How to be hyper-decisive
What does it mean for an organisation to be future-ready?
At the Prophix Conference in Nashville this week, I heard from a variety of thinkers and leaders who confirmed many of the key traits that I believe offer a measure of future-readiness. And I heard, and presented, evidence of how far from demonstrating those traits, most organisations remain. Our organisations continue to lack agility because we are poor at collecting information, poor at processing it, and poor at taking decisions on the basis of that information, relying overly on gut-feel not good, hard evidence.
A variety of solutions to this challenge were presented at the conference. Polly LaBarre, founding member of the Fast Company team and author of the best-selling Mavericks at Work, talked about a changing culture of leadership, and the shift from enforcing direction to asking questions. Her instruction was to “walk in stupid” each day.
Gary Simon, managing editor of FSN and founder of the Modern Finance Forum, a global network of more than 50,000 finance professionals, highlighted issues from his research into innovation and planning: Most companies still struggle to forecast accurately, reforecast with sufficient frequency, and worst of all, to offer the leadership real insight from those forecasts to drive better decisions.
Howard Dresner, former Gartner analyst, founder of Dresner Advisory Services, and the man who coined the term ‘Business Intelligence’, talked about the concept of companies becoming “hyper-decisive”, leveraging “information democracy” across the organisation to allow decisions to be taken rapidly, by people at all levels, based on solid data.
Notably, while this was a conference hosted by a technology company, the common theme running through these talks was about skills. Walking in stupid each day is about mastering your own ego, but also understanding what questions to ask. It’s about a fostering a curious, analytical, and most importantly open, mind. Turning numbers into insight is about the technical skills of data manipulation and analysis, but it’s also about skills of storytelling and narrative. Information democracy can only become real of the skills of data literacy are widespread across the business.
Listening to these leaders talk, I was brought back to one of my most common questions, one that I have written about frequently here: What skills do we need for the future? To me, Polly, Howard and Gary all seem to be talking about the three Cs I laid out back in about 2015 (maybe earlier): curation, creation and communication.
All of us need the skills of discovery and qualification, the ability to recognise gaps in our knowledge and understanding, source data to fill those gaps, and validate it (‘curation’). We need the ability to manipulate that information, apply it, and turn it into something of value (‘creation’). And then we have to sell our new creation to our colleagues and customers, wrapping it in a compelling story (‘communication’).
Dresner’s vision for the modern management practice continues to evolve, with the idea of ‘hyper-decisiveness’ forming the topic of his upcoming conference at MIT. He defines this as, “instantaneously processing vast arrays of data and information, and delivering actionable insights to a growing community of users.” Technology is clearly part of the answer. It allows us to collect this information in real time, automate some of its processing, and present it in a dynamic fashion. But none of this is of value unless our community of users, across the organisation, is equipped with the skills to use that data to improve the business every day, and drive better decisions.