A couple weeks back on a cool Saturday morning I was on my rollers at the base of Lookout Mountain in Golden Colorado getting ready for the Lookout Mountain Hillclimb race. This race requires a short but intense amount of energy especially at the start. During the warm-up I had a gut feel to get off the rollers and do some actual climbs up some of the smaller hills near the start to shake out my upper body. I ignored my gut and stayed on the trainer. Big mistake. A few minutes into the surge my upper body became almost useless with fatigue and lactic acid. This adversely impacted my performance and lead me to a slower than desired time.
After the race as I was looking back on what I could have done better I realized that I should have trusted my gut. We all have experiences, sometimes more than once in a day, where in hindsight we realized that we ignored our gut feel. On the flip side we sometimes also act too quickly on gut feel alone when the facts may have had us take a different action.
In my simple scenario above I should have done a better job with my pre-race checklist to have the step of getting off my rollers for an upper body shake out. This would have balanced out my gut feel (and subsequent ability to ignore it) with some data on my personal race warm-up experience.
On the drive home I remembered an old blog I wrote for Sports Data Hub on this very subject. See the post at http://ww2.sportsdatahub.com/index.php/2007/11/18/trust-your-gut-data-or-both/.
The long and the short of it is that we need both our gut and data (which can sometimes be robust analytics or a simple checklist) to make the best decisions.
I spent a good chunk of today at the Silicon Flatirons “Putting the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Perspective” conference in the Wolf Law Building on the University of Colorado campus. It was a wonderful day of top notch speakers from Colorado Governor Bill Ritter to top local VCs, academics, and of course entrepreneurs sharing thoughts on what it takes to have a successful entrepreneurial ecosystem. I was interested in the conference for a few reasons. The main of which was to learn more about the makeup of the entrepreneurial ecosystem of the Boulder area as part of the ongoing demographic research I do for Design Matters Home.
Lots of ideas were covered from Governor Ritter talking about the 4, now 5, pillars of the state’s economic drivers with the addition of ICT (Information and Communication Technology), to Karl Ulrich’s (The Wharton School University of Pennsylvania) very interesting concept of Innovation Tournaments, to AnnaLee Saxenian’s (Dean, School of Information University of California at Berkeley) thoughts on moving to regional ecosystems from corporate hierarchies with tons of great discussions and ideas in-between.
To form the discussions of what it takes to have a successful entrepreneurial ecosystem many thoughts were shared on the needs and drivers of entrepreneurs themselves. One of the obvious ones repeated throughout here, as it is in all entrepreneurial makeup discussions, is the immense passion entrepreneurs have to take the big risks required to make their ideas become a reality.
Another bit of advice shared by Paul Berbarian (Co-Founder Raindance Communication) based on his own learned lessons was the importance of entrepreneurs to not get too caught up in the moment. When you are starting something from scratch so many things, many of which you are experiencing for the first time, are flying by you at rates you did not think possible. It is tempting to jump on or react to everything all the time but the smart entrepreneurs know when to hold em and when to fold em as a wise country singer once told us.
I made it home in time to read a bedtime story with my seven year old daughter. We started “Dark Day in the Deep Sea” by Mary Pope Osborne this evening. As we got to the end of chapter one where Jack and Annie were talking to Teddy and Kathleen about their next mission we hit a section that resonated perfectly with a common theme of today’s sessions.
“‘I wonder who the ‘others’ will be on this mission,’ said Annie. She looked at Teddy and Kathleen. ‘Maybe you guys?’ ‘I fear not,’ said Kathleen. ‘You must find the third secret on your own.’ ‘Just remember to keep your wits about you,’ said Teddy. ‘And listen to your hearts,’ said Kathleen.”
I love it when I get timely reinforcement of ideas from unlikely places, especially books for children. For all entrepreneurs in small business or startups with grander visions the statement of keep your wits and follow your heart could not be more to the point of what you have to do EVERY DAY to help your dreams become a reality.
On a bike ride sometimes the hardest hill to go up is not the biggest one you encounter. Timing of when you encounter a hill during your ride can have as much impact as physical size. Here is a picture of a hill near my home in Louisville, Colorado.
Compared to other hills in the area this one is quite small. I hit it though every time I come home from a bike ride. So even if I have been tackling harder mountains on a long ride I always still have this one hill to conquer before I get home to rest.
I think we can all relate to a challenge that comparatively is not the hardest one we face every day but due to when it occurs in our day, project lifecycle, etc it can be every bit as tiring as the big ones.
I used to hate this hill. There is nothing worse than being on the verge of bonking or having already bonked and staring at another hill that you HAVE to get over to get home. Over time though I realized that I can either let this hill beat me or I can beat it. I started attacking it every time I went up it no matter if I was coming home from a short and easy ride or a long and hard one. Now it still wears me out a bit but not like it used to and more importantly I no longer dread facing it.
Do the same with everyday challenges you face, big or small. Realize where they occur in your daily timeframe, take note of the impacts they have on you, and embrace them as something to overcome rather than letting them overcome you.
I usually cringe every time a new buzzword is created in IT that is essentially a rebranding of an existing topic. This is primarily done by new and existing vendors so they can sell their solutions. While I understand the practice I think an unfortunate byproduct (or maybe in some cases intented byproduct) is added confusion.
So a few days back I received the new DM Review in the mail except it was no longer called DM Review. It is now called Information Management. Part of me was initially thinking here we go again but while this is not a new term I actually really like the change for the magazine. I also like the term as a much better way to describe all the various components including but not limited to business intelligence, data warehousing, data integration, data quality, data management, and so on. They are all aspects of the same thing which is to bring more value to consumers of data/information.
There are some really good quotes on the editorial page by Jim Ericson, editorial director, that I want to share.
“Information Management has become the best overarching term to describe the gathering, managing, disseminating, leveraging, and disposing of all types of information assets within an organization. We believe this term best sums up the very topics our readers are increasingly drawn to and aware of.” - No argument from me here. I like it!
“…we are moving away from networks of applications and datbases toward a model of overlapping networks of applications and databases toward a model of overlapping networks of information within and outside the walls of the organization. Whether massive data warehouses, common documents or email, digital assets, records, warranties, contracts or Web pages, these networks are increasingly relevant to IT, executives and information workers as keys to success in the new world of business.”- Again, I like it. I would argue though that this is not a new concept or a new world of business. I said things along these lines a few years back. My belief is that people are getting fed up with all the myriad applications that are in organizations and are finally speaking out that the common denominator is the data as it always has been. There are most definitely some awesome new concepts and technologies in applications that really help but I stick to my thought that the delay in this realization is due more from myopic oriented people within organizations who only care about their piece of the puzzle than application technology catching up.
“Quality information is now a requirement for optimizing our work and identifying new business paths.” - Hasn’t quality information always been a requirement? Data quality is, was, and will always be super subjective so it is always a new requirement. A better approach is to maybe just come to peace that 100% quality data is impossible so remember data and data analysis is part of the toolbox, not the silver bullet.
“…outcomes in our working and private lives are being decided by our ability to meet information needs.”- For sure. Again, though life since we know it has always been based on a human’s ability to process information.
“Data management and integration, data quality, business intelligence, data warehousing, and other familiar topics remain underpenetrated and long-term problem areas of business. These are all key subsets of information management as we see it.” - Agree!
“Finally, while information management is a defined space, we do not consider it a unified practice, nor do we believe it will be unified anytime soon. Instead, we see our new title as a series of related undertakings: programs, strategies, and tactics involving people, process, and technologies.” - Really like this one. All of us in this field need to take a more systematic view of our environments and really appreciate ALL the impacting factors.
“In information management , the greatest challenge lies not in technology - which performs largely as advertised - but in the underlying policies and business processes that have limited the success of projects and programs.” - Again, agree 1000%. I was a firm believer 17 years ago when I entered IT and I sill am today that technology will NEVER make or break a project, but people ALWAYS will. Obviously technology is very important but solving people puzzles never gets the respect it should in tech oriented fields.
I was going through some old papers and came across one of my favorite Dilbert strips about marketing. Still makes me laugh out loud….
I got the recent MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) catalog the other day. It is always a pleasure to read. This one though had what I thought was an especially clever campaign. I believe it is around the theme “dream big.” It has various products in the catalog with a dream cloud like they are thinking of something. Here is the cover -
Is the product dreaming or is the owner dreaming? Either way I think it works for wonderful associative marketing. Here are a couple more. I love the mini speakers dreaming like they are a boom box and the tea kettle dreaming of a train horn. That is exactly what the buyers want out of both. Pick up a catalog and see the others for yourself.
Imagine if internal technical team marketing took an approach like this to help its users associate solutions with expectations in a fun way. I am pretty sure user adoption would be higher. Maybe a campaign with the report dreaming of a person crossing a finish line representing how the user will feel when they share the data and their insights in a meeting.
That’s right, I mean it, get out to free your mind! I was working out today and in between sets my mind started going crazy with ideas on things going on in my work and personal life. I did not expect the thoughts I had today but to be honest it is not uncommon for this to happen to me when I work out. I am a huge believer that in order to expand you mind and get clear thoughts on topics running through your head you have to physically take yourself out of the environment related to that topic and do something that allows your mind to relax or get distracted. Before you know it fresh ideas will “pop” into your head!
If you are wrestling with work problems get out of your office/cube. If you work from home, take a break from the kitchen and go to a place for lunch or coffee by yourself. Don’t just walk in and walk out. Hang out for a bit, read the paper, read emails, do something and soak in the moment.
For me the best time for fresh ideas to pop into my mind is when I am physically pushing my body like on a bike ride or working out. I sometimes have to start repeating thoughts verbally as I ride so that I do not forget all of them by the time I get home. Many times I immediately head for a note pad or computer when I walk in the door so I do not lose any of my new brilliance.
I also like to go to coffee shops, sit in common areas like a park or walking mall, attend concerts, conferences, seminars, meetings, etc just to people watch. Observation is another great idea generator and way to tie things together that you may not have been able to do from your desk.
Try different things and once you know whatever works for you be sure to make doing it a regular part of your schedule - day and night. Don’t make excuses or feel guilty, just go out and do it. I know in corporate America this kind of activity is often times frowned upon. This is so unfortunate. You are not like everyone else though so buck the trend and get out.
I deliberately make it a part of my schedule be in different places, take rides, work out, etc. I know it is easy talk yourself into not getting out when things are busy and it seems like you should be glued to your desk. People who don’t get it will give you dirty looks and snide remarks. Trust me though when I say this is acutally the best time when you should be doing this as you will be much more efficient in your problem solving rather than wasting time at your desk waiting for the fresh thoughts to come. Obviously you still need to get your work done so you still need to plan and act accordingly for that to happen.
Don’t be afraid to do these things by yourself. Remember it is that forced distraction of the mind to get the ideas going where they may not have before. When you go with peers or friends the distraction is not as great.
Last but certainly not least, don’t stress yourself out if fresh ideas do not happen every time you get out. Keep at it and they will. Practice is just as important to improve mental activities as it is for physical activities.
Tip to information based technical teams – step away from tradition and create a marketing/sales oriented role on your team. Also make sure this person is on point for all your projects, especially when something is temporarily taken away from the users either to repair it or make it better. This will make your job easier and will increase the chances of better satisfaction levels with your customers and probably get you more projects.
I was out on a lunch time ride yesterday. It was another gorgeous Colorado fall day. I came up to an intersection where road work was occurring.
Just like most road projects our first contact was with the flag (or stop/slow sign) person. The role of the flag person is pretty clear - direct traffic through a limited portion of the road at intervals that are safe for the work crew and drivers. They have one job to do for the project and they are focused on doing it and only it. This is a good thing.
Unfortunately they are in a tricky situation since they are also the first and sometimes only, place where drivers can get information about the project and how it impacts their day. More times than not the flag person either is not equipped with the information to handle all the questions from the drivers or could care less about marketing the project and or other projects impacting the drivers and that is understandable. My analogy here is not to focus on the flag person but rather to look at the situation around the interaction of the flag person with waiting drivers from a different perspective. Through this project staffing model cities, contractors, and other related organizations are missing a golden opportunity to sell their work for this project and possibly others and stand out to drivers on the value of the work being done.
A guy in a car when we were waiting was getting really agitated. Total time has been about 5 minutes but I can appreciate how this feels like 5 hours to some people. Starting to see the relation to information based solutions? He got out of the car and asked the flag person how much longer the delay will be. He obviously got an answer that he did not like as this made him even angrier. He stormed back to his car and started to do a u-turn when the flag person changed the sign to allow us to move ahead.
Imagine if the response he got instead went something like this - “Sir I appreciate your frustration. I also do not like being disrupted like this. On the bright side though when this is finished your travel through this part will be even better. Here is a schedule of our planned work on this road and others in the area. We will be working on the road east of here next week. Once we are finished the estimated travel time through this area will be reduced by 5 minutes and will be more comfortable and safer with the new bike lanes road stripes and no pot-holes. Can I answer any questions? Here is my contact info. Please do not hesitate to call me with any questions or suggestions. Ok, they are ready now you can go, thank you for your patience.” The driver may still have been aggravated but probably less so and the long term outcome would be totally different.
In information based technical projects the same unfortunate situation almost always happens. Almost universally a person who has very specific internal management or tech duties is also put in the place where they are the first point of contact for many of the users. This is not fair to the person or the users and it is an opportunity lost to build a bond with the user, get them on board with the project, get their support to help you reach out to others during the repair time about why it is good. Just like in the road work situation the tech person is there to do something related to the actual fix. Most likely they could care less about marketing and overall impacts of projects on the bigger picture. Even if they did care most likely the way their information is framed will be technically focused, not user solution focused.
As the guy drove off and past the work crew he probably forgot the whole thing and probably will not even remember he was mad when he goes through again after the work. Yeah, ok the argument could be made that this is ok isn’t it? Sure, but why take that chance? If the person got the treatment I mentioned above I am willing to bet that he/she would have had much more appreciation for the project, the bigger picture and how the benefits of waiting a few minutes are worth it. Imagine how having a person with this more positive approach could benefit you, your project, and future projects?
I can hear all the tech managers yelling now - good idea but we will never be able to afford that. I disagree, how can you afford not to? Marketing is all about standing out from the others. It is no different for an internal IT project than for a can of soup. It is not a silver bullet but the small investments in it can pay off big time down the road with increased understanding, acceptance, and excitement from the end users and other project teams. Perception and user understanding is as important, if not more so, in information based solutions as the actual solution itself.
Ideally a project manager would have the ability to break tradition and staff a marketing/sales oriented role on the project team. If this is not immediately practical start working more with your marketing department for help or ideas on how to make this work in your situation. Put on your creative hat. Make sure they are in the right places with the right information just like the flag person so that when the users first encounter the work you are doing they get the info they need and more.
Adding a marketing role to your tech team has some cost but the right information at the right time given in the right manner is priceless. We in the information based tech world should know this as well as anyone but we fail to take our own medicine at the times when it is most needed.
Tech teams almost never embrace marketing. They think their work will sell itself. This is just not how it works though and is a reason, at least from my experience why so many information based tech projects ultimately fail. Take marketing seriously for all projects. Everything needs marketing and everyone has a need for information. Thanks for reading.
You will see a lot of my writing around the topic of selling/marketing internal tech teams. I have been around so many teams/managers that knowingly and unknowingly shoot their own foot by ignoring or even despising selling of their efforts. This has been a big frustration of mine for years. I have tried to share my thoughts but traditions and myopia are pretty strong in technical based teams. They would rather bank everything on the final outcome hoping the solution will sell itself. That is very risky and most often fails.