Tag Archives: Knowledge Management

How To Ask The “Best” Question

A client asked me about the “best” social game company the other day. Like most simple questions, this one had no simple answer. How was he defining “best?” The one that made the most engaging games as measured by how long users were playing? The one that sold the most games? The one that was most profitable? Or maybe the one that creates games that really are works of art? Each of those questions has a different answer in my mind so I did what a lot of we consultant types do: I answered his question with a question.

Putting my confusion aside, that simple question raises a good business thought.  Let’s ask it about TV.  What’s the best program on TV?  I might answer that as a fan – the one I like the most and which is appointment television for me:  Homeland, The Newsroom, and even a program that’s not on “TV”, House Of Cards.  Obviously, I’m defining “best” in a way that takes writing, acting, plot, and other factors into account.  I might answer it as a former TV executive (which I am!): The Voice, American Idol, and even Duck Dynasty come to mind.  They’re watched by some of the biggest audiences, they’re not particularly expensive to produce, and they take in a lot of money.

Which is the “best restaurant ”  If one of Thomas Keller‘s places come to mind, I’d agree answering as a foodie.  As a businessperson, maybe the right answer is someplace that feeds millions and makes over a billion dollars a quarter?  Not that McDonald’s tops any fine dining lists of which I’m aware.

The point is that how we answer questions is very much tied to our point of view.  If you’re asking them, it’s important to figure out from which perspective you want the answer given.  If you’re answering them, it’s critical that you ascertain the underlying reason for the question in the first place.  As with the above examples, your answer may be very different based on that.  A little clarity can go a long way in advancing business success. Have you found this to be the case?

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Failure And Feedback

One topic that’s near and dear to me is innovation.

Innovation and Evaluation

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Throughout my time in business the issue of how to do or produce something in a new, better way has always been front and center.  That’s why when I read that the Economist Intelligence Unit had conducted a survey of senior executives to explore the characteristics of companies that are adept at promoting innovation, I checked it out.  You can read the entire study here.  The study was sponsored by the Oracle folks, and not surprisingly it found that most companies struggle with innovation. The report says it’s really hard  to keep coming up with new ideas, particularly ones that people will pay for.  I know what you’re thinking – any of us could have told them that without a lot of research!  It’s what follows that I find of interest.

It turns out that the most innovative companies not only permit failure, but welcome and harness it to come up with more successful ideas. Yet nearly half of the respondents to the survey  say their companies have no system in place that helps them learn from failures.   Highly innovative companies also actively gather feedback and ideas from everywhere they can. Fifty-four percent of the top innovators they surveyed said they pour over customer comments, whether gathered in direct interviews or on social networks, and scrutinize customer data for clues to effective future innovations. They recognize that collecting many ideas is the first step to identifying the great ones.

There’s quite a bit more in the study but those two points are of most interest.  How many of us can truthfully say we work in an environment where failure is welcomed much less have a system in place from which to learn from those failures?  Nearly half (49%) of the companies in the study said their company had no system to deal positively with failure. Among companies that do have such a system (38%), redeploying employees involved in a failed innovation from one business unit to another has been a successful strategy.  Contrast that with the reports we read each day of companies jettisoning employees or products rather than making a pivot of some sort.

We’ve touched on the notion of feedback quite often here on the screed.  I’m a believer that a company can never have enough and we ought to look at every opportunity to get it.  The study confirms this as a key to innovation.

Help your folks to be free to fail.  Encourage them to get feedback in great quantity and with increasing frequency.  Do so and you’re well down the road to innovation, which becomes more important each day.   Make sense?

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Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

U2 provides the succinct summary this morning of some research published by the folks at Lynchpin and Econsultancy.

English: The content of tweets on Twitter, bas...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Those two concerns examined how companies are using and learning from analytics and their Online Measurement and Strategy Report brings us back to a theme we’ve explored previously here on the screed.  In brief, companies are finding out more and learning less.  What I mean, and what the report shows, is that companies have more data than ever about consumer behavior and yet because of a number of factors they find the data less useful and without context.

Here are a few findings:

A majority of marketers worldwide say that less than half of all the analytics data they collect is actually useful for decision-making. Just one in 10 companies thought a strong majority of analytics data was helpful, and less than a third said somewhere between half and three-quarters of all data was useful.

While finding the right staff has been also highlighted as a limiting factor in the report, one other issue that emerges after looking into the responses is that organizational issues are another common frustration.  These demonstrate themselves in ways such as :

There is one team in charge of web analytics – not a marketing team – so for the marketing colleagues it is a fight to try to extract data from the analytics team.

Huge and siloed organisations, complexity of aged infrastructure and sites, legal policies

Getting management agreement on goals.

Education of senior management in understanding the benefit of an integrated digital performance management process.

Once again we find that a lot of data isn’t necessarily a lot of information.  For that to appear we need to formulate actionable business questions that are concerns of as many stakeholders as we can involve and then seek out the appropriate data to answer them.  The more we know the less we understand, apparently, and many businesses still haven’t found what they’re looking for despite drowning in data.   I think that’s kind of amazing and a bit sad.  What do you think?

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Buying Shirts

If you’ve ever walked through the part of a big department store where they sell men’s shirts (and ties – remember them?), you might have noticed that there’s almost an infinite number of choices.

WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 28:  A shopper looks thr...

(Getty Images via @daylife)

At least it seems so to me. Collar styles, colors, patterns, and cuffs are all mixed up in a lot of variations. I suppose it’s the same in the dress department – an overwhelming number of possibilities.  I bring this up because a project in which I’m involved has stumbled into a figurative department store.  The technology is filled with possibilities.  So many, in fact, that we’re at a point where we need to exclude some intriguing avenues just so we can get to the checkout with something in our carts.

Working with highly energized, very creative people has a downside.  They tend to see so many possibilities – all the shirts and dresses – that they’re often running off in a hundred directions while not really advancing.  To a certain extent, that sort of war gaming is critical.  It’s a less formal type of decision tree analysis that many of us like to do.  However, there comes a time when the branches of that tree with less potential or which don’t meet near term goals (and for new ventures that usually includes kicking off revenue pretty quickly) need to be trimmed off.

In this case, what we’re trying to do is to lay out all the possibilities, to look at the possible outcomes of making each choice, to assign values and probabilities to each branch of the tree and to make a decision based on our best guesses and whatever information we already have.  In other words, buy a shirt.  We’ve spent enough time trying things on and holding them up to the mirror.  We need to get out of the store and get to work.  And so do you!


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Cuts Like A Knife

I know it isn’t Friday but since we’re heading to the weekend and our Foodie Friday Fun tomorrow, I thought I’d head us in that direction a bit early.

A Kitchen Knife.

A Kitchen Knife. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I came across this article about a bizzare kitchen occurrence and in addition to feeling a need to share it with you all I’m thinking it makes an excellent business point. Let’s see what you think.

This comes out of Kuala Lumpur and is via the Press Trust of India:

In a freak accident, a Malaysian restaurant cook slipped and accidentally stabbed herself to death with a kitchen knife, police said.

Cynthia Tan Kian Hoon, 41, was cooking breakfast when she fell forward, right into a knife she was using. The six-inch knife which she was holding in her hand, pierced into her ribs.

She died shortly thereafter, having cut a main artery.  Tragic, but instructional for the rest of us.  No, the point isn’t to wear non-slip shoes or to use duller knives.  In my mind, it has to do with something I see quite often and maybe you do as well:  people getting hurt (killed!) by the very tools they need to do their work.  Sometimes it’s accidental; more often than not it has to do with someone not understanding how to use the tool in the first place.

Take web analytics.  People regurgitate meaningless data points instead of looking for data to answer actionable business questions.  Then there’s a focus in social media on “likes” and “follows,” not on the quality of interaction or the transactional value of the social exchange.  It’s not limited to the web or to media either.

This was a tragic accident and like most accidents it might have been prevented somehow.  All of us who work with the tools of our trade should spend a few minutes thinking about how the very things that help us make a living can hurt us if they’re misused.  I think we’ll all be surprised by how much of the pain is self-inflicted.


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Being Prepared

A very long time ago that seems like yesterday, I was a Boy Scout.  Given that it was the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, being a part of a quasimilitary organization (or even any organization other than a rock band) was a fairly brave thing to do on my part although I certainly didn’t see it as such at the time.  The thing that scouting impresses upon you almost from the outset is the need to BE PREPARED.  Yep, in caps.  Be prepared in mind, be prepared in body.

"A Boy Scout" Boy Scout Cigarette Card

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I got to thinking about that the other day as I left a meeting.  I had spent several hours getting ready – trying to anticipate questions I might be asked, learning about the company and person with whom I was meeting – and the prep work paid off.  We had a very productive session, hopefully the first of many more.  Rather than spend a lot of time going over preliminaries, we were able to move into the real questions each of us had for the other.

When you drive beyond a town you sometimes come across a sign for a new housing development that’s nothing more than some roads.  It’s easy to say “I have no clue what this is, what it will look like, if it’s worth thinking about, etc.”  But someone has to build the road first. Sure, it’s all empty lots, there’s not much around. But being prepared is building the road.  Equipment and workers can’t get in without a road; nothing much can happen in any project or meeting without prep.

I used to say I didn’t want to walk into any meeting where I hadn’t already answered the questions.  What I meant was that I always wanted my team to get ready in advance by thinking through all the possible options, the potential questions, and projected outcomes.  That wasn’t about predetermining the outcome.  It was about being ready to discuss any and all thinking.  More importantly, it was showing respect to the other participants in the room by not needing to get up to speed or to schedule another meeting because you need a lot more time to gather information.

So today’s thought is the scout motto:  be prepared.  As a teacher you learn that every hour teaching is preceded by an hour or more of prep.  It’s been a good lesson to carry forward into business – devote as much time to preparing as to doing.  You’ll be surprised how much more actually gets done.

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Me Or Your Own Eyes?

You’ve probably heard some version of the 18th century joke about a wife who, caught by her husband in bed with a lover, denies the obvious and adds: ‘Whom do you believe, your eyes or my words?’ The Marx Brothers used a variant of it in Duck Soup when Chico, dressed up as Groucho, asks “who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?” Obviously people believed their own eyes since the quote is usually attributed to Groucho.

Groucho Marx

Groucho Marx (Image via RottenTomatoes.com)

I thought of that quote as I was trying to explain a report to someone. They kept telling me the same story about what was going on in their business even though the data was saying something quite different.  Who was I going to believe: them or my own eyes?  Or my own data?

One of the big trends these days is a discussion of “big data.”  In a nutshell, almost everything we do these days in business generates data, and most of the managers I know are drowning in the stuff.  Despite that, most of the companies in which these managers work are not what I’d call a data-driven culture.  In fact, they suffer from the same issue mentioned above.  The will often fit the data to the story instead of letting the data help them solve the questions raided in the telling.  McKinsey stated in one of their reports that:

By 2018, the United States alone could face a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytical skills as well as 1.5 million managers and analysts with the know-how to use the analysis of big data to make effective decisions.

What’s needed is change management with a goal of developing a data-driven culture. Maybe that’s too strong – how about a culture in which data isn’t subordinated to the role of being used selectively to reinforce or justify bad decision-making?  At some point, people have to learn to trust their own eyes – the data they see – and not the stories they hear.  That’s what I think – you?

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