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Category: Management (page 2 of 2)

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4 Ways to Effectively Use Data In Your Job

With all the excitement around how companies are using data today, it’s hard for anyone outside of a job specifically dealing with data to know how to effectively use it for their day to day work. Yet, there isn’t a single career that isn’t impacted by the use and understanding of data, and the more effective someone becomes at harnessing and understanding data mining, the more they can impact the things that impact their professional ecosystem.

From impacting your online brand, to better tracking variables you deal with around a given task at work, knowing how to leverage data can make a big difference in any number of careers.

1. Start with a question

Before diving into a number of articles or tools regarding data, start with the question of what you’re trying to answer. It sounds basic, but you’d be surprised how often I’ve worked with people that have said data is the answer without first having the question. Figure out what are the most pressing business problems you, your boss, or your company are facing and see how data might help provide insights to answering those important need to knows.

2. Start with a small amount of data, build from there

It doesn’t take petabytes of data to answer questions, sometimes it can be a relatively small set of data to answer big questions. With all the hype around big data, sometimes it’s hard to realize that with only 100 or so records, and a pivot chart, you can get to important answers that are far more useful than what a million records could show, depending on the type of data and the question you’re looking to solve.

3. Leverage third party data that’s free

There’s a TON of data out there that’s completely free, and useful to use. US Census is a great place to start, and there are a number of sites, such as Google’s public data directory that’ll let you explore it. Furthermore, you can download the data for free and combine it with your own internal data to add greater context for things like taking your company’s store sales by zip and seeing how demographic trends within those zip codes may impact certain buying habits.

4. Learn about Data Mining 

The key to making data useful is by learning methods that allow you to tap into data, and find useful data points that can help solve the business problems you’re looking to tackle. Data mining is the practice that helps you start to uncover trends and patterns in data, and is a great discipline to begin with, whether it’s using Excel and a little bit of data or tapping into RapidMiner and starting to dive into Hadoop, Data mining spans the gambit on complexity and data quantities. Remember the first three points to keep the right context and not go overboard too soon though, and you’ll be in good shape.

Regardless of your career, there is a way data can no doubt help you professionally and impress your co workers and higher ups in the process. Start with the fundamentals, help answer important questions, and simply build from there and you’ll be a bonafide data analyst before you know it.

Why Everyone Should be a Data Miner

In thinking about the topic of data mining, a lot of different types of roles pop up in people’s minds. From data scientists typing away in giant data centers, to DBAs sitting in cubicles processing large amounts of corporate data, to an analyst building a spreadsheet for an annual report contribution.

Maybe it’s something far more physical, bringing up images of pick axes and hard hats and a big block of data (however that’s visualized, probably with 1’s and 0’s – all matrix like). Regardless of the image that comes to mind, it’s probably hard to fathom every business professional in some form or another becoming adept at data mining, and considering it a critical competency to keep in their professional toolbox in the years to come. Yet, when we explore the topic, we can easily see how data mining could become one of the preeminent skills that set folks apart in an era where it’s harder and harder to stand out from an increasingly noisy and competitive work climate. Lets start by looking at the six attributes that make up data mining (as defined by Wikipedia)

  • Anomaly detection (Outlier/change/deviation detection) – The identification of unusual data records, that might be interesting or data errors that require further investigation.
  • Association rule learning (Dependency modeling) – Searches for relationships between variables. This is sometimes referred to as market basket analysis.
  • Clustering – is the task of discovering groups and structures in the data that are in some way or another “similar”, without using known structures in the data.
  • Classification – is the task of generalizing known structure to apply to new data. For example, an e-mail program might attempt to classify an e-mail as “legitimate” or as “spam”.
  • Regression – attempts to find a function which models the data with the least error.
  • Summarization – providing a more compact representation of the data set, including visualization and report generation.

Though the definitions seem somewhat dense, think about how you’d be able to take any job – from being able to use regression analysis to construct a real estate data model to improve pricing predictions, to using summarization to build a better financial report for your senior leaders to interpret how great of a quarter you had.

Though some methods of data mining are harder than others, and you can quickly get in way over your skis without proper learning, knowing how to sift through data, and pull out the useful stuff, will give you a greater sense of the world you work in by understanding the data that matters and it’s so easy these days to learn data mining techniques online!

Just typing in “data mining classes online” produces hundreds of leads, from Coursera to MIT open courseware. Though some options go into areas like Data Science, which is much deeper level analysis, it all starts with understanding data and how best to derive meaning from it – regardless of how deep into the weeds you want to go.

This in turn gives you a big foot up against your competitors, who are largely relying on other services / people to hand them processed data and conclusions to do something with. Going from a commodity to a distinct competitive advantage means going in a direction others aren’t, and just having a nicely worded dictionary isn’t enough these days – you need to be able to turn that dictionary into a novel, and tell a story with the data that will reveal things about your business or your industry that’ll drive better decisions through unique insights.

Digital Irrelevance

When thinking about how much stuff there is online, it’s unfortunate that there aren’t better systems out there to not only gain your own megaphone to the world but also filter and sift out what other megaphones to listen to. Even the thought of having to spend time sifting through all the noise to get the handful of signals you care about can be daunting.

More and more, you see networks that will show you what your friends are reading, but how often do you chose friends on the basis of how similar your interests are online? I’m curious then if you don’t find interests based on your friends, but rather seek to find friends based on your interests.

I find most social networks rely on you meeting the person first before making the connection, but with life being what it is and everything being tied to what it is you’re doing these days, that you can throw your interests out to the web and it could suggest “here’s people you could have a virtual cup of coffee with each week”.

I can imagine high school being so much better if someone could have pulled me aside and said “based on the things you’re interested in, and care about, we recommend hanging out with these following students” and not having to awkwardly stumble through having to both figure it out on my own, and prove I belonged all at the same time. I think closed off networks of selective groups, and the privacy settings that come with paranoid online activity has to give way to make room for people making more meaningful connections online in order to boost their level of activity.

At the same time, there are people that have an interest with nothing to contribute, or people that have alot of questions with little to say in return. Everyone wants to be with the cool kids, but only a handful fit the bill – I suppose that’s what makes them cool. With every exciting innovation or idea that comes out, you’ll have people that want to be a part of it and others building giant walls to create an invite only sign around it. Such is life though, and the difficulty of people in any kind of social or intellectual setting. Despite modern advances in technology, and society – there will always be greed, insecurity, and the need to belong.

Not everyone deserves to be lifted up and shared with the world, and the curators of online influence no doubt each have their own qualifiers for even acknowledging the person online through a like or bump, let along discuss that individual to others in their carefully built and maintained communities.

Though the age old hubris of exclusivity won’t be solved in a simple blog, I do think it’s worth noting that as a simple means of survival – individuals will need to find new ways to make friends, and gather the relevant information and data they need to maintain and grow their corner of the world. In the absence of any path, those with the tools to build roads and maps from roughly forged digital trails will drive the masses along whatever path they see fit, I only hope it’s sooner than later that those with the power to build pathways band together to help the hopelessly lost find their way online, and learn the rules of the road before they slip beneath the ever growing amount of content online, of which more and more of our lives are focused on.

Peter Drucker & Systems Thinking

Peter Drucker was a management consultant, an educator, and an author who contributed a great deal to the modern business corporation. Throughout his life, he invented a number of concepts and wrote several books that are considered foundational in management theory and practice. Yet, when told he was a guru he once replied, “I have been saying for many years that we are using the word ‘guru’ because ‘charlatan’ is too long to fit into a headline”. His insights were often applied with lessons from history, sociology, psychology, philosophy, culture and religion. He focused on relationships between people and did not bother as much with the math. He wrote much about interpersonal relationships in organizations rather than focusing too much on the metrics-driven side of the business. He had a passion for learning, writing, and teaching which led to accomplishments such as winning the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002, and 7 McKinsey awards, along with receiving several honorary doctorates in various countries.

Peter Drucker was a smart man, but more importantly he worked to make unique contributions in his field and did the hard work to develop concepts and theories that others could use. He put his intelligence to good work and changed the world of management theory as a result. There are a lot of intelligent people that taught at schools during the same period of time that did not have nearly the affect. His greatness was not just in that he was intelligent, but that he had the insight to build a system and set of theories around what he was spending his time researching. There are many people that would have enjoyed sitting down and spending time talking with him about management theory. There were a number of ways he could have spent his time rather than writing books and papers on his research, however you do not get a medal from the President of the United States for having great conversations or taking up a number of hobbies. Good ideas need a place to go. Developing systems thinking means you are building models for thoughts and creating frameworks for all those great ideas to fit into so they can be replicated and shared with others. This can also turn into a concept and series of innovations as they continue to develop. Every good idea needs a place to go.

When you find yourself not able to bridge from common sense in the field you are in to ground breaking stuff, studying unrelated fields to gain additional context, as well as working with those that are not as deep in the weeds, can often help add insight as well as getting a knack for building systems which can lead to concepts. This in turn leads to innovative ideas and more pronounced impacts. Do the research, test the theory and build the concept, but make sure it lands in a form that others can receive value from and do something with it. In Peter Drucker’s case, the product was his insight and theories. Whether it is written down, built, or delivered in the form of a service – innovation can look many different ways, but should always provide greater benefit to the people around you and will be noted as such if it proves useful.

Path or the Gear?

There comes a time during your professional life that you need to stand back and get perspective if you’re heading in the right direction. However, how often does that perspective take you in a whole new direction?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that people born between 1957 and 1964 held an average of 11 jobs from ages 18 to 44. On average, men held 11.4 jobs and women held 10.7 jobs. 25% percent held 15 jobs or more, while 12% held four jobs or less.

I’m curious in those stats, how many of those people changed jobs because they had to, wanted to, or felt like they should. So often we try to make the right decisions in our professional life’s, and rely on the help of those that have gone before us to help us through the path. The problem is though, that we can often ignore the internal compass we all have inside of us when it comes to someone’s advice that we rely on to act as a guide and mentor.

It means it’s important to find the right mentor, but it’s also important to keep advice at arms length if you don’t have your bearings as to where the path you’re on is taking you. Picking the “right” job may have motivations other than something you care about and are passionate about.

What were you into when you were a kid, when all you had was your internal compass telling you what direction to head in? I often took things apart, figured out how they worked, and put them back together in a new configuration I thought worked better. I chose IT strategy as an outlet for that love, but I could have easily been a mechanic or engineer. The point is that the passion I had to take things apart and put them back together, whether it’s a company or an engine, is present in what I do which is where my internal compass has led me.

It wasn’t obvious though, until I looked back on my life and patterns and detected in the jobs I haven’t enjoyed that there wasn’t a part of what I loved to do as a kid, though it was the “right” job at the time for money, opportunity, or education. Where I’m at now though, I not only find enjoyment and fulfillment in my current job though, but am finding I’m much more successful in achieving my goals than I have been in the past – getting in shape, spending time with my wife, reading books, and focusing on the things that matter in life have always been goals but now that I’m aligned in my purpose and am doing work I care about I’m finding it a lot easier to get out of bed in the morning.

Yet, when I think about what this job really has that’s all that great, I’m reminded of those themes in my life that reappear in different manifestations and see where my internal compass has continually reminded me the work I was passionate about. My body literally wouldn’t let me be put up with work I wasn’t cut out for, and things started to break down and no longer work – stress, depression, anxiety – all the cost of doing something I wasn’t cut out for.

I thought mentors would fix me, but when it comes to what I was most passionate about, the only answer I needed was the ones I already had. No one is more of an expert on you, than you – you’re the only one that’s been with you since the beginning.

If you’re unhappy in your professional life, or even if you think you have the perfect job, think about a time when you didn’t have to do anything and about what you chose to spend your time on – what’s your internal compass telling you? It could make all the difference between changing paths in life (entirely new career), vs just changing the gear you’re using along the path you’re already on (new job, same career).

Creating something great

It’s often the case in life that in order to create something great, you must do it multiple times before that something great begins to emerge. Even if you have a knack for it, raw talent is no match for that same talent polished and refined over time. There’s something magical about what happens when you’ve done something enough times, that it becomes second nature to the point you don’t have to think about it. Keyboarding is probably the talent I’m most in awe of, as it was something I learned in High School and have leveraged it so much since then that it’s as closer skill to me than writing (which I do much much less of, unfortunately). Up until high school though, I didn’t know the first thing about not looking at the keyboard and certainly didn’t have the practice to type as fast and flawlessly as I do now. It’s easy to take talents you’ve acquired and honed for granted, whether it’s handling rush hour traffic in Seattle or making the perfect cup of coffee.

Too often in the workplace, we lost track of the things we do well that we’ve learned to do over time. Whether it’s how to handle yourself in a stressful meeting, or knowing just the right thing to say to your boss, these are all skills that are honed and refined over many years of work experience. I’m honored to be a consultant, in that I have to maneuver through very different situations quite often, so it becomes obvious what skills people do or don’t have from company to company, and what skills I need to work on myself. It’s taught me a lot about the things that people often consider second nature, but had no practice or experience doing prior to entering the working world.

Too often though, it’s expected that if you’re going to do something that it has to be done flawlessly the first time. Whether it’s taking a gamble on a new technology, or getting funding to launch a new project, innovation in it’s truest form requires a high level of efficiency up front. One has to work at a place like Google these days, to find a culture that believes in true trial and error, and is willing to go from one project to the next in the name of moving the ball forward for society. Though I think any company built on a try-anything-free-for-all culture is bound to eat itself alive (especially publicly traded ones) due to the need for people to build homesteads in a company then set up the turrents and guns to kick off turf wars and political battles, there is a need to try and fail.

Having some level of experimentation in your job means you’ve accepted that it’ll take time to do something new, and make it great, and you’re willing to put in the time if someone else can spare the resources. Even if it’s you in a corner doing it yourself, given enough time you’ll get better at what it is you want to excel at. The concept or idea may be flawed, but the skills you’ll take along the way can always be used elsewhere – no matter how abstract or specific those skills may seem at the time.

Trying anything new, until you hone it into greatness is something most people are sadly giving up in exchange for the easy and one-click way at greatness. Someone had to build that one-click though, by becoming great at it first. Though there isn’t much new ground to cover on this earth, pioneering is far from dead – you just have to rethink the topography you’re looking to map. And remember, if you’re the first one to do it then that makes you the best at it. Even if someone catches up to you (which someone always will) being the first can only happen once, and is often credited regardless of how many people come afterwards. Even if something has been done millions of times though, it can always be done better because true greatness is impossible to achieve but should always be pursued.

So go out, and work to create something great.

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