Seth Godin wrote a wonderful post on how we sometimes need an external push (through laws, policies, cultural guardrails) to do what’s best for us. It can be basically summed up by the following statements (from the post):
We know that wearing a bicycle helmet can save us from years in the hospital, but some people feel awkward being the only one in a group to do so. A helmet law, then, takes away that problem and we come out ahead.
Guard rails always seem like an unwanted intrusion on personal freedom. Until we get used to them. Then we wonder how we lived without them.
I was just thinking about true this is for so many other aspects of our lives. The friends we choose, because of the context they set, determine many of the decisions we make, and consequently many of the paths of life we take.
When setting up a company, a department, a team – how important it would be then to make sure that the cultural norms we encourage and enforce are the ones we want.
Whether it’s a culture of success (however you define it); freedom of experimentation; openness of communication; risk taking; or hard work, it is our job as servant leaders to ensure that it’s the least awkward thing to do.
There is a huge difference in working with a team that you know will be with you for only a single project and a team that you know will be with you for still many more.
When you’re working with a team that you know will be with you for a long time, you may do what needs to be done to achieve a favourable outcome for this project, but understand the outcome of the sum total of all potential projects to come is just as important, if not more: setting the right precedent and ensuring goodwill among all (as far as is reasonable!) needs just as much attention.
But with the team that you work with for only a single project, you do what needs to be done to achieve the best outcome for this project without too much regard to how that might implicate future interactions with the team. Thinking long-term when you shouldn’t could potentially hurt the outcome of this project.
If you’re only going to be working with them for this one time, setting a bad precedent or upsetting one or another doesn’t matter too much.
(This post is more a reminder to me than anything else: last year I worked on several one-off projects, during which I was always in this “long-term” mode of thinking. I tried pleasing everybody and making sure I didn’t set poor precedents – “fairly” distributing workload, for example, to people whom I knew couldn’t perform, ultimately hurting the results of these projects.)
I’ve written about shipping before: the act of delivering a product; an article; a report; a piece of art. You can have the best ideas in the world, but if you don’t ship, they’re worth as much a ton of gold at the bottom of a rubbish heap.
“We don’t know if the data’s 100% right – are you sure we should publish it? What if they question us? What if we have to change something later? Shouldn’t we validate some more till we’re completely sure?”
Yes, you should – if you had all the time in the world.
But we don’t.
We have done our homework; we know the assumptions; we know there are issues with the data but these are not show-stoppers. For our purposes, 90% is good enough. If we waited till we were 100% before shipping, nothing would be shipped.
Let me admit right off the bat that the post today contains less original thought of mine and more myself reminding my future self on a fact I always intuitively knew about but never saw documented anywhere: that in a sales funnel, an increase of in an earlier stage of the funnel quite naturally lends itself to lower sales conversion rates in the following stage(s).
From the book The Perfect Salesforce by Derek Gatehouse (a great book on building and managing a sales team, and that I thoroughly enjoyed, by the way – read my full review on goodreads.com):
A bigger machine will have more parts to fix and more leaks to patch. You cannot fight the natural byproduct of growing larger…
And if your closing ratio happens to drop from 25 percent to 15 percent over a five-year period, you should be okay with it: because it is an inevitable part of being bigger and, more relevant, given the choice, you would rather close 15 percent of five thousand prospects visited than 25 percent of one thousand prospects!
It is also interesting to note that Gatehouse doesn’t believe in “fixing” the lower sales conversion rates, saying that the top sales-centric companies focus on the sales instead of “the ones that get away”. This may sound slightly controversial, but not so much if you understand that Gatehouse very much believes in playing to your strengths and not shoring up your weaknesses.
They took our data, ran it through their software, and they got the answers that eluded us for so long.
I was told they were a big consulting company, which meant they probably had great, restrictively expensive software that could do the job. That’s why.
But I don’t buy that argument.
Great software needn’t be expensive.
I’ve lived and breathed great open-source, free technologies growing up. Linux; Apache; PHP; MySQL; WordPress; Python; R.
Are any of these free technologies inferior to their paid counterparts? In development (including data science) work, I don’t think so.
So why were they “successful”? Why could they come up with an answer we couldn’t?
My guess: they were a consulting company with less vested interest.
They came up with an answer. But would it have been better than the one we would have come up with if we were in their shoes? I don’t know.
As a consultant I’d have been much more liberal with my analyses. No matter how badly I mess up, the worst that would happen would be that my company would lose a contract. And chances are good I could push the blame to the data that was provided, or having been provided the wrong context, or information that was withheld.
When you’re part of the company, you have far more vested interest. Not just in your job, but your network, both social and professional. Consequences extend far beyond they would if you were an external consultant working on “just another project”. I’d be far more meticulous ensuring everything was covered and analyses properly done.