DanMaycock.com

Data, Strategy, Leadership, and Innovation

Category: Strategy Posts (page 1 of 3)

3 Ways to Ensure That Your Idea Takes Root

When it comes to ideas, most disappear in the first hour they’re created because bringing something into the world takes serious effort. But no new thing can exist without real determination, struggle, and the effort of multiple people to see something come to life and flourish. Yet, some of the world’s best ideas disappear as quickly as they’re thought of because people shoot themselves down before telling another person what they’re thinking.

The simple truth is that often times our ideas don’t even get past the first handful of people because negative feedback is taken as justification to not do anything with the idea. What should happen of course, is that you take that feedback as a means to improve your idea and continue to iterate til it takes root.

How to do that though, can be easier said than done. Here then, are just a handful of steps that should help:

Tip #1 – Don’t let criticism get to your head

There are many successful people today living exciting lives built on their ideas, who had to fail at getting traction several times before they succeeded at getting their ideas to take off.

  • Akio Morita’s first rice cooker sold fewer than 100 units, because it burned the rice instead of cooking it. You may not have heard of him, but you’ve probably heard of his company, Sony.
  • Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor, because the editor felt “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas”
  • During his lifetime, Vincent Van Gogh only managed to sell one painting but painted 800 anyway, during his lifetime.

The potential and ideas were there in each of these people all along the way. These ideas they had just had to either go through several iterations, or wait until everyone around them caught onto the idea themselves. In each case though, these people refused to let the ideas and concepts they had die at the hands of themselves or anyone else they encountered along the way. That’s what separated them from people with good ideas who you and I haven’t ever heard of before.

Just like getting a car out of a ditch, it takes real effort to get your idea moving initially until it takes off on its own momentum. Be careful to not be your own worst enemy, by failing to get the idea off the ground because you weren’t willing to conquer your own fears and insecurities to get the idea on paper and begin sharing it with people, while using that feedback to refine / shape the idea along the way.

Tip #2 – Don’t be afraid to alter your plan of attack

The hardest ideas to surface can sometimes be around questioning something already agreed to, or pushing back on something half way built. The truth is though, that the most difficult ideas to surface can end up leading to the biggest improvements, as those ideas can help reveal blind spots missed along the way.

I’ve worked with companies that have had to choose between incorporating the next idea, shipping the product as is, or pivoting altogether because something drastic changed since the product road map had been put in place. Though it’s never an obvious choice which direction to go, shipping something they knew would be flawed always turned out worse in the end than delaying shipment to get the product right. It’s important to consider new ideas at every stage of product development in order to ensure that the right product ships every time.

Tip #3 – Continue sharing the idea, re-calibrate with user input, and persevere

Only through doing difficult things multiple times does it become easier, and being innovative and driving new ideas certainly is a muscle we must flex multiple times to get better at it. Repeating the process of developing ideas, refining them, and getting those ideas into meaningful outcomes is certainly worth the effort, but will always take effort (either internally or externally). It will also require dedication and determination, but will produce meaningful outcomes each and every time.

You need to always be willing to bring something up and share freely so that your company can continue to reinforce a culture of innovation and collaboration.

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3 Steps to take Data Analysis from “Well, That’s Interesting” to Revenue Impacting

Data is hot right now, and it seems everywhere in business these days there is another tool or framework on how to leverage data to drive a real difference in your business.

A good metaphor to understanding data effectively though, is training for an Olympic event (great timing for the metaphor, eh?). Most athletes train, not for the sake of training, but most likely because they want to stand on the podium with a medal as a statement to how good they are at the event. Anyone can train for the sake of training, but competing and winning is really the whole culmination of 4 years of tireless preparation and training.

The same is true for data visualization, in that the real goal should not be building dashboards and pretty charts, but pointing to the direct impact that data had on driving a top or bottom line impact on the company’s revenues. Yes, in larger companies it’s very hard to make a difference on the overall number, but every piece of data should tie to some positive contribution or else what is the point?

Yet, with so much data being made available, and so many people learning how to mine data for insights, there’s a lot of very pretty pictures out there which don’t move the needle at all. Yes, it’s great to hear about athlete’s and how they train, but the credibility isn’t there to the same degree as it is if they’e wearing an Olympic medal. If you’re a budding data analyst, or seasons chart builder, imagine if everything you built had a number next to it that said “this piece of data drove this quantifiable business impact”.

Though data visualization can serve qualitative benefits, such as monitoring a key business process or helping change a perspective on a topic, there should still be some way to tie even those things back to the difference it made (or could make) on the business.

Here’s three steps then, to help that mindset along

1. Understand the Reliability and Structure of the Data You’re Using 

All because you have data, and have access to data, doesn’t mean it’s useful or all that important. You having access to log files from a server, which spits out information on usage patterns of your e-commerce system throughout the day only matters if you’re able to impact that usage in some meaningful way, then tie it back to a positive revenue lift. More importantly though, you have to know the data is reliable and understand how to model it in a way that it produces accurate conclusions. Build some baseline metrics, and measure against numbers you know are correct before going into any complex modeling exercise. Once you put a chart in a slide, it’s out there. So make sure you’re starting from the right data set to begin with. 

2. Develop a Series of Hypothesis about Your Business

Once you know the data you’re working with, and have a good sense of how reliable it is, think about the business as it relates to parts you can actually control / influence. If you’re in advertising, don’t focus on product improvements. If you’re in product development, don’t worry about retention patterns on the website. Think about 3-5 gut instincts you have about how the business could operate differently, then use the data to test out those theories. Don’t simply mine the data, hoping the magical insights just pop out at you. Data, like a car, helps you get to where you’re going – it won’t take you there on it’s own. You need to at least have a rough idea of what you’re looking for, so you can build worthwhile visualization to help vet that hypothesis into an actual conclusion.

3. Focus on Low Hanging KPIs, then Expand from There 

It’s easy today, with technology making more data accessible with less effort, to try and go after ground breaking insights. However, you no doubt have areas of your business you can directly impact and know will make a sizable difference to the bottom line, that you need help in influencing. Start with thinking through 3-5 KPIs coming from your hypothesis that you can build from the data you’ve vetted, to influence key business people or back up your assertions with a new direction you’re moving your team in.

If you can measure it, you can prove it (as long as it’s reliable and true), but remember that it’s never a silver bullet or the whole story. Data can be powerful, but it can also lead people astray or get people focused on the wrong things. When done right though, using validated data tied to a hypothesis and measured in a way that drives a meaningful revenue outcome, it can make a big difference.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Peter Drucker and the Innovative Executive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Drive Revenue Growth Without Driving Off the Road

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

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

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

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

A) Start with the right hypothesis

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

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

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

B) Understand where your data lives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Are You Suffering from Corporate Arthritis?

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

The problems he had were the following

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

C) Grow a thick skin

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

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

C) It’s all about the (right) data.

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

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

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

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5 Things You Need To Focus On In 2015

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

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

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

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

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

2. Personal Incubation (#personalbranding)

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

3. Professional #Innovation (that does something useful)

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

4. Foxhole Buddies (#networking)

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

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

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

5. Morning Rituals (#morningritual)

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

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

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

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

 

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Sun Tzu & The Art of Innovation

It’s one thing to build an Innovation team within your company, but entirely another thing to then take those best practices and successfully reproduce the success in departments through a company. My goal in putting together a book on best practices for Innovation was to discuss methods and strategies that I’ve seen work during my time at several different Fortune 500 companies. I also wanted to help share some first hand accounts of when things have gone well and not so well in the process in order to help individuals build a successful process for innovation regardless of what type of team or how much authority they currently have.

In thinking about what it takes to make something successful happen in multiple groups throughout a company though, it’s an entirely different set of skills and processes necessary to reproduce that innovative best practice in a hundred different teams. If we look at the first chapter of Sun Tzu’s “Art of War”, Sun Tzu discusses the five factors that will affect the outcome of a war.

These principles can be very helpful in understanding best practices for business strategy, and can also be applied in helping build effective innovation teams within a company. Consider as your reading this further, how building an innovation practice could potential utilize the first three principles, and replicating those practices could potentially be helped by understanding and utilizing the last two principles.

The First Principle, The Moral Law, is all about how to cause people to follow you in complete accord so they will follow you regardless of the personal impact. In war, this of course looks very different than it does in business, but user buy in from both your co-workers, leaders, and employees is paramount in being successful as an innovator.

The Second Principle, Heaven, discusses the environment you’re operating within. The principle applies to whether high or low ground makes a difference, the effect of rain on the battlefield, etc. For this context, the culture and make up of your company will have a big impact on how you can launch an innovative idea and how you can take your surroundings into account when it comes to getting buy off and moving an idea through the risk-based immune system within your company.

The Third Principle, Earth, discusses aspects such as the terrain taking into account the hardness of the ground, distances to travel, etc. In this context, it’s aspects such as whether you work for a multi-national company versus a start-up and the realities of regulations and reporting structures that make up the sometimes overly rigid structures that keep truly innovative ideas from springing up. There has been a lot about being innovative, and creating a series of steps on how to grow ideas into products, but a lot of literature doesn’t take the realities of enterprises into account and bringing those steps against the hurdles the typical employee or manager will run into.

The key though, is replicating that success as an executive or senior leader in multiple departments throughout the company, and not just once within a particular group but several times in several different teams. The next step is taking the next two principles into account, The Commander, along with The Method and Discipline, to grow this best practice into something replicatable throughout your company.

The Fourth Principle, The Commander, is all about your beliefs, values, and models making up the integrity and core of a leader. This is important to replicate, because being an innovator is something that can be taught and learned, but each individual comes with their own pretext and a sub-culture that can come with it’s own challenges. Training teams and raising leaders to command new ideas is the first part of successful replication, and will make or break a new concept from working it’s way through that organization without having to micro-manage or hand-hold the individual you’re recruiting to help spread that innovative best practice.

The Fifth Principle, Method & Discipline, is all about the organization and goals of troops to help them focus on outcomes in battle despite the chaos that exists within large groups of soldiers as fights break out and battles erupt. In business, you can only control so many variables, and the real key to war is to win before you go to battle. Defeating the opponent in this case means going to war with everything from apathy, to a lack of discipline, to fear around risky investments. Having clear methods and disciplines in place means that everyone is equip and adaptable, despite the issues that can sideline progress and cause people to panic either due to macro-economic factors (ex: the stock price drops due to unusually bad weather, and your project is at risk of being cut) or internal issues such as a re-org or change in executive leadership.

Being innovative as a company is much harder than having an innovation team, but it’s the only way to truly matter company-wide in the long run and is the hardest thing to do. From changing the culture, to accepting higher levels of risk, the path isn’t an easy one but it’ll ensure your company remains proactive, and stays far ahead of your competitors for years to come.

I encourage you to spend time reading The Art of War, this time considering how these principles can help you rehabilitate the overused yet underutilized concept of Innovation and help drive effective change inside your organization.

Interested in my book? Contact me at dan@transform.digital to get a copy or follow me at http://www.danmk.com/buildingtheexpo to get notified when the book is released later this month.

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