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Category: Leadership Posts (page 2 of 3)

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

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

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.

Are You Suffering from Corporate Arthritis?

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

The problems he had were the following

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

C) Grow a thick skin

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

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

C) It’s all about the (right) data.

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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