Driven by an innate desire for efficiency, I have been compelled to create a new acronym (like we needed more!). But the need was real and I needed an efficient way to respond to the question I get asked most frequently these days…
” What do you think of this awesome piece of analysis?”
… and more often than not, the answer is simply C.B.U…. or Correct, But Useless.
You see, we have been getting caught up in the sexiness of new discoveries… stories that used to start with “once upon a time” now start with “crunching our data revealed…”
This hype has been fueled by the media and blog posts (like this site – sorry). Today, looking inside the larger corporations, we see an internal managers’ race to have the most “awesome insight,” the most impressive counter intuitive knowledge gem with a big $$$ next to it; ready to broadcast as a prized possession you can forevermore lay claim to.
And it is not hard to see why. Today, previous measures of “importance” – may that be your position, title, your perceived pay or special perks – is starting to play second fiddle to an emerging class of business leader – the leader that gets digital disruption. These leaders can channel the incredibly uncertainty that digital disruption is bringing into an invigorating and compelling vision of opportunity for the future…
These leaders are rare and in particularly short supply in Australia. This vacuum means opportunity; And here is our problem. Some of our leaders feel that if only they can find that most awesome discovery in data and broadcast it to the leadership team and the Board, they will be seen as that sought after “digital disruption” leader; the enigma the executive keeps talking about finding. I call these leaders “digital imitators”… They know the buzz words, they talk the language but never seem to be able to link value and analysis.
As you know, the path from Insight to Impact is not an easy one. These
digital imitator leaders often fall in the trap of what is “interesting” vs what is “impactful”… their actions and allocation of scarce resources ultimately hurt the organisation that is trying to catch up with the “data horse” that has indeed already bolted in many industries. By the time “the imitation fraud” is discovered the company has invested so deeply in these “interesting” projects without payback, it is almost impossible to back out and restart without deep board level scrutiny – and no one wants that.
I am by no means suggesting that you should know the answer to the insights you are seeking before embarking on your projects, or that agile iteration and discovery should be abandoned – quite the contrary. You do need the “hoodie” mentality to find different insights… quickly. But what then?
Where our current digital imitator leaders mislead the data scientists and internal teams, is the lack of a vision at the start of the analysis journey. A vision makes it easier to know what to do once we have insights…. how to move to impact by empowering the organisation. These digital imitators fundamentally underestimate the effort to change… and the biggest drawback here is that those managers themselves have not transformed their own thinking.
… so what to do?
If you grew up in the middle ages of flat earth, literally shifting the centre of your universe to the sun is no easy feat. The same fundamental (and difficult personal) paradigm shift is required when leading through digital disruption. Only a handful of business leaders will make this discovery on their own.
For the rest of us? It is time to change inside out.
For a starter, stop looking “up” for guidance. Your newest and youngest employees likely know a whole lot more about data and digital disruption than you – But don’t bother asking them what they think of digital disruption. They just don’t call it that – to them, it [digitally disrupted businesses] is “just how it should be”.
- Start by listening to your young employees ideas on what can be done; how things could work. Expand your immediate network to people you would not normally interact with; Ones that talk fast and has many ideas are good in moderation. When you start feeling uncomfortable, you are on the right track. A word of warning, in most organisations, traditional IT support is not a good place to start – their governance structures and approach (e.g. ITIL) means that iterative thinking does not work. Even the IT teams who call themselves agile often are tangled up in their own red tape. The test is simple. If in your first 5 mins of your new best friend conversations the words “we can” far exceeds the “can’t do” you found the right person(s). Remember, the “can” attitude applies to you too.
- Read – Set aside 15 minutes every night. There are amazing forums out there and LinkedIn groups; it won’t take you long to figure out who are the real thinkers. If you don’t know where to start, I suggest research “Target predicts girl’s pregnancy” and “Lessons from Target’s pregnancy algorithm” – by researching this one well published example you will learn from different perspectives about the power of data, complex techniques, the need for good change management and practical implications at the front line. I follow Tom Davenport’s writings. I also like Wired.com
- As in “Just do it,” with a catch. That catch is you need to understand to WHOM the insights will be useful and what that will allow them to do; Remember, we are trying to be more than just interesting to those we need to impact. This process of designing for usefulness is called Customer Centric Design – the outcome is that your insight must change something – someone must start or stop doing something… or confirm that they are doing the right thing.
- Keep a diary in short single line notes on what you think 5 basic terms mean to you. It will evolve. Everyone will have their own list. E.g. Analytics, Information Management, Digital Disruption, Big Data, Stream Analytics, Automated Decisioning, IoT, Autonomous systems, Simulation, Deep Learning, Artificial Intelligence, Singularity, Cloud Analytics, Mobile platforms, Social Analytics, etc. Revisit your personal definitions every month. You will be surprised to see how much you have learnt each month.
Ultimately, leadership through digital disruption is opening yourself to the vastness of new ideas. In my experience, every organisation is a pressure cooker of amazing ideas suppressed by average managers and unduly risk avoiding executives. Find those bright-spots and find a way to unlock the potential of the individuals and the organisation through real impact. You will be happier doing meaningful work.
Now that is leadership.