DanMaycock.com

Data, Strategy, Leadership, and Innovation

Category: Management (page 1 of 2)

Topics related to management (HR, Finance, etc)

How to Sell People on Really Big Ideas

I was recently talking to someone about his plans to launch a new concept focused on data analytics in the B2B space. He walked me through his models, his research, and all the great ideas he had on where he wanted to go.

I felt like he wasn’t going to be successful, though, because through most of the meeting, he talked to me in a monotone his head down. He didn’t have the kind of jump-out-of-your-seat enthusiasm or passion behind his idea that made me say “Wow, this really is something different.” And sadly, when it comes to breaking people out of their patterns, passion matters more than ability.

Investors may say it’s all about the numbers, and that’s true. It’s table stakes. However, if an investor doesn’t think you can sell the product, or yourself, then getting the cash is going to be a long shot.

If you’ve ever sold something or been sold to, you understand what I mean. The person that comes in with enthusiasm, whether it’s a TED talk or a sales pitch, will often surpass people with more knowledge and abilities. If you’re telling me something is amazing, I want to feel like you’re amazed by it yourself. If you’re telling me something is revolutionary, I expect you’ll show that in your body language.

A failure to connect with your audience is often a question of your emotional state, of how you interact or don’t interact, and how much enthusiasm you’re able to communicate to get other people excited as well.

Here are some tips then, on how to surface passion when it comes to launching something new and innovative–no matter how much of an introvert you might be.

1. Develop questions, not lecture notes.

When it comes to a conversation on a concept no one in the room has heard of before, don’t go in with a 50-slide PowerPoint deck. Instead, focus on preparing good questions ahead of time about the audience’s pain points and other things that matter to them. If you have a strong context for your audience, you’ll be able to adapt the pitch around them.

2. Don’t talk about the product or solution, talk about the problem you’re solving.

Anyone, from an investor to an executive to the person selling flowers on the corner, would give you a dollar if the person knew he or she would get two dollars back. Since there’s no such thing as a sure bet, it takes trust and confidence to get people to part with time or money. The only way you make that connection is by helping them see how they make two dollars by spending less, or by your helping them generate more. Assume your audience knows more about their business than you do, and focus on solving the pain points that are in their way to save money or generate revenue. If your product does neither of those things, you’re probably pitching the wrong people.

3. Numbers matter, but save it for the ask.

If you’re pitching investors, numbers are king. If you’re selling an executive on the benefits of your platform, you’re going to have to quantify that in some way. Passion does matter most, but it’s a nonstarter if you don’t have numbers to back up what you’re saying.

4. Practice, practice, practice.

Passion often comes through when we are feeling our most confident. To get there, practice how the pitch going to go. Get your questions down and your talking points committed to memory. Recite whatever good-luck quotes, prayers, or mantras to feel relaxed enough to pivot in the moment.

If you do these things, you’ll not only connect with your audience more effectively but also feel better coming out of the meeting, nine times out of 10, a great feeling in and of itself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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3 Reasons Why You Need a Chief Analytics Officer

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

The Analytics ‘Trend’ Isn’t New

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

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

Translating Data

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

So Who / What Is This Chief Analytics Officer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Impact is prioritized, over ‘interesting trends’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Explaining The New Brand for DanMaycock.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you,

Dan Maycock

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How to Handle Defeat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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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5 Things I’ve Learned Consulting For Your Company

You may work for a corporation, medium sized business, or even a start-up. Since I’ve consulted for companies of all shapes and sizes, I may have worked at your company or a company very similar to it as a consultant. Perhaps I was helping you develop a mobile strategy, or performing work in the Business Intelligence space, or perhaps I’ve helped you manage a project or even brought a product to market.

As a consultant, the thing I love most about my job is helping a company see itself through a new set of eyes and help solve problems that prove the value of why I’m there at each step, in a unique way that is a value add both for the client and the company they work for. Despite all the bad buzz on consulting (primarily focused around management or strategy consulting), there is a lot of good consultants do for companies but there are also a lot of bad eggs out there, taking advantage of desperate situations and locking clients into contracts over steak dinners that they may very well look back on and regret.

Regardless of the purpose or your view on consulting, I’ve noticed a number of things that you and companies like yours have in common, regardless of the size. Some of these things you may very well already know, or perhaps suspected but could never confirm.

1. Politics and/or ego will be the thing that holds up progress on a project more than anything else

With all the MBA-trained consultants in the world, some projects are doomed to fail not because of a lack of resources but because there are decision makers in your company that are playing politics, which is causing blocking issues. Sometimes even, it’s more advantageous to let a project fail and point the finger at someone else then raise your hand when you see the project going off a cliff and bring the issues to everyone’s attention.

In cases like this (especially with so many projects going over budget, and beyond their deadline), the necessary skills won’t be having more do-ers or managers in the mix, but rather people that have the ability to see the situation for what it is and use communication, motivation, and internal salesmanship to remove bottlenecks and get a project back on track. When you see this happening, know you’re not alone, but also know that more than likely heads will be thrown at the project, hired to a certain tangible spec, when intangible people skills are really necessary.

Sadly, sometimes the project is out of your control, but even if it is, consider the skills you can bring to the table to not play politics but be proactive in helping calm nerves, relate to where project members are coming from, and work to simply defuse the emotion and drama in a given project.

This can often create resolution, and put you in a leadership role through gaining trust and influence which you can in turn use to get to the root of what’s causing the project delays (miscommunication, dislike between team members, lack of organization, etc) and work through resolving the emotion wrapped around those issues that keep people from thinking logically and instead continue to pull on emotions that only push the project further off course. Stress, panic, and fear are strong enemies but a calm approach over a 5 minute coffee break can go a long way helping someone to see what they need to do to contribute positively to a project, and help undo the issues bubbling up around the personalities or situations blocking progress.

In cases of ego or politics, it’ll become obvious to everyone once the hysteria has died down who is really getting in the way, which makes it much easier for a project sponsor to identify what on the project needs to change vs the project plan looking like a war zone, confusing the real problem.

2. An employee is only as powerful and influential as they choose to be

Often consultants are seen as super heroes in the corporate world, where people have come up and asked me how they can become a consultant because it’ll give them a significant boost in their career. If you’re having a hard time getting traction in your current job though, it’ll only magnify the difficulty as a consultant because you’re coming into new groups as an outside party with no authority, where it’s 100x harder to gain trust and work with a team than an employee who’s worked there for a period of time. “Tribal Leadership” can be far more influential, and help you succeed internally at your company much quicker, than if you came into that company as an external party.

What happens though is people use the “Well, I’m not a consultant” as an excuse for not driving change, and building bridges up to their executive leadership, leaning against something other than themselves to help make their point. The truth is that an employee is only as powerful as they choose to be, regardless of the role, and an executive would love to hear about an employee making a difference in their team or business unit. It’s not as common for employees to go above and beyond to the point someone two or more levels above them would hear about it, so consider what thinking outside the box, and making a difference beyond the job you have in front of you might do to get you the reputation and influence you need to really make a difference.

It won’t be a certificate, MBA, time machine, or new job that’ll help you be successful – it’ll be that still small voice inside you saying “This should work better, and I’ll work to make the difference” that’ll drive changes in your career far beyond anything else. It’s good to have help, but be sure never to use that help or lack thereof as a crutch. You’re far too powerful as a human being and employee to let an opportunity go, and your fellow employees need you out there making a difference for the good of the company.

3. Your company has problems, but so does every other company

Often I’m asked about what companies are better or worse than the company I’m at, by employees. Perhaps it’s because they’ve worked at that company their whole life, or often wondered what it would be like working for a different vertical or live in a different part of the world. As many companies as I’ve worked for, each has their own set of problems, and often the employees that I encounter that are unhappy feel like it’s just their company that has the issues, so they want to pursue a new job somewhere else in hopes it’ll be a greener pasture.

Each company certainly has different things going for it, but no company is perfect, regardless of the size or local. Instead of leaving your job because of the issues you have in your role or your team, consider what you can do to change your company for the better and take a proactive approach in making things work smoother. It’ll not only help you on a resume or interview, should you decide down the road to leave, but will help you rise above your peers as someone with initiative, that could get the attention of your management team and in turn find yourself with an entirely new opportunity within the company you work for.

4. Positive change in your company begins with you, regardless of your position, and will never become easier with a promotion, but may in fact become harder

I’ve spoken to many employees in the past that feel like their management is standing in the way of a new idea, initiative, or project they’re looking to get out the door and if they were a manager it’d be different. The truth is that management has a boss too, all the way up to the CEO, and more is on the line the higher you climb. For any manager, they have to balance what is good for their team and each of their employees along with hitting the numbers their boss has given them.

The higher you go, the more you’re responsible for, which causes you to measure risk in entirely new ways. What may appear like a lack of initiative, could be caution based on information you don’t have. Instead of blaming your manager for not making a difference, ask them what things are in their way that you can help them move out of the way so a pro-active change would be possible. There will be things they can’t share, but you’d be surprised how far empathy and a willingness to help goes because believe it or not, your manager wants to make a proactive change just like you do. A good company for you, is also a good company for them.

5. You aren’t a prisoner in your job, unless you let your fear or worry imprison you

The sad reality of most people that are unhappy with their role, is they feel like they have an obligation to stay in that role. It’s perhaps due to a family situation, financial means, “golden handcuffs” or any other number of reasons. The reality is that you aren’t a prisoner to your circumstances, and there’s always a way to make positive progress into a different role or career. Perhaps it’s small steps, such as working on your LinkedIn profile off hours, or a big one like going back to school. It’s often never easy to make changes, and it’s far easier to just stay where you’re at. But not being happy in what you do is a far worse fate sometimes than most of the things you’re afraid of, so consider what you’re gaining by being unhappy in the thing you spend most of your day on. It will always begin with a step, though the elevation may change, but have the courage and will power to keep taking a step each day and see where you’re at 30-60-90 days from now.

There are many other things I could share about what I’ve learned doing consulting, but these are the most common things I’ve personally seen working with companies. I have had the pleasure of working with a lot of great people at a number of companies, and have gotten some great experiences helping to make a positive change within a variety of different companies. There are other consultants like me though, that you may work with, and I encourage you to buy them coffee and ask what they’ve learned working at your company. You’d be surprised what they have to say, that can not only help you in your career but also help the teams and groups around you. It may not always be positive, but it’ll be productive, and not only help you understand them but also help them better understand your company which can have a positive impact on the work they’re doing.

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Thomas Alva Edison & Persistence

Regardless of what kind of person you think Thomas Edison was there is one thing he can go down in history as, and that is he was persistent. Making the several hundred attempts at getting the light bulb working, or building all the components necessary to make DC viable for people, moving this many concepts forward was not easy for him, or the grad students that helped contribute to his many patents. With each of the ideas he worked on to develop it required a long period of time to get from the concept to the invention, but he recognized when he was onto something and would work persistently to get there. All one has to do is look through several of his famous quotes to get a sense of how he felt about giving up:

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”

“I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up”.

Thomas Edison was a man that was willing to try things multiple times until it worked, and he pushed others around him to do the same. Often you will fail the first time out of the gate getting traction with your concept, so it is important to be persistent and make adjustments each time until it works. Perhaps the initial concept you had was bad, and the idea is determined to be a failure. You are most likely still to stumble onto something great, so refine what you need and keep working on it till you strike gold.

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