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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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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