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The Analytics Payoffs

For a lot of years I’ve been sharing a conclusion from decades of observing small group activity. I believe that when 5 or more people work together effectively on a challenge they bring the intellect of at least a genius to the work. It doesn’t matter if the group members are smart or high in an organization or what we believe is well-educated. I watched it for years and then put a measure to it.

Back when we used to have more time during training or planning or decision-making settings I used to administer a short quiz fashioned after the preliminary entrance exams for membership in Mensa, the society of genius-level IQ holders. I would do it as an intellectual warm-up. In order to determine if you could gain entry to Mensa you would need to score at least 7 out of 10 correct answers.

Every group, whether made up of corporate executives or hospital maintenance workers, to which I gave the test scored 7 or higher. Around half would score perfectly.

Today, the use of analytic techniques is proving my point. At the Wharton People Analytics Conference an interview published on Knowledge@Wharton cited Google’s head of HR Laszlo Bock who is an evangelist for the use of analytics in the field. Teams, when put together correctly, are at least geniuses.

The Wharton interview is full of useful bits of information. Make sure an employee being “on-boarded” meets their management on the first day. A person’s success at a company depends heavily on who they work for. A team IQ is often greater than the sum of the parts. A mix of introverts and extroverts along with norms of behavior make the most productive teams. Moneyball got it right and is at least partly responsible for the upsurge in the people analytics.

Surprisingly, the best firm on hiring, according to Wharton experts, is Teach for America. A not-for-profit that has embraced analytics in order to get better teachers in front of kids. But the organization also knows that they don’t know enough yet. That’s a good lesson for those of us who are futurists. Go with the best information you have but always doubt it and find even better ways of making good decisions.

The biggest question about the use of analytics overall? Why more top leaders are not embracing it. Whether it’s a lack of hubris or a fear that it might replace jobs it’s a baffling question but the condition exists. I hope for a change.

320px-DARPA_Big_Data
In almost all of my busiest industry niches there’s buzz about “Big Data.” Mostly buzz. Not much there, there yet. But it’s coming in a big way and the harbinger may be people measurement, especially help in hiring. Another observation I’ve made over the years of managing my own businesses was that a bad key person hiring (manager, salesperson, technician, creative talent) would cost at least 3-4 times their annual compensation. People analytics is proving it now.

While there’s more buzz about marketing analytics than anything else in the media my bet is on human resources as the place where the first major inroads will be for analytics in organizations.


A Conversation

I was the closing keynote presenter and moderator at a worldwide information technology conference a few months ago. One of the attendees and panelists was a very knowledgeable fellow from Canada, Stephen Ibaraki. Stephen is a founder and chair of a global information processing council. He approached me at the event about doing an interview.

We had a 90 minute conversation recently. Stephen provided thought-provoking questions in advance that ranged well outside the IT field to the global economy, trends, human adoption habits, and many others. You may find it interesting.

The
podcast can be found here.

2012 - The first half in the practice

2012 began as our busiest year in a decade. For the first six months of the year I’ve been on an almost non-stop schedule of strategy sessions, conference presentations, retreats, decision-making meetings, and consulting projects. Financial services, telecommunications, agriculture, executive education, information technology, and healthcare have been the most prominent sectors.

Among the highlights:
  • An interesting decision-making project for a financial services client. The eventual outcome will establish a path for the organization for at least the next two decades. Like all of my best clients this group is taking time and a major due-diligence discipline in order to choose correctly.

  • Executive education sessions in strategic leadership and “anticipatory habits.” I’m usually in front of a few hundred mid to top level managers from corporate environments and a similar number of governance participants from the association and cooperative space. This is some of my most rewarding work.

  • National-level strategic planning for resource-based industries in North America. The global focus of my work and scope of my forecasting background helps provide a baseline for advising and facilitating planning in this environment. Two very engrossing projects stand out in the first half of 2012. Both involve organizations with huge upside opportunities in a world with growing populations and burgeoning middle classes.

  • A deep dive into government agencies as advisor and strategic advisor. While I’ve done advising work with government clients in the past (look here) I worked on a project that broke new ground in the past six months. It was a government agency that had never gone through a formal strategy process before. It was a combination of education, facilitation, and development. Very interesting to see the group take to the processes under a highly respected leader.

  • I moderated professional society meetings recently that gave me a global perspective and insight to the intersection between business considerations and those of specialized expertise within organizations. Every organization needs professionals that generate the intellectual property, streamline the workflows, manage risk, and protect the most precious assets. As an attendee/reporter/moderator/presenter I was able to see connections, take away lessons, and pass along advice from a high-level observer’s perspective.

The E-Reader Killer

The other day I spent about an hour with an iPad.

Those of you who know me or follow this site know I’m a Mac convert. I switched from what the Apple cognoscenti refer to as the “dark side” seven years ago. It’s been a very good experience. Frankly, the Windows world has improved much since I left. But there’s a bigger issue here.

I believe I held the device that will kill the e-readers. Convergence is coming.

When I sit next to a Kindle or Sony user on airplanes I hear rave reviews. Convenience, long charge life, portability are the things they mention. But they also acknowledge it’s another gadget in the bag along with the laptop, smartphone, and various accoutrements of the business traveler today.

With the iPad – and what will be a shrinking horde of imitators over the next few years – you get much more than the reader. It’s really a true lap companion that does much more than just show you a replicated black and white page. It’s a full color, multi-tasking, e-mail and word processing handler – at the minimum. Some power users make them much more.

And the price is just a little more than double the e-reader. Why not spend the little more and get something that does way more than twice the lower priced gadget?

Key indicator – the dropping cost of e-readers. http://nyti.ms/afXw0u A price war has already begun. Developers see an adoption disruption early. Amazon bumps up its advertising.

Patent Harbinger: Where is Distributed Energy Headed?

I advise clients to watch certain metrics for emerging direction. A good example popped up recently in all the hype over the Bloom fuel cell announcements.
Bloom is a startup that has built fuel cell “servers” supplying electricity to a number of Silicon Valley firms. If you’ve missed the hype there’s a healthy helping
here. The servers at those big SV firms run a cool $750,000. Not pocket change to us consumers.
The Bloom technology is interesting because of a several factors. 1) It
might scale down. The company’s statement that they could be producing home-sized units for a $3000 price point in a few years causes ripples in the energy sector. 2) It shows off a technology that’s taken a back seat in the media, fuel cells. 3) It demonstrates early hype for a technology. I encourage skepticism when something gets too much media attention.
But what caught my eye as my scanning system picked this up is the longer term pattern of patents in “clean energy.”
My favorite weekly scanning source, The Economist, showed this chart at left.
When you think “alternative energy” or hear it in a politician’s speech you probably think solar, wind, electric vehicle, or maybe biofuel. You don’t think of fuel cells. But a patent rate three times the other technologies causes me to point to it as a trend to watch carefully.
The Economist hypothesizes it’s due to corporate R&D stimulated by government subsidies. Probably the major driver. When you start delving into the practicalities of the Bloom style of cell you see problems. Very, very high operating temperatures. 24 hour a day operation which gets to be a problem if you can’t sell your electricity back to the grid especially at night when demand is low. A reliable source (read that as natural gas).
My forecast: true renewables like solar and wind look like the best bets. But keep an eye on fuel cells for the long term.