Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The ego driven Business Intelligence professional

It is said that implementing a Business Intelligence program is one of the most daunting journeys a company can embark on. We all have heard the statistic that 8 out of 10 projects fail to meet at least one (if not all three) of the success objectives: timeline, quality or scope. Numerous articles have been written on the failures, and detailed analysis of why programs fail abound in the internet. I would like to focus this blog on the BI professionals who made the projects successful and take a deep dive into what motivated them to continue to push for a successful delivery while many others failed on the way.

After multiple interviews with colleagues across different organizations, one factor emerged as a potential explanation: most of the projects that succeeded, literally had been through the effort of “organizational heroes” who continued to look for solutions even after they had encountered significant obstacles. I was truly surprised that even those projects which were considered very successful went through a period of uncertainty in the event of one or multiple failures. The projects which were successful were not the ones that did not face any problems, but the ones who were able to quickly recover from failures and open other paths for success.

In fact, one of the phrases that came out as a theme was “Do whatever you need to do, but fail fast”. If failure is not an option, but a stepping stone for success, we come back to the core issue that this blog is trying to explore:  why some projects have organizational heroes that are able to recover from whatever failures goes through? The answer surprised even me: Ego.

Wikipedia defines ego as the realistic part that mediates between the desires of the id (uncontrolled instincts) and the super-ego (moralized rules). In practice, ego relates to how proud an individual is of their professional work, mediating between perfection and disdain.  People with a healthy ego will recover quickly from any and all failures as they have the desire to do well and don’t get lost in the intricacies of trying to deliver a perfect product. People with a strong id or a strong super ego will not be able to manage failure well, either they will immediately give and will not care to try to again or will spend an exorbitant amount of time examining what went wrong and how to avoid another similar failure, effectively incurring in “paralysis by analysis”.

As such, it becomes of paramount importance to consider ego as one of the primary criteria when selecting team members for these projects. You need people who have already showcased the ability to learn from their failures by internalizing the right amount feedback and making the required change faster than the time it takes to declare the project a failure. Further, as a manager you also have to be mindful of how you are interacting with the team to help them focus their energies and ego! into solving the project problems/issues rather than being worried about how they will be perceived or larger issues like career progression (e.g. promotions or other incentives)

ego is not something you are born with, but something you learn through experiencing success and failures in life.  However, given the importance that it plays in life (and projects!) it is something you definitively need to be aware of and more importantly a character trait that you need to cultivate and protect in the right way.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Creating Competitive Advantage through Diversity and Information

Competitive advantage is commonly defined as “an advantage that an individual/firm has over its competitors”. While very generic, the definition is very insightful, it compares an entity not to itself but to the rest of the population, highlighting how this self is different from the remainder of the population, explicitly calling them competition.  

From the moment a human being is born, we are mentally wired to compete for our mother’s attention and resources. As a baby, we might not be aware of our surroundings, and perhaps more importantly, we don’t care. We define our needs as absolute, and whenever these needs are not met, we cry.

As we grow-up and mature, the manifestation of how we intend to fulfill our needs might change but the same nature remains: we are always competing with people around us, pretty much on everything. A kid with a natural ability for numbers might want to be the “smartest” kid in the classroom, while an athletic kid might compete on different sports, and maybe one more can excel in making relationships and compete for class president.

Reality is that we are all born different and each of us has unique gifts or natural talents that give us a competitive advantage in particular areas. However, as you grow-up, you start to realize that nothing is absolute and you cannot rely on your natural talents forever. Other’s will improve theirs through hard work & creativity which will generally lead to innovation.

Business organizations are very akin to individuals, given that they are created, run and controlled by individuals. Individuals get together in companies to form new structures that combine the competitive advantages of individuals to form something bigger than the sum of its parts.  By being able to provide a medium for multiple individual talents to come together and compete as one in a “business marketplace”

This blog will postulate that the most successful firms take advantage of two principles to further create competitive advantage: 1) Diversity and 2) Information. Let us explore each of them separately.

Diversity: it is incredible that even with 7+ Billion humans on Earth, each of us continues to be unique. We are born with a specific set of gifts that are shaped & developed by where and how we were raised. The different experiences that we all go through as we grow-up leave behind specific learnings which when properly leveraged with talents from other individuals’ create a unique value proposition that is incredible hard to replicate by a single individual or a group of similar individuals.

Information: as individuals we shape our perception of the world through the information that we receive. However, as we start maturing, we start setting-up filters on that information that protect us from the “wild” world. It is a natural outcome of this process after a while for people to stop processing new information and focus on what they know & like. We carry our assumptions and our experiences forward, trying to fit all new situations that we might find in life to a template of a past situations and we tend to make decisions based on gut feelings rather than hard facts.

Diversity and information are tightly coupled because in order to effectively use information for decisions, you need to overcome many obstacles. Surprisingly the obstacles for effectively leveraging diversity and information are very similar and can be summarized in two fears:

Fear of unknown: we all fear what we don’t know, and typically both being inclusive of diversity and using information require us to take a leap of faith, by trusting new paradigms that take us out of comfort zone. We need to control our fears and be reasonable and have confidence in the outcome of the process which we might not be able to immediately see nor it is familiar  

Fear of change: once we get comfortable with something, we don’t want to let it go as we don’t know if what is coming next will be better than what we have today. It takes real effort and some bravery to face change and convince yourself that this is required to continue to grow

Early on this blog, I postulated that we are wired to compete from birth using our natural talents; however, in order to effectively compete we need to do it as an organization, not as individual, and in order for organizations to be competitive, they need to rely on diversity and information which requires the individuals within the organization to overcome their fears.

Getting to this level of personal maturity is not easy, our journeys are filled with obstacles – most of them created by ourselves over the years – but it is the intent that matters and results will show along the way.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The gift of being yourself

Have you ever dreamt that were someone else, perhaps a colleague at work who is doing extremely well or maybe a famous/rich politician with significant influence or power? If you answered yes, you are not alone; at some point in time in our lives most of question our own identify and wonder what could be if we were someone else. While it is normal to ask yourself this question at some point in your life, this blog will attempt to convince you why you need to dispel that notion and accept yourself with all your personality traits.

Let us start by understanding the external pressures of why the world wants to erase “you” and replace “you” with someone else, remember that you live in a planet with a few billion people and technically you are part of a large collective that we called humanity. The collective has strong interests that are being influenced by key people in our society, for example politicians want voters to completely buy-in into their agenda and not only vote for them but convince other voters to vote for them as well. The military, one of the largest employees worldwide, is based on the premise that you need to follow orders and more closely at home, whoever you live with, most likely have also tried to change some aspects of your personality as well.

Now that we understand some of the external pressures, let us explore why it is important that you stay true to yourself. Imagine that all the people in the planet are puzzle pieces if we were all the same, nobody could assemble the puzzle as for the pieces to fit together they have to be different so they can interlock in place.
Further, let us take something as a sports team, pick your favorite, soccer, cricket, football, basketball, it does not matter. What matters is that the sport is played by a team and each individual on that team plays a different role, which is an important and required position. Just imagine if out of the 11 players on a soccer field all of them were the goalie, who would score the goals and defend the mid-field? We need the diversity in our lives as much as the soccer game needs each individual to play its assigned role.

Let everyone of us, put this in the context of work, family and friends. What is it that each of us uniquely brings to the table and would be missed if you were to become somebody else. In case you have trouble picturing this set of qualities, I want to make a reference to the popular “Lego” movie. For those of you who saw it, you will remember Emet. Emet was a happy construction worker who enjoyed life one day at a time, while his friends thought he was not special, he turned out to really be the chosen one, coming-up with ideas that literally saved day that not even the master builders of the movie were able to come up with.

In conclusion, each of us brings something unique that we might not be realized it until there is a need for it. It is an irreplaceable gif that is unique to each of us which in turns contributes to make the world a better place.