planning & debating, and more time driving value from your data lake.

  1. Impact is prioritized, over ‘interesting trends’

Much like the millions of dollars spent on corporate mobile apps that never got traction, companies today are spending millions of dollars on real time streaming, data visualization, and corporate education on DAX programming all in an attempt to capitalize on the data analytics hype and create a stronger bottom and/or top line revenue stream through the use of data analysis.

The thing is, data isn’t a new domain for technology, nor is investing in Big data going to revolutionize your company.

There’s a good deal of effort being spent on building impressive looking visuals, which add no incremental value over the same data displayed in an excel chart. Furthermore, companies investing in hiring legions of data scientists without clear revenue-driving hypothesis will find they spend a good deal of time figuring out just what to focus on.

As is the case with any over-hyped technology, whether it’s enterprise wide tableau licensing or infrastructure to support web traffic analysis for real time personalization, the tools are only as good as the capabilities on the team and the business cases they are actively working towards.

Focusing on a single leadership structure to come up with the real tangible value for investment in data analytics means there’s a common set of goals that’s driving the spend, and a clear idea of what each department and employee is focusing on.

It’s not so much that a single team owns every analyst, but rather each instrument is calibrated so the whole company sounds like a beautiful concerto vs a number of instruments playing at different rhythms.

Furthermore, when it comes to the vendor onslaught and procurement nightmares that naturally arise in the midst of a technology boom, there’s a clear investment strategy for how the company plans to leverage capabilities such as big data or advanced analytics. This can influence everything from recruiting and training, to infrastructure and software licensing, and help ensure each investment is additive vs expensive and lacking in impact.

There’s a good deal of interesting happenings in the data space right now, but companies need more impact to back up the cost.

There are no doubt other benefits I’ve missed out on taking data seriously, and putting someone in charge who is somewhat removed from the politics and inefficiencies that come from burying the capability inside an existing org (similar to the CIO coming of age, and now no longer reporting to CFOs in most companies).

The aim is however, to ensure your data analytics efforts are making a meaningful impact, and driving the kinds of returns most companies never experienced during the mobile app boom almost ten years ago now. And in so doing, benefiting every company that invests in the great capabilities a data-driven org has at its disposal.

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It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt

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Explaining The New Brand for DanMaycock.com

So I changed the look / feel of my social media all around a single image – the evening skyline for Seattle, but there’s a bigger meaning behind it.

For the new brand, the focus is around four core themes

Data (Water) – Thought leadership on Analytics, Data Science, and Visualization along with the platforms and infrastructure to support that analysis.

Strategy (Lit Skyline) – First hand experience, and best practices around both corporate and start-up strategy, from company fundamentals to marketing planning and best practices on sales / branding.

Innovation (Space Needle) – Understanding of what meaningful innovation looks like, how it can help both SMBs and Corporations, along with first hand experiences taken from my book, and consulting background.

Leadership (Night time) – Stories, best practices, and advice on leading teams in corporations, to helping build and launch start-ups based on my work advising and starting companies.

The new brand then, incorporates these four themes in the photo

The Space Needle represents Innovation, as it’s a symbol built during the World’s expo in Seattle to represent America’s pursuit of an Innovative future. My book “Building The Expo” is all based on the premise of companies looking to build their own “World’s Expo” to showcase innovation to the world, but many companies end up building symbols without the results and follow through to back it up.

The Water represents Data, as data really is a vast ocean of bits collected across companies that can help companies as much as it can hurt them, based on how it’s managed and used. Just as good data analysis can grow a company’s revenues, bad data can lead to worse decisions that can have the opposite effect.

The Nighttime represents leadership, or rather the need for leadership as people often find themselves in the dark without it. Strong leaders can guide any company through even the darkest of nights with the right guidance and best practices, along with proven experiences.

The Lit skyline represents Strategy, in that it takes several bright ideas to help drive companies from failure to success. At the same time, too many ideas can be blinding without the right actions and results to go hand in hand with a good strategy.

These elements not only work together to make a beautiful image, but what they represent can help people, regardless of their role and company.

It’s for those reasons, that I chose this image to represent my new personal brand. If you’re interested in learning more about how I can help you with any of these areas, please subscribe to my newsletter, or contact me at dmaycock@gmail.com

Thank you,

Dan Maycock

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How to Handle Defeat

Remember you will not always win. Some days, the most resourceful individual will taste defeat. But there is, in this case, always tomorrow – after you have done your best to achieve success today.
Maxwell Maltz

Defeat is something that can come to many different people and look very differently when it arrives. It’s sometimes absolute, sometimes partial, and sometimes shared and sometimes individualized. Regardless of how it comes to you, it most likely represents a sinking feeling in most people that causes you to stare deeply and question what to do next, what perhaps you should have done, and how to handle moving forward.

Perhaps you’re 10 years into a career you feel is a failure to pursue what you really wanted to do, which can represent it’s own kind of defeat. Perhaps you lost out on a job opportunity, or promotion, and were defeated by the competition which you may or may not ever stare in the face.

Defeat though, short of one that results in a loss of life, means you’ll have a tomorrow to wake up to and experience. It’s not for someone to act like it isn’t there (deflect / deny), or blame someone else (projection), or sulk about your lot in life (victim mentality). Instead, accept that yes you did in fact taste defeat today and it’s a horrible taste that no one enjoys in the moment.

Yet, it’s the ultimate lesson you can carry forward, and present you a learning opportunity much more significant than most any other lesson in life can teach you. Don’t become bitter and jaded, but instead, understand that defeat is part of what makes you human and is something you can embrace and carry forward, or chose to stay on that battle field and suffer the real defeat – that of your ambition, sense of self, perhaps your very spirit.

It’s entirely possible you may have one defeat after the next, until you’re defeating yourself and becoming the biggest attacking force you have to cope with. That defeat goes to the core of who you are, and it’s only you that can convince yourself that you’re less than you are and have no chance for victory.

The true defeat then, is you vs yourself, and letting in the lesser defeats to define who you are as an individual. You are a miracle in nature, just being alive and functioning with a set of lungs and a heart. You exist in a time where measles is being eradicated, racism is being addressed at every level of society, and the world isn’t run by a handful of bratty kings keeping everyone in a state of subjugation. There is so much wrong in the world, and you’ll run into defeat from any number of places – but hope must be the stronger force in your life.

Hope is what keeps you moving forward, and is the thing that picks you up and dusts you off. Hope is the champion that comes to fight any force beating you down, from the worst defeats that happen quickly to the long drawn out defeats against your self-esteem or self-worth.

You build hope in good times, where you take in what’s around you and appreciate, as a snap shot, what good things exist in your life. Those snap shots are what can sustain you past the worst things in life, and it’s a battle you’ll fight against yourself to see if those snapshots can build up the hope against despair and resignation.

Because life won’t always be a defeat, everything has ups and downs. If you feel in a constant state of defeat, then consider where hope could potentially enter in and reach out to someone to help you get some perspective.

Embrace hope, and remember you have the most complicated machine in existence working for you 24/7 (your brain), and a working set of functions to support that machine with whatever direction is prompted.

Embrace hope, even when you don’t want to – when it’s more painful to be hopeful then sulk and live in hurt.

Embrace hope, because you’re in a rut and you need to get the car moving forward again. No matter who you are, and how you were defeated, embrace hope and know that for even the greatest falls – there’s an opportunity to get back up, only if you’re hopeful enough to want to get up in the first place.

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Living a meaningful life

“Most people lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them” – Henry David Thoreau

Too many of us live lives of quiet desperation. It’s amazing in the years I’ve spent working with people at companies around launching technology innovation, how many people are unhappy in the job but feel they need to stay there to pay the bills, or head in a direction.

Though it’s of course noble for any person to sacrifice for what matters, it’s possible to make a living focused around your passions regardless of what the thing is – you just have to be creative, and be determined to build a plan for whatever

At the same time, you can’t lose yourself in the process of building a future (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cCeeTfsm8bk for a good example of this).

Regardless of what you fill your life with, time goes in just one direction and there’s no way to empty the cup and start over. What you pour into the glass never comes out, but continues to fill up. The thing is that no one knows how big the glass is until the end – and there isn’t room to pour anything else in.

What will what you pour into that glass taste like? Though parts by them selves may not taste great and some will taste amazing, what will it all taste like when mixed together? At the end, when you look back to see that’s poured in, what will you think of what’s there?

Every day you get an opportunity to pour in a little more, and sometimes you get to decide what gets poured in and sometimes you get something handed to you. Either way though, you chose how it’ll taste and how much of what to pour in. Whether you’re locked in a jail cell, or sitting at a coffee shop, it’s your glass and each day is made from a series of choices that determines what gets poured into that glass.

Don’t chose to do something that doesn’t bring you a sense of joy and purpose – regardless of the reasons you think you have to do it. It will pail in comparison to doing the tough work to figure out what you really want to do, making it happen, and realizing you can do what you need to do while doing something worthwhile and purposeful.

 

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3 Ways to Make Data Visualization Useful

Data visualization, the front end of data analysis that makes everything more understandable, interactive, and attractive, is taking off like never before. Many companies have risen to helping establish accessible data tools that are both easy to operate, and understand to where anyone today can point the tool at a data sent in particular and begin developing dashboards, and charts like never before.

However, democratizing data analysis and working towards creating self-service BI can have very negative implications if the discipline and rigor behind that data analysis isn’t handled along with developing all those great dashboards. Furthermore, you can easily find yourself building interesting charts without being able to articulate why those charts are impactful, and what knowledge you’d need to back up if something irregular pops up that someone calls out in a meeting.

People would agree, for the most part, you shouldn’t take someone off the street that isn’t an engineer and have them design & build an airplane. Even if the tools to design an airplane become accessible, engineering is important to make sure the plane flies successfully when it’s actually constructed and launched.

The same should be true for data, though most data isn’t related to life or death situations, there is data misused or incorrectly calculated that can bring a company to it’s knees – from bad sales figures, to bad market analysis resulting in tweets that spin the company into damage control.

With that in mind, I have 3 steps to make your data visualizations more accurate and useful, so your understanding of data can go hand in hand with your energy to leverage it.

1. Understand Data Modeling Fundimentals 

This may sound / seem like overkill, but if you’re going to work with a tool like Tableau or Qlikview, having the basics down around how data works and how to model it effectively means you can go into some data source somewhere, understand it down to the elements themselves, and join that data together in a way that allows for meaningful and accurate analytics.

If you don’t know what an inner vs outer join is, then you’ll have a hard time even pulling together the data into a tool like Tableau without potentially impacting the outcome.

The best book to dive into here is “The Data Warehouse Toolkit” By Ralph Kimball (Kimball is the godfather of dimensional modeling, and is used by most all BI people to develop “cubes” for data analysis). http://www.amazon.com/Data-Warehouse-Toolkit-Definitive-Dimensional/dp/1118530802/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1443215078&sr=8-1&keywords=data+warehousing

It’s a hard thing to get through, especially if you want to stay out of the weeds of data management, but it’ll get you deep enough in the fundamentals around good data governance and management, that you’ll be far more effective at building compelling and accurate data models.

2. Focus on Impact vs Interesting

The world is full of interesting data, that would make for all kinds of interesting conversations. However, very little of that translates into impactful data that can make a material impact on a company’s bottom line. Knowing what’s interesting vs impactful can make the difference between a bunch of nice looking visualizations, vs an impacting dashboard that drives business change and makes what you’re doing both useful and practical.

There are a lot of books out there that show examples of data visualization, and the majority are certainly interesting and informative. However, if they don’t have a direct impact on helping change your business in some way, then you might as well frame and hang those pictures on a wall. Develop a clear hypothesis, know what you’re looking to get from the data, and work the problem through to a conclusion.

Data journalism is a great approach towards this, that combines story telling with a clear impact, call to action, or outcome.

A good resource for where to begin is at http://datajournalismhandbook.org/1.0/en/

3. Know your audience

The most important step in making data visualization useful is to know your audience, and tailor the output in a way that makes it the most useful for the consumer. A CFO typically won’t want to see the same visualization as a CMO, and with the majority of data visualization tools allowing for the ability to filter / slice / drill based on the data available in a cube, you can tailor content like never before and peform ad-hoc data analysis with less construction up front required.

Understand what questions your audience might ask ahead of time, and consider how your material is fluid enough to respond in turn. You might be building a dashboard for showing sales nationwide for your company, but what if they ask for one product vs another? Can you build your data model to support that, then add a filter or will you have to go back, work for a week, and bring the specific chart back?

There’s tons of great data points out there, waiting to be discovered and shared via data visualization platforms to help enhance and enlighten business users at all levels of the organization. Make sure though, before jumping into the fray, that you have the foundation, direction, and foresight to develop something meaningful.

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3 Shark Tank Tips for Success in Anything

If you’ve ever seen Shark Tank, you see first hand what happens when an entrepreneur comes in prepared or not. Each time someone that comes in to pitch, there’s typical things an investor calls out that makes the difference between getting funded or not. Knowing your numbers is the big one, but there are a number of other things that can derail a good pitch or cause the sharks to compete over the start-up. These lessons though, can be applied to anything in life, whether you’re an enterprise executive or college student.

1. Know Your Numbers

The most damning thing you can do on the Shark Tank, is not know your numbers. The same is true in life, that if you want to achieve something (weight loss, financial freedom, a promotion), it makes a big difference to know your numbers. There’s so many LinkedIn profiles I’ve come across that don’t quantify what someone has accomplished, and it’s hard to know what someone actually achieved without a number to back it up. I can say I’m good at sales, but if that’s true, I should be able to say I sold X millions in Y period of time to make Z downstream opportunities for my company.

More importantly, if you aren’t able to measure what you want to accomplish, how will you build a plan to achieve it? Yes, you can lose weight just based on how you look in a mirror without measuring a thing, or achieving success based on how you feel about yourself in the morning, but numbers can help you know what works and what doesn’t, and knowing if you’re starting to slip. Some things can’t be measured, I’ll never know if I’m a good dad based on some measurement and I’d never ask my son to fill out a report card on how I’m doing, but those things that can be measured can help a good deal in where you’re going. In professional life especially, it’s much easier to justify a promotion if you have concrete proof that you’ve achieved great things. In investment, it’s required to show your books to validate how much you’re making or losing, but many other things can be tracked with a number and can help if you know / follow them.

“The best measure of a man’s honesty isn’t his income tax return. It’s the zero adjust on his bathroom scale.”

– Arthur C Clarke

2. Have a Plan

There are people that pitch the Sharks without a clear plan on what they’re going to do next, if something bad happens or if they have to spend more than they are expecting. Having an optimistic set of next steps isn’t a plan, it’s a day dream. A plan shows multiple paths, including the “happy path”, and shows you’re willing to consider and understand multiple ways to achieve your outcome. Too many people want to think optimistically or pessimistically and chose not to entertain the other side of what’s possible. To be good in business, and in life, you have to consider multiple possible realities and have a plan, if you want to demonstrate clarity of purpose and determination of outcome. In project management, you have to be able to share the bad news with the client if the project is in red, but you need a plan on how to get to green. If you lose your job, outside of your control, you can take a day to feel awful about that but your success will come from waking up the next day, having a plan on getting re-employed and then executing on it.

You’ll get beat down so much in life, for things that may or may not be your fault. Not feeling like a victim is only possible with a plan to get yourself out of that space, and having a plan can often keep you from getting in that position in the first place. You can’t predict much in life, but you can reasonably know what might occur and build a plan around how to handle it. Eventually you could be good enough in a certain set of circumstances to just react in the moment, but whether it’s getting out of debt, or achieving the goals you want professionally, sitting down and having a plan on how to get there (along with step 1) can help clear out the distractions, default decisions, and unexpected bumps that derail even the best intentions. And when that derail occurs, no matter how good your plan is, accept that defeat and make a plan to get back on your feet.

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

– Abraham Lincoln

3. Don’t Go for Easy

There’s lots of ways to take the easy part in life, hit auto-pilot, and call it a day. Life is meant to be lived, and we aren’t meant to be well preserved corpses that never experienced life outside of our 5 square mile life. Humans begin with nomadic life, as we were meant to roam and explore. Those brave souls that show up on Shark Tank didn’t take the easy path, starting a business and asking for money is never an easy thing. Yet, to hear their stories and understand their passion, you can tell they aren’t living a boring existence. We aren’t all cut out to start companies, but we can all start something and live a life full of passion.

Things will be difficult, life won’t always pan out, but if you know your numbers and have a plan, you can get there and over time – failure will teach you lessons, and those lessons will make you a better person. The best ship captains have experienced the most things going wrong, not so things on the ocean can always be avoided but that they’ll know what to do when something happens. This is only possible with experience, failure, loss, and determination. Live to the extent of what you think is possible, and you’ll find 10 more steps in front of you that you didn’t see before.

Don’t go for easy, don’t hit auto-pilot in your life, and remember that life is a bullet train that goes down the same path for us all – it’s just a question of what we see, experience, and impact along that journey that matters.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the person who points out how the strong person stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends themselves in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if they fail, at least fail while daring greatly, so that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

– Teddy Roosevelt

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