Going Beyond the Box

Think outside the boxBoxes are great for containing things. Whether moving or just trying to clear the clutter, a box comes in very handy.  You might even choose a box with some character, scratched out handwritten labels, shipping stickers and ancient yellow packing tape.  Yes, the box is a great thing.

But a box can also describe the perspective we live in.  Along the lines of “stuck in a rut,” living inside the box is a familiar place.   The box is the universe we live in, not only the physical space of home, work, the grocery store and the coffee shop, but also the mental world, the thoughts, the emotions, and the perspectives on the world.  By this definition, the box can start to take on a different feeling.

The life you live is the sum of the decisions and actions you make.  These decisions have many different types of influences, be it from your friends or networking group or from the thoughts which pass through your mind.  While many of us are quite content with the box we’ve built for ourselves, others may not be.

Change is how your box changes shape, color, and even location.  “Think outside the box” is a phrase we often use to set loftier goals for ourselves.  In fact, personal growth happens most when we step outside the box we’ve come to love.  A life of learning, new places, and new people is a great way to keep your box changing forever.

Here are some ideas to go beyond your box:

  • Take an online course – many are free and cover a wide variety of topics.
  • Join a book club – Sure, Oprah comes to mind, but reading is a great way to expand your box, as is engaging in discussion.
  • Invite a peer out to lunch – Not only do you get to experience a new atmosphere, but you share the experience with someone and bond with them.
  • Learning a new language or instrument – Learning to speak German or how to play Pachelbel’s Canon on the piano, the process of learning something new stimulates brain activity and makes you feel good.
  • Meditate – breathe, let your thoughts go, and relax.  Reflect on the thoughts which come up naturally and be prepared to write them down afterward so you can take action.
  • Take a vacation – it does not have to be an exotic place like Thailand, but a change of scenery is enough to get you thinking differently and open your horizons
  • Take a different route home from work – this is one tip I love and practice daily. You never drive home the same route day after day.  This opened me up to new routes and I found some places to visit at the same time.

While the box is a really cool thing, it is okay to think about life outside the box.

Your Online Identity is as Permanent as a Tattoo

The digital age is here and technology is increasingly finding new ways to improve, measure, and interact with our lives.  Can you remember what it was like to organize an event without Facebook?  Can you remember what it was like to mail real photos to your grandmother in the mail instead of online?  It gets harder and harder everyday.

The digital world is keeping track of us.  Facebook has admitted to tracking your browser history even when you are not logged into Facebook.  Google indexes every tweet, every public Facebook post and every photo it can find of you.  Yahoo!, AOL, and your ISP are all joining in.

Have you ever thought about what it take to delete that awkward photo of you taken at a party one night which a friend put on Facebook?  How about that not so nice tweet you accidentally said your mind in about your boss?  What we post online is as permanent as a tattoo.  Check out the TED Talk below for more:

The Best Hobbies

An interesting quote from Dr. Vogel on Dexter caught my mind recently.  They were referring to murder as a hobby when Dr Vogel said:

“The best hobbies take us furthest from our primary occupation.” – Dr Vogel, Dexter

If hobbies are at the opposite of our 9-5 jobs, then what does this mean?  As an Analyst with Marketing and Sales expertise, I spend my day job working with data, creating visualizations, and helping stakeholders understand the health of their business.   I bring to life the power of KPIs and creating conversation about the business through data.  Fascinating patterns and changes in trends spark the best conversations.

It is the more computer based hobbies I spend time on.  From flight simulator (FSX and X-Plane) to triathlon analysis, I do spend more time on the computer than sleeping.  Lately, I have split my time between BootStrap, a web authoring platform from Twitter, and analyzing the 2013 Santa Barbara Triathlon race results.

As a hobby, though, the last thing I want to do is sit in front of a computer at home.  In fact, if Dr. Vogel is right, the best hobbies for me would not involve a computer at all and would focus on the physical as opposed to the virtual.   Interests of mine include art (sketching and watercolor), photography, gardening, triathlon, writing and music.   Interestingly, none of these hobbies are very frequent in my life other than triathlon training.

So, what’s the point of all of this?  Balance.  Dr. Vogel’s comment illustrates the need for moderation and balance in our lives.  Spending too much time behind the computer is not healthy.  So is spending too much time at work.   The balance involves leaving the computer behind after hours, heading outside and experiencing a wider variety of activities in life.   Hobbies are a way of expressing ourselves while relieving stress and spending time with like minded people.   Get as far away from your day job when not in the office as possible!

Working With Data

Data is the future.  The future will continue to see an explosion of data collection and an increasing need to digest it.  This is what the industry refers to as “big data.”   The ability of one company to collect, analyze and take action on large amounts of data can be a serious game changer in the marketplace.

Any stakeholder who seeks to be successful in their role will leverage data.  Given the imperfections of our world, the stakeholder may have access to a limited data set.  While the stakeholder recognizes their need for clean, accessible data, the IT and BI teams may be months away from delivering.

The stakeholder has has two choices: 1) throw up their arms, complain about the data and cause a ruckus, or 2) work with the data they have and make the best of the situation.

Throwing Up Their Arms

“The data is wrong!” yells the marketing analyst sitting in a meeting with IT and BI teams.   The IT and BI managers shrug their shoulders and reply, “then tell us what is right.”   The marketing analyst bangs her fist on the conference table in frustration.

Bottom line, stakeholders who don’t embrace even the worst data, does not understand how to measure their business.  I’ve seen exchanges between BI and stakeholders where data has been subjected to strict QA by the stakeholder, but the stakeholder has never referred to the data as wrong.

Work With the Data

Every stakeholder interested in a data set needs to have the long term picture of the business in mind and understand the KPIs and other metrics involved to manage their part of the business.  All data used in analysis are typically seen through the lens of the business KPI which provides the context.  Chances are a stakeholder would never accept a data set that is so far from the truth to be useless.

Based on my career, the best course of action is to work with the data you have.  Granted you might not be able to answer more complex business questions, but you will start a journey along a road that will get you there.  Take the data you have and create three lists:

  1. parts of the data set that works for your requirements
  2. parts of the data set that should be modified
  3. parts of the data set that are important, but not pertinent to the requirements

Your goal is to understand the ins and outs of the data you have and create a constructive list of actions that evolve your knowledge and the data set into a market changing analysis. Providing documentation on to help the IT and BI teams evolve your data and turn into your pot of gold is the best course of action.

Data is Not Static and Neither is Your Knowledge

Keep in mind that as you interact with data, ask questions, build more detailed documentation and draw correlations or disassociations, your data will have to change to follow your in-depth understanding. This is why maintaining a positive relationship with the team that you rely on is so important.

Iterations of data sets can be subtle and they can also be large.  Just remember, that the data you had for version 1 is NOT wrong compared to version 2.  When reflecting back on version 1, understand where you came from and that you are looking at a less evolved set of data.  Then you can laugh when you look at version 3 and wonder how you managed the business with version 1.

Working with data is an awesome thing.  It should be a fun, productive journey for both the analyst, IT team, BI team, and all stakeholders involved.   When you here the word “wrong” come up, defend the evolution of data and point out that perfect data sets don’t come out of thin air.

Where’s YOUR Documentation?

Any good reporting/analytics team in a company must have a foundation.  Whether the reporting/analytics team is in Marketing, Sales, Finance, or Customer Service, documentation is the foundation by which companies operate and communicate.

Without documentation there is no:

  • foundation to build reports
  • no defnition of data
  • no way of effectively communicating concepts
  • evolution of data understanding
  • reporting

For each employee working at a company, we have a responsibility to maintain documentation.  When the Business Systems team comes knocking with their questions of how your part of the business operates, you will be ready.

If you are presenting sales figures to the executive team, you NEED to have an understanding of what your figures include and don’t include.  It is your responsibility to understand your part of the business.

Even the janitor requires documentation.  What’s the sequence to cleaning the offices, how often do the desks and keyboards get wiped down, to how often they need to order toilet paper, maintaining an office for busy employees depends on documentation!

So, where is YOU documentation?

Keeping It Simple

KISS = Keep It Simple Stupid

Complex things overwhelm.  Simple things are easy and build confidence. 

So why not take complex things and break them down into many easy simple things?

Losing weight isn’t about one big thing.  Its about a number of small things that lead to the big thing, weight loss.

You don’t replace a transmission in one big motion. You take a series of smaller steps to remove the transmission and then reinstall it.

You don’t build a successful business overnight, you build a team, design a product, create a website, and build the business one step at a time.

KISS

FlowingData: How to Make Bubble Charts

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FlowingData has a great tutorial on creating bubble charts using R. Bubble charts are like scatter plots, but with a third dimension, size of data point. You are able to tell a greater story using bubble charts as opposed to more traditional charts.

Of course, the latest versions of Excel (PC & Mac) have bubble charts built-in.

Cheers!