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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The Next Step In Driving Meaningful Innovation

In Sunday’s article “The First Step in Driving Meaningful Innovation“, I discussed the key steps in getting started and that was to focus on outcomes vs the idea and built a team to help vet your ideas.

Once that’s done, what’s the next step in keeping the momentum moving forward?

Well, if you read to the bottom of Sunday’s article, you may have noticed I said I’d be posting the article the next day. That didn’t happen of course, and it doesn’t matter the reason why, but was a fail on my part. This is important, because the next step in meaningful innovation is becoming comfortable with failure.

There’s many ways to do this, typically it’s going out and trying something multiple times, and building on the previous step, could mean taking your concept and beginning to circulate it to a broader audience. Perhaps though, it’s simply a mental exercise accepting that you may fail in what you’re trying to do, and that’s ok, or doing something particularly risky knowing fully well that risk goes hand in hand with failure.

The concept “failing forward” though is important, because it means you didn’t succeed but you’re better off because of the attempt. Whether it’s learning something new about a business situation you didn’t know about, getting first hand experience on the corporate politics of your company, or understanding what not to say in front of a particular executive. The important thing to remember is that a job is something that can be replaced and bosses are people that will come and go in your life, but the experiences you gain from attempting big things sticks with you for life.

Too many people are afraid to fail in a company, because they attach their job to safety and that causes fear – the most powerful motivator in the world – to protect you from going outside of the bounds you feel most comfortable in. This is a problem though, because it’s not the walls that protect your job like a castle but rather keep you penned into your job like a prison. The funny thing is that prisons and castles can be the same building, just depends on the purpose.

The same is true for risk, though too many people use it use risk avoidance as a prison to keep themselves locked into a certain mindset vs embracing risk and protecting themselves from a life of boredom or complacency. The phrase “a rolling stone gathers no moss” couldn’t be more appropriate, given today’s dynamic society, and statistics around how fast jobs and skills are being swapped in and out. The one skill that’ll never go out of style though? Embracing change, and learning to adapt. It’s not a book you read, it’s a muscle you flex and grow.

If you’re pushing meaningful innovation inside your company, you won’t be successful most of the time with most of the people. It’s an uphill battle, where you’ll get people fighting you at many levels of an organization. A corporation has an immune system that rejects a heart transplant, even though it’s the best thing for the company because risk means volatile stock prices and uncertain 3-5 year performance forecasts. However, it’s also the slow boiling heat that cooks the frog, if you take a look at big companies going bust over the past several years. Furthermore, how many start-ups are now bigger than Fortune 1000 companies from 10-15 years back?

Yes, change is inevitable and is a wave that rises those that surf on boards made of meaningful innovation but also washes out those stuck on the beach punching the clock each day hoping they can hide from that very same wave. The most valuable lesson I learned during my time at the Boeing Company, is that lay-offs are largely out of your control and happen when you least expect it, so the most dangerous thing you can do is not stay nimble and flexible to embrace something new if you have to.

Though that may be a broader narrative for life, it’s most important when you throw yourself into an intentionally risky space, like pitching new ideas in a company and stirring up “the way we do things around here”. That takes some mental fortitude, and preparation to get yourself in the mindset of running your own start-up, and having now to go sell and close people in your company on your idea.

Innovation isn’t something you can do once either, it takes 100’s of attempts over time to get good at hearing no, and thinking then about new ways to get to yes. But it’s worth it, you most likely won’t be putting your life at risk (depending on what you’re presenting), and you’ll gain an experience and learn a lesson that you will take forward into your next experience. The most important thing though, is you’ll flex that risk muscle, and get stronger in the face of larger amounts of uncertainty and ambiguous work situations.

I could give you exercises in doing this, but I think you already know 2-3 potentially risky moves you could make that get you out of your comfort zone. Don’t do anything wild and crazy to start if you don’t want to, sky diving probably isn’t a good place to start if you’re scared of heights, but start by jumping off the high dive at your local YMCA pool and work your way up to jumping out of planes. The key here is walking up to that edge, and not being afraid to look over the edge – not becoming the world’s greatest base jumper and taking on risk for risk’s sake – adrenaline junkies are in their own camp with their own set of motivations.

In a corporate environment, it means taking the concept you’ve gotten vetted and focused around outcomes, and getting prepared to start telling people outside of the folks you know and accepting not everyone is going to like it (this is most in line with calculated risks than fool hardy risks throwing something at a wall and hoping it sticks). Then take that idea, refine it, and be prepared for the next step in meaningful innovation – building the prototype.

Stay tuned then, for the next article in the meaningful innovation series, “Effective Ways to Prototype Your Innovative Idea“.

Follow me here on LinkedIn to stay in the loop or via my blog at DanMaycock.com, and share with people you think would care to learn more about what meaningful Innovation could look like – follow me on twitter @DanMaycock to see articles posted on whats possible or drop me a line at dan@transform.digital if you have any questions or doubts around this topic of Innovation that does something measurable and impacting for your company.

Dan Maycock is the author of “Building The Expo”, which shares best practices on leveraging #Innovation in meaningful ways and saving the concept from it’s overused but underutilized past. The book has first hand stories, and best practices from Dan’s years of experience working with Fortune 1000 companies dealing with emerging technology adoption in an increasingly dynamic business environment. You can purchase the book at Amazon.com or learn more about Dan at http://www.transform.digital

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The First Step in Driving Meaningful Innovation

In yesterday’s post “What Lies Between Ideas and Outcomes“, I shared that meaningful innovation was possible and can help shape companies in every aspect but required an intentional approach driven by outcomes and focused on helping shape concepts in ways that drive real impact for the business

The first step then, in heading down this path, is actually two fold

The first part is to stop focusing on the idea itself first off and instead focus on what measurable outcomes you’re going to drive / achieve (ROI, revenue growth, efficiency, etc). Too many innovative ideas out there focus on the technology or process or solution (ex: mobile apps, 3d printing), and not enough on the outcomes that will make the executive leadership shine, along with helping the bottom line of the company itself (ex: greater customer engagement, reduction in prototyping costs).

Once you have a clearly defined outcome, and have thought through what kinds of tangible impacts your concept could produce, then you’re in a much better position to begin discussing it with those outside of your immediate support team. The further you go with your concept as well, the harder it’ll be to get people on board to support you unless it comes with a clear tie in as to how they can be a part of it and/or benefit from it.

Test it with a co-worker or leader you trust inside your organization that has approval authority, and see if it passes the sniff test. Anyone that’s used to working with third party vendors, approving contracts, or negotiating statements of work will have the right level of objectivity to think through push back and whether the outcome focused business case holds water or not.

Once that’s done, then it’s time to take that concept and outcome and build your vetting team

The second part is to incorporate those that would be most against your concept into the process early on. Too often when I talk to groups inside corporations about an innovative new idea they’re working to launch, they talk about wanting to get a strong foundation of support around them before taking the idea outside of their team and launching it companywide. When I ask why they’d take that approach, I’m told of all the groups most likely to shut them down (legal, hr, corporate governance, procurement, etc) because of regulations, budgets, risk, etc.

The problem with that though, is that no one really wants to say no – well some might – but these functions inside of a business are here to help the company, not hinder it. However, when the legal team is brought into a product launch (ex: consumer facing mobile app) or internal initiative (ex: IP accelerator / hackathon) too late in the game, with everything defined, it sends up red flags and questions that could delay or cancel the project after all the time and effort has been placed to get it ready to launch.

Bringing the folks into the room early enough on, that would historically strike something risky and new down, means they’re not only included in the process but can highlight risks that would ultimately get the project shut down further down the line anyways. At the same time, having groups like security or legal giving the green light on new ideas does not hurt your chances for getting executive buy-in as it can greatly reduce the risk as the concept goes through the various hoops for approval.

Vetting isn’t a bad thing, and there are tons of good ideas out there, but getting the right foundation of support doesn’t mean filling a room full of supporters or yes men, or asking people that report to you if your baby is ugly or not (as there will always be some level of bias there) but rather it’s about the hard balls out early and really working through the concept before a lot of time and effort is spent moving the idea forward.

People that traditionally get shut out till the end, will feel included and a member of the team and at the same time you’ll get the benefit and knowledge of seeing the potential land mines before the solution is too far down the path.

Concepts and ideas have a certain level of pride and ownership around them, but you need people that’ll help you see past your bias and tell you the things that people will think down the road but not say.

A good well thought out approach, with a strong outcome, and diverse inputs early on is a far stronger foundation and one less likely to get pushed aside due to the idea being too far out there or not grounded in business realities.

Hope you’ll stay tuned for tomorrow’s post: The Next Step in Driving Meaningful Innovation

Follow me here on LinkedIn to stay in the loop or via my blog at DanMaycock.com, and share with people you think would care to learn more about what meaningful Innovation could look like – follow me on twitter @DanMaycock to see articles posted on whats possible or drop me a line at dan@transform.digital if you have any questions or doubts around this topic of Innovation that does something measurable and impacting for your company.

Dan Maycock is the author of “Building The Expo”, which shares best practices on leveraging #Innovation in meaningful ways and saving the concept from it’s overused but underutilized past. The book has first hand stories, and best practices from Dan’s years of experience working with Fortune 1000 companies dealing with emerging technology adoption in an increasingly dynamic business environment. You can purchase the book at Amazon.com or learn more about Dan at http://www.transform.digital

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What Lies Between Ideas & Outcomes

As part of my journey to do 500 words a day for the next two months (see http://thegeekypress.com/2015/03/06/the-500words-writing-challenge-join-me/) I am starting with a topic that’s very near and dear to my heart, and is the thing I’d say that gets me out of bed in the morning and is the reason for doing what I do so it’ll go a little past 500 words I think.

So many people in the world today are full of good ideas, and have passions and purpose locked within them. Yet, too many people are stuck in a place they don’t want to be doing something they don’t want to be doing, and hope that someday those ideas will come to the surface and manifest themselves into that person’s reality.

Oftentimes, this is a corporate employee working for a company they believe has all the ingredients to be great, but they’re in a job that piles on too much work with decisions swirling around them that gets in the way of their vision for what things could be like. People with ideas on how to make companies better, or projects more effective, or products that work better but are so tired and worn out by the day to day job they have to maintain that they’ve all but given up on ever seeing these ideas come to light.

Some leave to start their own thing, most stay because job security is so important today when someone has people depending on them. And in between the world of ideas and meaningful outcomes that get projects, jobs, and careers sponsored by executives is the need to keep up, stay profitable, and focus on survival. Innovative ideas are bogged down by politics and individual agendas, near term concerns around risky and potentially public blunders, and an uncertain and continually shifting economic landscape.

Meaningful innovation though, stands in that gap and helps those down trodden by this stark reality, and offers up a path to success while bringing both employees and executives along with it. Ideas that can fund themselves, groups within companies that can act like start-ups, and people motivated by passion and purpose to put in the work it takes to shift a company culture in a new direction.

innovation needs the word meaningful, because using the word by itself is often seen as a four letter word by pragmatic leadership focused on what works today with as little risk to the bottom line as possible. It means workshops and sticky notes, far out of the practical reality of profitable and efficient business operation and flies in the face of several years of good corporate governance and MBA-built business models that focus on incremental and sustainable returns vs large bet-the-farm gambles that can take entire companies out with one fell swoop.

Yet inaction and status quo thinking can be the slow heat that eventually cooks the frog, and the signs of this can be seen all around companies across the US. I’ve been a consultant for long enough to see these signs, and wrote a book to try and help people see what’s possible even in the midst of situations where the deck is stacked against them and there isn’t enough time in the day to stay above the fray and think about doing things differently.

Yes, meaningful has to be in there because innovation as a concept isn’t enough today in corporate America – innovation has to do something, and do something meaningful. Whether it’s lowering attrition, improving revenues, or helping more effectively adopt digital technologies. It’s a multi-headed hydra with impacts on every part of a company, and involves a multi-level approach to affect culture, technology, politics, revenues, and leadership. It’s intentional, well thought out, and driven by outcomes that both employees and shareholders care about.

Yes, it’s still risky, but it’s a calculated risk and one meant to not just keep people employed, but put folks on the cover of Forbes and help be a model to competitors around that company wondering what it takes to get ahead vs just keeping up.

If you’re reading this now, and I’ve kept your attention so far, then I hope I’ve kept your attention long enough to share that this is possible and it’s do-able and companies around the world are seeing the impacts of innovation done the right way. If you’re an executive, the next question should be where to start? If you’re an employee, the next question should be where can I learn more? If you’re hopeful about an innovation rich culture, the next question should be what can I do to help?

The good news is, you have many of the answers probably inside you. People that know their own company are the most effective at helping make innovation solutions come to light. The bad news is being that kind of expert can also bias you around what is or is not possible.

Stay tuned though, and in the coming weeks I’ll share more about this possible reality and how your company can begin to see the kinds of effects that get recruits excited, employees passionate, and competitors envious. It starts though, with you accepting this is possible and willing to sign up for the challenge of helping drive meaningful innovation where you work.

Tomorrow’s entry: The first step in driving meaningful innovation

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Don’t Go on a Date with Data, Marry It

There are a lot of companies out there today sitting on several types of data, with various levels of integration. For most, it’s a process involving multiple individuals to extract, transform, and develop that information into a useful dashboard or decision-support system given the company has legacy infrastructure and several different third party vendor platforms all producing useful information but it’s in own specific format.

The big challenge then, that companies face today, is how to tie all of this information together in a way that provides meaning but more importantly, provide it in a way that can be near real time with the ability to tie different types of data from all over the enterprise together.

Yes, you know how much you lost and earned in a given period of time, but can you determine why with the ability to stitch together different data sources? Can you do your own regression analysis, or perform correlation research to determine what trends might be causing a rise or decline in monthly revenues? Or do you have to hire it out, and wait several weeks, while analysts inside or outside your company work to produce the answer to that one simple question?

There are lots of people willing to charge you for the ability to do this month to month, on an ongoing basis, but if you’re content with having systems kept in disarray while you’re driving up the cost of labor to mine it every time you have a question about your numbers, then you’re simply dating your data.

You’re content leaving data at arm’s length, getting to know it to a point, but you’re not spending the time and effort it takes to really get to know the data inside your company and make the investment to make data a key part of your professional life. Marriage means accepting the ugly truth about someone, and acknowledging to them the same sometimes ugly truths as well, to build a close relationship.

Marrying data means you’re accepting the truth that legacy infrastructure, silo’ed data sets, and weeks spent building a single dashboard isn’t working for you and you’re ready to spend the time and effort it takes to bring data closer to the core of your business. It means making the investment to build an agile analytics platform that allows for ad-hoc analysis, and spending the time it takes to get your leadership team on board with understanding what a regression is and what level they feel comfortable being trained to help drive insights without an army of external analysts.

Marrying data also means accepting the things you can’t change about it, and learning to live with limitations as they are. It doesn’t make sense to send everyone to school to learn data science, but it does make sense to get up to speed on what it means and getting people trained in the vocabulary of data so that those highly trained resources can build what is needed and make sure everything you’re investing in has a clear return at the other end.

Making the ultimate commitment to data, vs having an off again on again relationship, means you’re wiling to spend the time it takes to make the upfront investment to clean up the silos and tie together the systems keeping your really valuable insights locked up. It means knowing that it’ll take time to see the value, but it’ll be worth the investment, vs continuing to grow your OpEx budget on consultants and FTEs working with what’s there now, and spending time sorting and tying each system together for one-off requests.

More importantly, marrying data means you’ve accepted that the key to a happy company is a happy data warehouse, and that Innovation in it’s most meaningful way means you’re able to draw out from your past what solutions and ideas might help fuel your future. By spending the time and effort to build meaningful data interconnectivity, along with the systems necessary to analyze and understand that data, you’ll be able to see what trends are coming your way and how you can be proactive to meet the challenges in an ever changing industry environment.

You’ll reduce the risk of being disruptive, you’ll be armed with answers before the questions get asked, and you’ll be able to walk hand in hand with your data into the sunset while every division within your company gets insights they need to better track what’s working and what isn’t along with driving new revenue streams to your customers.

A happy marriage for some seems like a fairy tale, and it’s not going to solve every problem you encounter. However, if you’re willing to put in the time it takes and accept that there’s things you could be doing to pay better attention to your data along with spending the time to care of it, your data will produce insights and become more open to analysis as a result which will always work better than keeping it in a chaotic state and spending time doing one-off reports.

So consider what marrying your company data looks like for you, and build a plan and a roadmap to make data more meaningful and acceptable for your company. I can guarantee you, your competitors are probably already doing the same.

Dan Maycock is the author of “Building The Expo”, which shares best practices on leveraging #Innovation in meaningful ways and saving the concept from it’s overused but underutilized past. The book has first hand stories, and best practices from Dan’s years of experience working with Fortune 1000 companies dealing with emerging technology adoption in an increasingly dynamic business environment. You can purchase the book atAmazon.com or learn more about Dan at http://www.transform.digital

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Peter Drucker and the Innovative Executive

Peter Drucker in 1967 published The Effective Executive which has become one of the most quoted and cited books on management of all time. It’s lessons have helped shaped managers of all levels, and continues to help inform business leaders around the world today.

What can we take from Mr. Drucker’s work, though, that could be applied to Innovation related initiatives to drive success inside your company and turn the overused concept into a meaningful concept that drives results and revenue?

“The first practice is to ask what needs to be done. Note that the question is not ‘What do I want to do?'”

When you’re thinking about ideas to spur growth inside your company, focus on what goals and targets the company needs vs what you think would be the most fun to work on. It’s important to love what you do, but if you are pitching a pet project vs something that will directly contribute to the revenue growth of the company, you’ll have a very hard time getting buy-in from both leadership and team members.

“Problem solving does not produce results. It prevents damage. Exploiting opportunities produces results.”

When thinking about ways to drive new Innovation initiatives in your company, look and see what the low hanging fruit looks like vs striving to come up with something completely new and original. Being innovative doesn’t mean it has to result in a completely new invention to solve a problem, sometimes it can be enrolling in a career rotation program to learn about what other teams are doing and bring best practices into your org or taking the boss up on going to lunch once a month to discuss what’s on their radar. The ideas will come, but it starts by looking for the right opportunities vs coming up with something on your own and forcing it’s way into the conversation.

“Everything requires time. It is the one truly universal condition.”

No matter what your idea or initiative looks like, it’ll take time – most likely your own until you get the right sponsorship. Be prepared to ask what’s at stake by proposing a new initiative or innovative idea, and make sure you’re committed to spending the time it takes to make it successful.

“The test of organization is not genius. It is its capacity to make common people achieve uncommon performance.”

For a company to be truly innovative, and disruptive it means that every member of the company is contributing in a way that trumps external competition in a way that competitors are continually scratching their heads wondering how to catch up. How can Innovative drive uncommon performance? If it’s an idea that only affects a small number of people in the company, consider how to expand that idea in a way that can either cause different groups to launch incubators or take a best practice or business process and make it something scalable and transferrable.

“To be more requires a man who is conceited enough to believe that the world really needs him and depends on his getting into power.”

Being disruptive and Innovative is a four letter word in most organizations, because it’s easy to talk about those concepts and host a workshop on the issue because it’s become the “junk food” of corporate america. Whether it’s design-based thinking, or clear whiteboards with iPad-synced brainstorming technologies, everyone loves ideating and writing math symbols on glass surfaces but the fun ends when it’s time to go out and do something with all that brain power.

That effort requires a champion motivated to push base the barriers that stop risky innovative initiatives which often get killed by corporate immune systems, and push those initiatives into production because the company, and perhaps the world, needs these initiatives to come to light. Though I don’t think it requires conceit to motivate you into this space, it does require an almost unnatural dedication to making your company a better place.

Ideating is fun, Innovation workshops are fun, but really being Innovative and turning those ideas and workshops into meaningful and tangible outcomes is hard hard work. Figure out what where that motivation lives, and be prepared for the battles to come.

“If there is any one ‘secret’ to effectiveness, it is concentration.”

You can’t fight a war on multiple fronts and win, and the same is true if you’re focused on too many initiatives at once. If you have a good idea you’re working to push through your company, put your effort behind that and concentrate on making it a winner. You can scale and delegate, depending on the size(s) of the objectives, but you can’t focus your attention on too many things or you’ll become less effective on driving all of them.

“Scientists have shown that achievement depends less on ability in doing research than on the courage to go after opportunity.”

This is so true when it comes to Innovation, as I mentioned before it’s not easy work and stopping after the fun stuff is why the word is so overused and underutilized. Have courage, be brave, read books on war and strategy, and go into driving Innovation knowing you’re fighting a good fight. If the idea goes south, failure in the moment is ok, but always learn from what you did and take those lessons forward. Driving Innovation spans many concepts and ideas over and over again, and is not just about one particular initiative. It takes time and several attempts to driving change in a company and make it really Innovative so take heart and make sure you have fox hole buddies to continually lean against when corporate politics get tough.

“Effectiveness, while capable of being learned, surely cannot be taught.”

This is the thing about Innovation that’s hardest to grasp, because people get jazzed about a mobile app or data pilot being associated as an “Innovative Initiative” then scoff when the pilot fails to take off. It can taken dozens, if not hundreds, of attempts to drive Innovation inside a company and after each failure you have to come back and examine “what could we have done differently?”. A company can’t lose enthusiasm for funding the process, and the team can’t lose heart if it takes several attempts to drive an idea into production, but it takes both a strong leadership mindset and effective teaming to get there. Effectiveness at driving disruptive ideas will come, but it takes a while to learn the methods to make it work inside a given company.

All quotes taken from Drucker, Peter F. The Effective Executive. New York: HarperBusiness Essentials, 2002. Print.

Dan Maycock is the author of “Building The Expo”, which shares best practices on leveraging #Innovation in meaningful ways and saving the concept from it’s overused but underutilized past. The book has first hand stories, and best practices from Dan’s years of experience working with Fortune 1000 companies dealing with emerging technology adoption in an increasingly dynamic business environment. You can purchase the book at Amazon.com or learn more about him at http://www.danmaycock.com

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Drive Revenue Growth Without Driving Off the Road

Data – it’s something everyone is hearing about these days, whether it’s IBM stating how twitter can help you build better products to Google talking about self driving cars saving the environment through the power of data-driven route optimization.

That’s all well and good, but when you’re sitting at your desk looking at the list of things you have to accomplish today, and bring about new ways to grow revenues or build efficiencies into your business, where does one even begin?

No, you don’t always need a small army of data ninjas (though that can sometimes help) nor do you need a lot of high priced tools and solutions to help find buried gold in your troves of silo’ed business data.

To really drive to change, and begin leveraging your data to drive revenue it starts with the following steps

A) Start with the right hypothesis

If you don’t know what questions you’re trying to ask, then it’ll be very hard to find what you’re looking for that’ll help you achieve your business objectives. Asking questions like “where should I sell my goods” or “what products should I build” would require very expensive, intelligent systems capable of translating english into problems that computers could try and solve along with the tribal knowledge and understanding of the industry you’re in. Those systems exist, but man are they expensive along with the IBM consultants you’d need to hire to go between you and the outcomes.

Instead, focus on a specific question based on the types of data you know your business has. Start with things you think you know about your business, like what your key demographic is or where you source your raw materials from. Then go deeper and ask why those folks are your core demographics, or why you went to that one country for zinc. Good data mining starts with understanding the problem space better, and exploring things at a granular enough level that you can understand where intuition, guessing, or laziness came into place vs finding the right outcomes at the right level. You tell me you sell products in Seattle to women 44-55 years of age, I’ll ask what neighborhoods is that least or most true and if that answer is biasing you from growing your customer base because you’re focusing on metropolitan areas from a broad national study you paid a firm to do 5 years ago.

Sure, the same answer might be true, but having those metrics and answers in place means you’ll be able to see the shift and know when those answers are no longer the case, more importantly it’ll cause you to ask why the answers are they way they are and those levers or foundational factors will become more obvious and allow you to get granular enough to spot the outliers biasing your answers which get lost in the high level aggregated dashboards most execs use today.

B) Understand where your data lives

If you live and die by your profit and loss statements, or your quarter earnings reports, chances are that there is a complicated network of data analysts and administrators that compile all that information together to come out with a single answer. If you are getting your core business metrics from the same group you’re measuring against outcomes, be careful about unintentionally biased data that leans on rounding up vs rounding down and know where that data is coming from.

Too much data exists today, and decisions get made by people along the way on how that data is compiled and delivered, so build a culture of transparency and make sure you don’t have data points stacked on top of data points where errors can slowly creep in.

Aside from transparency, agile systems built the right way means you can do ad hoc reporting and build your own metrics with the ability to drill up and down without having to wait weeks for someone to compile a report on only the question you asked. Too much legacy infrastructure, and data scattered across the company along with an over reliance on key information being locked away in spreadsheets means a mess for really getting down to the bottom of things.

C) Figure out how the data is (or is not) related

If you’d like to see how twitter is affecting your supply chain, spend a little time thinking about how the two inter-relate. Twitter is going to be something tagged by date and location at a high level, but is a bunch of key words and a user name so prepare to invest in interpretive systems that aggregate and analyze or figure out ways twitter data might tie to a critical business system. There’s lots of ways to get at the answer, but high quality dashboards with pretty graphics may be just interesting and not at all useful if you don’t have the right data behind that tool giving you meaningful answers. It’s not about big data, it’s about meaningful data.

D) Ask an expert (whether or not you intent to hire one)

Data, like engineering or medicine, is a very complicated space that gets increasingly complicated by the day. Rather than becoming a data scientist yourself, find someone you know and trust that works with data and use them as a sounding board to run your ideas and suggestions by. It’s not that you may have a bad idea on how to leverage data to achieve business insights, but having it structured in the right way while learning what’s possible and what isn’t without a lot of investment is important to finding meaningful, bite sized ways to leverage data without breaking the budget and overspending for fancy whiz bang data systems.

E) Start small, grow big, track and measure along the way

The most important thing is to not bite off a big problem, like how do you end world hunger, but something small you know you could get good insights around relatively easily, such as where you spent what and how that goes against what you make with the ability to drill down into where that changes. If you typically get profit and loss statements saying you’re profitable in washington state, understand what city that is and is not the case and why one would be different than the other. Sometimes it’s just getting more granular data to what you already receive that can have the biggest insights into your day to day business.

At the end of the day, data isn’t a silver bullet, but it can make a difference in a big way when approached the right way. Start small, build a meaningful hypothesis, and strap in for the revenue growth that will follow.

Daniel Maycock is the Director of Strategy and Analytics at Transform, a data services
company. Our mission is to help drive impactful outcomes with data for our clients. We do this by providing tailored solutions that help people get tangible applications from their information.

His new book, Building The Expo, was published in January, 2015.

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Are You Suffering from Corporate Arthritis?

I recently spoke to a friend of mine who works for a large corporation. He works for an IT group who’s been tasked to help turn around a struggling business unit, as a meaningful exercise around technology- driven Innovation and cross-functional collaboration to produce efficiencies within the business unit and help drive new revenues that the executive sponsor could promote as a meaningful contribution that IT made to the business.

The problems he had were the following

A) There were no clear examples around how to drive effective change, outside of design-based firms focused on product development or strictly focused on ideation and creative exercises in a workshop style format. The word “Innovation” itself got a bunch of eye rolls, and he’s relatively low on the totem pole. He felt the word had no place in what he was trying to do, and was more of a marketing term the sponsor put on the project vs focusing on the meaningful outcomes he knew he needed to hit.

B) There was no indication the problem was even possible to solve, as the team was traditionally tasked with just keeping the IT services maintained and not staffed or tasked with people that are entrepreneurial nor had the training or experience driving large scale change with minimal budget or authority, as this fell under “pet project” status within his larger IT org.

C) Apathy and Resignation, his team was visibility depressed and down trodden after years and years of politics and a lack of clear direction in the face of all the reasons why change isn’t possible. Those in the roles to help drive change had too much apathy to overcome, in order to make the initiative successful and others resigned themselves to the status quo armed with all the reasons why change would be both difficult and unlikely to succeed. Others still, had built careers on learning the rules and reasons why things should stay the way they are so any mention of risk or change brought about 100’s of roadblocks and line by line on why even minor changes not done in just the right way would be unsustainable

The thing is that any corporation this size is going to have these issues, no matter who you are or what you do. Eventually change becomes more difficult, and making the things happen you know should become harder and harder to do. Let’s call it Corporate Arthritis, where risky and adventurous moves become more painful the older and larger the company gets.

Yet, he had a mission and felt like he was between a rock and a hard place. Many people I know face this cross road at some point in their career, and either quit to start their own company, tired of how hard it is to make a difference in a big company, or stay there and accept defeat with very few navigating the corporate sphere to make something meaningful occur at a broad cross-functional level.

In my own career, I’ve never seen change come easy. It took getting up every day, and knowing I’d get spit at (metaphorically) and face a lot of people disbelieving what I was saying was possible, and no clear path or permission to make a difference. Sometimes I failed to get traction, and when I did it always cost me something. Yet, some battles are worth fighting so you can help make a dent in the war corporations have to stay agile and responsive to the market place.

Based on what I saw work at other companies, with employees like my friend facing similar odds, I proposed he try the following tactics to help combat the corporate arthritis he was dealing with.

A) Focus on the outcome and not the technology / means

Executives at any level typically have ten or so objectives they have to hit for the year that are tied to a hard number or measurement typically. Few if any are going to care about the specific means to drive that success, but care instead about hitting those numbers. If you go in talking about mobile devices vs revenue growth or efficiency, you’ll have a much harder time convincing a business unit on the other side of the company to take you seriously.

Instead, focus on what is meaningful to that other function and stage what you’re talking about in terms they care about. Sounds simple, but is often missed when it comes to cross-functional collaboration. It may be hard to tie what your group does to the value proposition of a team on the other side of your company, but having that “rosetta stone” starts with informational interviews and discussing with people in a semi informal way what makes them tick. Understand your audience, and treat your team like a start-up. If the customer doesn’t buy their product, it’s not their fault – it’s yours.

B) Re-consider what victory looked like and build a tangible story to support it.

All because the executive handed down a hard number and states you should hit that, there’s wiggle room there because they don’t care about the number but instead the bigger story around what that number represents. If an automotive car company says “we need to sell 1,000,000 new trucks”, it could be that they felt selling a million new trucks was the best way to hit a revenue target. Could there be another way to hit that revenue number though, by selling 750,000 trucks with different promotional campaigns than the ones the executives had in mind when they ran the numbers?

It doesn’t hurt to understand what KPIs or metrics you’ve been handed represent, and have a discussion around other ways you could try and achieve that. At the end of the day, if you feel like you’re being set up to fail then don’t play the victim card. Instead, understand what they’re really going after and find a tangible way to be successful while hitting the target.

C) Grow a thick skin

Change is hard and driving new revenue growth doesn’t come without challenges in any company. You have rules, regulations, and middle managers that will fight you tooth and nail either to protect their turf, or project some level of jadedness on you. The unfortunate thing is that those individuals may feel like they’re helping you by throwing up resistance, or not even realize what they’re doing is a negative thing. Or perhaps, they just don’t like you for whatever reason. I was once on a conference call sharing a new initiative with a number of executives in the room and several folks from the IT group I worked for on the phone, when all off a sudden someone on the phone started saying “yea, Dan Maycock is talking, this guy is totally full of #$(*, yea I know….yea, I agree, who does he think he is?”.

Everyone in the room went silent, and the moderator fumbled to get that individual on the phone as he obviously didn’t know he was unmuted. I quickly had to shake it off, and kept going. I never found out what that person had against me, but it didn’t matter. Sometimes making the biggest changes causes the biggest problems, but the corporate immune system is a very real thing and will fight change and risk in many different forms. The key is to keep pushing to drive that revenue or efficiency despite that.

C) It’s all about the (right) data.

The big thing these days is data, and information and the power to look at tons of data and build a meaningful story. However, there is a ton of useless and meaningless data out there as well, and not ever byte of data out there is useful. Having the right data means knowing ahead of time what story you want the data to tell, and ensure you’re spending the right amount of time understanding data mining and how building a solid hypothesis works. Having a little useful data is far more meaningful than having tons of meaningless data, and you don’t need to be a data scientist to construct a regression model or find correlations in the data you have in front of you. It just takes a little time educating yourself on how the right data can help you build an objective business case for those less likely to follow your lead.

At the end of the day, he knew he’d have to head back into the fray and work to rally the troops and build a solid plan of attack. Every employee and executive fights a battle with the corporate immune system when it comes to doing things differently, but it’s a battle worth fighting. Real change never comes easy, and making sure to say I didn’t have a silver bullet, there’s certainly ways to fight the battle smarter and “win the battle before you fight” as Sun Tzu would say. There’s no book or system that’s guaranteed to work, but having the encouragement and support of people outside your situation, providing insights to combat your tunnel vision and help you rise from the jadedness and apathy can go a long way in helping turn best practices into meaningful outcomes. You won’t always win the battles, but eventually you’ll start to make a real difference in the war and that, people inside and outside the company will begin to take note of and it’ll become easier over time because you’ll have the reputation and trust of folks higher up the ladder helping drive changes more effectively (plus the experience that comes from being a battle hardened office warrior).

Dan Maycock is the author of “Building The Expo”, which shares best practices on leveraging #Innovation in meaningful ways and saving the concept from it’s overused but underutilized past. The book has first hand stories, and best practices from Dan’s years of experience working with Fortune 1000 companies dealing with emerging technology adoption in an increasingly dynamic business environment. You can purchase the book at Amazon.com or learn more about Dan at http://www.transform.digital

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5 Things You Need To Focus On In 2015

Another year, and another list of things you are hoping to change/fix/sort/plan/move/adopt for the coming year. With so much coming at every person though, it’s hard to know what to really focus on vs pushing off for the next year.

In the book “The One Thing” By Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, the concept of focusing on just one thing at a time can have dramatic results as multi-tasking is becoming a modern day virus everyone should find the right mental vaccine for.

It’s with that in mind, that I offer up 5 trends you should choose from when selecting what one thing to start focusing on this new year until you have it down, then move onto the next one. Let’s agree to make 2015 the year we make resolutions happen, and move into the kind of habits that can help regardless of what you do.

1. Data Mining, No Matter What Your Job Is (#dataviz)

It’s evident everywhere you look that the ability to understand and utilize data in some shape or form is quickly becoming the #1 skill for business professionals. How you use data and information has always been the key to getting ahead (that, and maybe bleached teeth). Never before though, has it been possible for everyone to use data in some way or form to help their professional careers advance. Whether it’s incorporating free & public data sets into a business case justifying your business concept to potential investors, to leveraging internal company data to help your next pitch to the boss, the ability to mine and leverage data is not only possible but necessary to staying ahead of the curve in today’s hyper-competitive business market.

2. Personal Incubation (#personalbranding)

Failure is the hallmark of every great entrepreneur they say, but it’s not failing but quickly failing forward, learning from that, and moving onto the next idea that makes the difference between someone like Elon Musk and other entrepreneurs that you haven’t heard of. Even if you have a corporate job, your professional life is changing rapidly and the ability to quickly pivot what you do into the next thing people care about is more important than ever. Whether you create your own relevance, and make something you know about into the next hot trend, or jump onto some emerging technology and become the master of something brand new, it’s important to get good at getting good at things. It doesn’t matter what your background is, what degrees you have, or what you think you’re qualified for, the ability to learn something new is all you need here and a lot of confidence along with a support team (see #4) to get you into your first new thing. If you aren’t passionate about what you’re doing, you’re not going to do as well as someone doing the same thing that loves it. Get good at trying something out then, till your passions, knowledge, and relationships start to mesh together and you’re on your way to trying, failing, and winning. Be your own start-up, build your brand, and don’t get complacent this year.

3. Professional #Innovation (that does something useful)

Say you’re awesome at what you do, you love the company you work for, but you have a hard time getting other people on board with the change you see coming. Innovation is one of those four letter words everyone rolls their eyes at, and it’s not the concept that’s bad but how it’s been overused in board rooms the last several years. Your company needs to get good at doing things differently, and quickly. Being on top today means little, if you consider how many of the Fortune 50 companies today existed 15 years ago, as technology continues to give start-ups the ability to disrupt entrenched brands in the past several years. Innovation needs to be a core competency, whether you’re an accountant or you’re the CEO, you have a part to play in your company making Innovation something meaningful.

4. Foxhole Buddies (#networking)

Your professional life is a war zone, whether you want to admit it or not. There’s not a job that’s safe these days, and the worst thing you can do is stick around in one place professionally for too long. We are in the age of “everyone is a freelancer”, and the successes you rack up now can mean the promotion vs the unemployment line sooner than you think. We are in an age of machine-to-machine technology and intelligent computing eliminating millions of jobs in the future, and it’s more important than ever to start thinking about how you can pivot what you do into what will be in demand. Even as jobs are being eliminated by computers, it’ll create millions of new jobs no one is qualified for – you won’t get there on your own though, especially with the stresses of everything else going on in your life.

Consider the tight network you have around you, of close friends and mentors, digging in with you to help you navigate this new reality. Who would you dig in with, and help through transition? The concept of a foxhole buddy is someone that’s willing to fight alongside you, that you trust with your life, and make the bombardment of an enemy easier to handle and in turn survive because they have your back no matter what.

Do you have a fox hole buddy, you’d go through a tough transition with or encourage to make a big life change? Who has your back when everything else goes south? Think about who you spend your time with, and consider building 5-10 strong relationships this year vs 50 so so relationships. It’s good to know a lot of people, but if that means you don’t have strong relationships as a result then consider building a couple into strong relationships you can make into fox hole buddies. These folks will help encourage you, provide introductions, or mentor you and help you get into the dynamic one person startup you need to be, to stay dynamic and flexible in any professional situation.

5. Morning Rituals (#morningritual)

The most successful people you know, whether you know it or not, probably have a morning ritual. It’s more than just taking a shower and getting dressed, it’s an intentional focus on what matters each day so that they can set themselves up for success. If you are letting life just happen to you, consider what that’s costing you – either financially, personally, or professionally. Regardless of what the ritual is, be intentional about how you spend your mornings. I’m not going to say you should work out and eat oatmeal, what you do is up to you, but figure out what you want that ritual to be and stick to it. Discipline will be very tough, as people have a hard time changing patterns, but that’s what your Foxhole buddies are for! The point is that you do something meaningful with your morning, and use that to set up the rest of your day.

That’s my list of 5 things you should focus on, one at a time, till you have it down. The #1 most important thing though, is to appreciate the life you have – no matter how desperate or miserable an existence you feel you have. You can’t make any change if you’re in a bad place, so get into a good state of mind first and go from there (easier said than done, of course). Did I miss something you think is important for 2015? Include it in the comments below.

Happy 2015! May it be successful, meaningful, and relationally rich and be sure and drop me a note if you need encouragement to get started.

Dan Maycock is the author of “Building The Expo“, which shares best practices on leveraging Innovation in meaningful ways and saving the concept from it’s underutilized and overused past. The book has first hand stories, and best practices from Dan’s years of experience working with Fortune 1000 companies dealing with emerging technology adoption in an increasingly dynamic business environment. You can purchase the book on Amazon.com or learn more about him at http://www.danmaycock.com


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