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Have you considered a visual resume? January 24, 2013

Posted by Jason in Management.
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Inspired by several examples of visual resumes and CV’s, I decided to package my seventeen years of engineering and consulting experience into one concise picture.  Personal branding is more than optimizing a resume for text searches and databases, it’s a demonstration of your ability to communicate a complex, abstract message to a variety of audiences.  Visual communication is often your best bet.

Visual CV Thumbnail

Check out VisualCV, Re.Vu, or ResumUP for great ideas and quick tools for creating your own visual resume.

What would you do with an immortal mouse? January 8, 2013

Posted by Jason in Management.
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This fascinating infographic highlights many possibilities – not just in discrete areas of science, society, and politics, but in your own life and business.

Tomorrow's World

I’ll place my own dubious odds that most people don’t think five years in the future, let alone ten or twenty.  It’s no mystery why: with too many unknowns, our brains freeze up and we regress to the much easier task of simply making it through the present.

But predictions like these – even if they have only a tenuous connection to reality – provide a unique chance to focus our thinking.  Using our future-mouse as an example, it’s an excellent chance to brainstorm a bit about how life and business will be different if that were to happen.  Not that it necessarily will, but by undertaking the exercise, you are training your brain to recognize these little opportunities when they do finally arrive.

What are the implications of an immortal mouse (and, by extension, a human)?  What would such an event mean for health, aging, retirement, education, or tourism?  Would people postpone “bucket-list” activities, anticipating human immortality by 2040?  Perhaps not, but if you’re in the tourism business, this could become an interesting aspect of your future strategic plans.

More down to earth (or above it), consider all the advances we have made that are dependent on the aging GPS satellites – such as agriculture noted in the figure.  This technology pervades virtually every aspect of the modern world, and there is no shortage of concern about its long-term viability.  Despite that new satellites are slowly coming on line, one must certainly wonder if there will be a change in ownership somewhere in the future.  Just as we are beginning to see private space flight take to the skies, will there someday be a subscription GPS service?  Will SiriusXM begin looking at a private GPS network in 2030?  Will your business be ready if it does?

Focused predictions like these provide a great seed for your company’s strategy sessions.  Surely they don’t indicate immediate action, but if you’re already thinking about them years ahead of time, you may just have that much more advantage when things really do change.

Would you like to supersize your data? January 7, 2013

Posted by Jason in Management.
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Is your organization “data-driven”?  Do you scrutinize your company’s analytics to understand sales, customer behavior, product improvements, or innovation opportunities?  Do you stand firmly behind Peter Drucker’s counsel that “you can’t manage what you don’t measure”?

Or are you confused by the term “big data” and wonder just how another database or piece of analytical software could possibly substitute for years of experience?

Either way, you may be right.

Naturally, business is governed by data.  At the simplest, we measure cash, inventory, sales volume, and numbers of customers.  Human intuition and assumptions (and especially memory) are often trumped by basic observations of hard numbers.  You can’t run a business based on feelings.

But on the other end of the spectrum, we have global organizations collecting unimaginable volumes of information, using it to understand the past and predict the future.  We live in a world of immense data gathering and storage capacity.  Whether we are, in fact, any smarter for it is open for debate.

IBM - Big Data Infographic

This HBR article highlights some of the specific ways data is used, and summarizes a few case studies of successful analysis, modeling, and application that led to increased efficiency.  However, the last two pages highlight what I believe are the most important aspects: the leadership challenges associated with using big data.  Another article paints a clearer picture of these challenges and quotes Thomas H. Davenport’s big questions when faced with a decision based on a data set beyond the bounds of human comprehension:

What data do you need?

Where does it come from?

What are the assumptions behind the model?

How is the model different from reality?

We’ve all heard the phrase Garbage In-Garbage Out.  This doesn’t apply just to the data, however.  It also includes the assumptions and structure of the model – the human construct is, by definition, only an approximation.  If we feed good data into a bad model, the results can be just as disastrous.

It’s tempting to buy into a system designed to boost your business, operations, or product development.  In fact, as the above figure shows, at least in the UK, big data focuses on customer-centric outcomes – in other words, things to improve the customer experience, attract buyers, or otherwise interact with the client base.  And for large companies that can improve on the margin over a large pool of customers, the law of averages says that big data may very well be a good enough approximation.

If, on the other hand, you run a small business with personal service to individuals, you may very well find yourself on the wrong side of the database.  As we know, humans are much more irrational than we give ourselves credit for.  While a large sample size can indeed yield beneficial predictions, individuals may behave quite differently than the model founded on untested assumptions.

In my consulting practice, we find quite often that companies have much more data gathering capability than they actually use.  Our challenge is to make the best use of the admittedly imperfect data, challenge preconceived assumptions, and then change a culture while at the same time reducing the dependency on inflexible methods.  Data is, then, merely a tool to achieve a needed change, but can in fact be as much a hindrance in the future once the change has taken hold.

This goes to show that the need for big data will be driven as much by the particular needs of your organization at a particular time as by the size of the business and its customer base.  Invest in big data carefully and in line with your corporate strategy rather than promises of improvements that may only be appropriate for a larger firm.

Are you giving away your intellectual property? January 2, 2013

Posted by Jason in Management.
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The recent Instagram debacle has more people talking about Intellectual Property rights.  For many corporations, IP is a very real concern, and a great source of corporate value.  Examples are various workshops, training materials, or design elements (whether patented, trademarked, copyrighted, or simply kept secret).

But what about personal branding?  Is there an advantage to an individual to share his or her intellectual property with a past, present, or future employer or client?  I think so.

One of the greatest threats to IP is that a competitor will use it to take some of the firm’s market share.  Another is that a client will perform work internally that it previously paid your firm to do.  While valid concerns for an organization, the individual is less exposed to these kinds of risks.  Unless you are an empire builder, you have little to lose by sharing knowledge, skills, and techniques with those around you – even clients.

Here is an example from my own work as a writer:

My value to a client does not come from my ability to strike plastic keys with my fingers.  That’s an easily outsourced task that with low intrinsic value.  Rather, I follow some process (which varies based on topic and audience) to synthesize various parts of the client’s business into a cohesive message and deliverable product.  I’m quite happy to explain in great detail how I organize the raw information and mold it into a finished piece.  Indeed, these are skills that virtually anyone can learn, and if the client was so inclined, could do for himself.

But that’s what distinguishes our separate business interests, goals, and differentiating value.  My engineering client wants to do engineering, not writing.  Surely he will benefit by understanding what it takes to write a good press release or technical article, and I’m all for teaching him (it makes the writer’s job that much easier).  But to keep the process ‘behind the curtain’ is to overthink the risk and ignore the additional value that comes from forming a partnership.  Instead of maintaining a black art, take some time to educate your clients and coworkers.

Knowledge is not a zero-sum game.