Data Soup: Specialization, Cooperation and Seasoning in your Data Intelligence Strategy

Stone Soup is a folk story in which hungry strangers persuade local people of a town to give them food. While the story is usually told as a lesson in cooperation, especially amid scarcity, it also serves as a tutorial in specialization and the importance of a properly crafted data intelligence strategy.

At the beginning of the story, each village family relies solely on the yield of their own crops for sustenance, and therefore they practically starve. One by one, the families are convinced to contribute a portion of their harvest to the communal soup. As each new ingredient is added, the soup becomes heartier and more flavorful. In the end, everyone enjoys an awesome meal.

 

DataSoup

As with the villagers’ crops, your company’s internal data silos are of limited value in the insight they can produce on their own. It doesn’t matter how many ways you try to slice-and-dice it, you will hit a point of diminishing returns.

Following the Yellow Brick Road

 

While its hard to believe, twelve years ago this month, I started Latigent- my first company, out of a two bedroom apartment in Olathe, KS.

Back then, if I mentioned to anyone that I had quit my fat corporate job to found a “startup”- most would politely say “oh, that’s nice” while giving me the ‘are you fucking crazy’ look.

Wow, how time flies…

We’re not in Kansas anymore

A few years later, I got hitched – and Amy and I decided to leave Kansas City for Chicago. Amy had opportunities with her modeling career; and it made sense for me to relocate Latigent to where most of our customers and my cofounder were.

Ignore the 80%

I recently read an article titled “Start-ups, 80% of your growth depends on this”. The article outlined stages that typical companies go through as they grow, complete with timelines for each stage.

Read between the lines though and the author’s point is clear: if you work hard and follow the rules, you too can someday build a company and have moderate success like him.

I’m sure the author meant well, but the idea that I (or anyone for that matter) need to follow a prescribed path to mediocrity is complete crap.

So then, how do you stop playing to the 80% and instead create things that shatter glass ceilings and truly change the game?

What Can Insects and Camels Teach You About Leadership?

One afternoon, way back in 2002 while taking an environmental science course at Johnson County Community College, our professor took us out to a local creek to test the quality of the water. One might think this would be as simple as purchasing a testing kit, dropping it in the water and seeing what color things turned. But, as it turns out, his strategy was far different.

Rather than deploying store bought testing kits, we collected various water samples and took them back to the classroom where we analyzed them under the microscope. Under careful scrutiny we were able to see that there were tiny aquatic insects living in the water. Barely noticeable to the naked eye, they revealed themselves under close and steady observation.

Why Facebook Continues to Win

A quote from Mark Zuckerberg at the Web 2.0 Summit when commenting on the current dogma of online turf wars.

“Your map is wrong. The biggest part of the map has to be uncharted territory — this map makes it seem like it’s zero-sum, but it’s not. We’re building value, not just taking it away from someone else.”

And that folks, is the difference between creating new and disruptive markets vs. just arm wrestling for market share. Brilliantly said Mark.

Creating a Solutions Mindset

Early in my life I adopted the belief that there are no problems, only solutions. This fundamental belief guided not only my life, but also how I managed and led teams.

When your focus is solely on a problem, you approach the world from a victim mindset. Your situation becomes something that’s happened to you or somehow isn’t of your making or responsibility. However, when you look at a situation with a solutions mindset, you are automatically empowered.

Achieving the Status Quo

One reason I love the Call Center world is that it breeds into you a passion for goal attainment. Everyday when you walk in the door you have a clearly defined set of short-term and long range objectives that must be met. You come in every morning, review your plan over a cup of coffee, then lock and load for the day ahead. Come snow storms, flu outbreaks, hurricanes, surprise mail drops or infomercials, fiber cuts, or product defects… you pro-act to react day-in and day-out to hit your numbers. It’s exhilarating. Really.

Hitting goals such as: Service Level, Average Handle Time, Average Speed of Answer and Agent Utilization are so core to call center operations that companies invest millions of dollars a year into technology and people with the sole purpose of attaining them. It’s also how people get paid. I can’t tell you how many compensation plans I’ve seen that reward people for hitting these types of “performance goals.”

The problem though, as I’ve come to realize it, is that they’re always the same goals. Day after day you are striving to be only as good as you were the day before. Secondarily, the goals are designed in such a way that they would be silly to try and do any better, ex. hitting an 81% Service Level for a day is really no better than hitting 80%. This means you are endlessly tweaking the machine to only achieve the same level of results everyday. In addition, the process is making you only as good as your competitors, not better than… This is sort of like endlessly adjusting your sails while at sea with the purpose being not to actually go anywhere, but rather just to avoid capsizing the boat. Isn’t the point of “goaling” to make you better? Perhaps make you more competitive or more profitable? So why then do we call these things “goals”? Aren’t they really just achieving the status quo?

Here’s an exercise to drive the point home: go through all of your reports, employee evaluations, and executive presentations and change the word “Goal” to “Status Quo”. Now start circulating these amongst the team and see what conversations come about. My guess is that once people realize the amount of money and resources going into efforts that do nothing to actually acquire or retain customers then priorities will start to change.