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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

 

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.

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.

Why You Should Care About Celebrity Photo Leaks

Maybe it’s because I worked for a number of years getting devices like the iPhone certified to operate inside a military and commercial aviation company, but I’m not at all surprised to see celeb photo leaks occurring.

Consumer electronics of any kind live in a constant pendulum of accessibility vs security. The more secure something is, the less accessible it inherently becomes, and visa versa. Any company that’s building an internet connected device today is going to take a number of considerations in mind when thinking about the right level of security to place on a device, including cost, supportability, and even export control (you can’t leave the US with a device that exceeds a certain level of encryption for example, per federal regulations).

For corporations, there are tools called mobile device management platforms such as Good Technology (www.good.com/) and Airwatch (www.air-watch.com/) that are designed to “harden” a consumer device so they’re safe for corporate data. With the growth of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), this has become a booming industry for companies that want to offer state of the art mobile technology but at the same time want to make sure it meets the same standards as the corporate laptops that have had years of security and encryption work done on them, from anti-virus to whole disk encryption.

With these tools though, the mobile devices become harder to use. Either because of the data being silo’ed on the device or having to use a very complex password every time you want to login.

The celebrities that had their private content leaked online had their phones hacked via an iCloud security breach – basically, the content was accessible via a consumer-grade cloud hosted solution designed for storage and sharing of content. There’s a good chance these celebrities didn’t realize that content was being “auto-saved” or even accessible via iCloud, but therein lies the problem. How much content do you share on your device, without realizing it? I can guarantee you that hackers are pretty aware of common vulnerabilities, and typically aren’t the types to openly share new ones (assuming they’re not the good kind of hacker, or “white hat”).

It is a horrible act when someone’s privacy is violated, and no doubt when it’s a celebrity the effect is 1000 times worse than an average person given how quickly it spreads. As long as people put sensitive content on devices meant to be sold to the broadest possible audience though, out of the box security will only go so far to solve these issues. This is especially true for company secrets, when text messages are just as sensitive sometimes as e-mails.

This doesn’t mean it’s time to go back to desk phones and typewriters though, because it’s a happy medium where convenience and being up to date meets up with adequate levels of protection. When I worked with corporate clients around mobile device security, I used this metaphor that’s useful when discussing how to manage your internal mobile security.

Think of a bank having three layers

Layer One – The Lobby, it’s open to the world for most of the day and is generally accessible. There’s a lock on the door, and a security guard, but people can get in and out pretty freely.

Layer Two – Behind the counter, people aren’t allowed back there but employees can get in and out fairly easily and have some layers of security between them and the average customer. Sensitive material is back there, along with certain amount of currency so security is in place but it’s also accessible to any employee.

Layer Three – The safe. This is the most expensive and secure piece of real estate in the bank, and is designed for security and not accessibility. The most sensitive material is kept here, as well as storing the majority of the money and very sensitive items. Few people get or need access, and no one from the public is allowed in.

If you are building a bank, the whole thing isn’t a safe – it would not only be super expensive, it’d be inaccessible to the general public which would defeat the purpose. At the same time, you need a safe because of the threat of theft, robbery, etc.

When you think about mobile security – what in your company belongs in the “safe”?. Consider if that content should ever even be on a mobile device. What belongs in the backroom? e-mails, corporate documents, attachments, etc. This is where Mobile device management comes into play, and where you should consider what falls in that employee only area. As for the lobby? Marketing content, sales material, website stuff, anything open to the public doesn’t need to be secure. This could be what lands on a consumer mobile app, mobile website, or general access content.

Things like these leaks will continue to happen, as more people put more of their personal lives on internet connected devices built around sharing and accessibility. Security will get better, but not so good that the devices become too difficult or cumbersome to use. Within that area, consider what should be on a mobile device (for sensitive photos, I recommend a device that’s not connected to a cloud hosted service), what should be secured on your device, and what is generally open to the world. These “three layers” will help you avoid any confusion or surprise when it comes to sharing content via a mobile device, and will help any unnecessary data leaks when it comes to your sensitive corporate documents.

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.

Does Your Company Have a Chief Data Evangelist?

A lot of companies are talking about Chief Data Officers, but what about having a chief data evangelist instead?

Recently I was talking to a good friend of mine that works in the Business Intelligence space about the concept of a Chief Data Officer being brought up in the halls of different companies around the US (mainly of course, IT departments dealing with the onset of new data solutions to handle all their data.)

What he shared was that companies should focus less on centralizing data to get to a single version of the truth. Instead, they should focus on recruiting a chief data evangelist to get groups within a company on board with a set of standards that they can build data models around for use within their team, then grow grassroots communities within their company. This could be akin to a data “co-op” of sorts which could, in turn, enable teams to take their own data models and share data at a bottom up approach vs simply being drug along by a chief data officer from a top down approach, marching to the beat of centralized data control.

This extreme decentralization has worked in other facets, including executive leadership as characterized in the book “The Outsiders” by William Thorndike so why couldn’t it work with data?

As I began to think about it, it does make sense to have people in your organization advocating for best practices, and getting different groups on board with a set of standards but leaving the usefulness of the data to the teams using it, as no two groups of course ever have the same need for a specific data set in a specific format.

Though larger efforts like data warehousing will remain centralized activities, imagine what companies could achieve through extreme decentralization focused on evangelism of standards and organization level adoption & modeling efforts that in turn drive community activities within a company vs dragging along the enterprise one team at a time to conform to centralized data models that may or may not work for them.

Seems like a much better solution to me. In thinking about what a Chief Data Evangelist might do at your company, consider the following job description

Task #1) Strong understanding of best practices around data governance, data management, and data modeling for the purpose of leveraging corporate data for use by a specific team

Task #2) Desire to get teams within a company on board with leveraging standards for data governance and modeling, for the purpose of collaborating with other teams and sharing data within organizations / company

Task #3) Make a killer salsa

If that sounds like a great job description, perhaps the job is for you. Regardless of who has the role, be it official or unofficial, having strong advocates for standards along with proponents for data / BI communities in your company can go a long way in helping drive greater adoption of data solutions within your company and help grow data-driven solutions in the process.

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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