Business Book Review: Start with Why by Simon Sinek

Perhaps a better subtitle might be: ‘Start with Why: how Great leaders inspire others to focus’ and succeed.

Great leaders and organizations are good at seeing what most people can’t see, which is the mindset of having a longer-term vision. Starting with clear focus and *why* is a great start, and presumably shows that you have really thought about it.
People, brands and organisations need to start with WHY give people a way to tell the outside world who they are and what they believe.

As an external consultant, I have found the ‘celery test’ extremely useful when advising customers. Here is Sinek himself, on the topic:

Although the subtitle is about inspiring great leaders to take action, I found that I took the idea of ‘focus’ away from the book. Sometimes, I see organisations acting like a start-up; trying to achieve a breadth and coverage quickly, and hoping that something will stick with customers.

Starting with WHY means that organisations can achieve integrity, because they will have success, and a story to go with success. Organisations, large and small – and even one-man-band consultants – need to think about their megaphone and what they are actually saying to customers.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that customers pay much attention. Instead, they ‘snapshot’ and you only have a small time to get your message across. By keeping your messaging simple, it means that there is less ‘noise’ for confusion.
I recommend you read it – I found it inspirational, and it helped me to get back to my ‘story’, and to think about my customer’s ‘stories’ as well. I read that it was over-long but I liked Sinek’s way of weaving story and ‘relatable’ anecdote with the points he was making. Sometimes I would find something different in the anecdote than his intention, so I was taking my understanding to a different level.

Favourite Quotes

For values or guiding principles to be truly effective they have to be verbs. It’s not “integrity,” it’s “always do the right thing.” It’s not “innovation,” it’s “look at the problem from a different angle.” Articulating our values as verbs gives us a clear idea – we have a clear idea of how to act in any situation.

 

Review: Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Perhaps a better subtitle might be: ‘Start with Why: how Great leaders inspire others to focus’ and succeed. Great leaders and organizations are good at seeing what most people can’t see, which is the mindset of having a longer-term vision. Starting with clear focus and *why* is a great start, and presumably shows that you have really thought about it.
People, brands and organisations need to start with WHY give people a way to tell the outside world who they are and what they believe. As an external consultant, I have found the ‘celery test’ extremely useful when advising customers. Although the subtitle is about inspiring great leaders to take action, I found that I took the idea of ‘focus’ away from the book. Ofte, I see organisations acting like a start-up; trying to achieve a breadth and coverage quickly, and hoping that something will stick with customers. Starting with WHY means that organisations can achieve integrity, because they will have success, and a story to go with success. Organisations, large and small – and even one-man-band consultants – need to think about their megaphone and what they are actually saying to customers.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that customers pay much attention. Instead, they ‘snapshot’ and you only have a small time to get your message across. By keeping your messaging simple, it means that there is less ‘noise’ for confusion.
I recommend you read it – I found it inspirational, and it helped me to get back to my ‘story’, and to think about my customer’s ‘stories’ as well.

View all my reviews

Microsoft Data Insights – Digital Transformation with Power BI for the CEO

I’m holding a series of training courses around the UK, more details will be published. In the first instance, on 15th September, I’ll be holding a day-long practical workshop on Working with Business Data for Busy Executives in SME Organisations in Hertfordshire, England. The cost will be £100 pounds plus VAT, food and workshop materials included, and you can also network and share experiences with other attendees who will also be running businesses, like you.

I don’t believe in a ‘stack ’em high’ approach, which doesn’t give a pleasant experience for learning. So, classes will be restricted to 12 people only, unless otherwise stated. This means that you will get a good amount of attention.

I’m doing the Executive MBA at the University of Hertfordshire Business School, I’ve also been a NED (Non Executive Director) for PASS, who are based in the United States.  As I’ve been spending time leading organisations, I’m keen to share this knowledge and expertise with the community from a data-driven, data leader perspective. The following blog post will give you a flavor of the workshop. along with some of my thoughts on Microsoft Data Insights Summit. If you have any questions, please pop them in the comments box and I’ll read them from there.

Here are my slides from Microsoft Data Insights Summary, combined with some of the slides from the keynote by James Phillips, held in June 2017.

Slide1

For those of you who know me, you’ll know that I have extensive experience in Tableau as well as Power BI. However, most of my consulting data visualisation is in Power BI suite of products. Why is that?

Tableau is wonderful at data visualisation, as is Power BI, of course. However, for enterprise customers, where I’m building a data warehouse, I prefer having analytics closer to the data source, perhaps in a data warehouse or data lake. I like to think about the overall business intelligence architecture. Tableau is superb at data visualisation and it also cleans and integrates data, but to a much lesser extend, which is why they partner so well with Alteryx. I don’t like cleaning data or doing repeatable analytics so close to the end reporting layer and business people seem to want to do it there, without thinking of issues such as robustness, repeat-ability and longevity in the analytical formula that they are creating. I prefer to hand off clean data and analytical formula to the reporting tool as far as possible.

I’m not thinking about Business Intelligence in terms of a spot solution for data visualisation or reporting, for example. I’m looking at the whole canvas. I prefer to clean the data and have it all fixed closer to the source, so that I can get the same number for the same report, regardless of the reporting technology that I use. With Power BI, I can stay within the Microsoft playpen of technologies. I do note however that Tableau Server is in Azure and if you are looking at analytics, that’s another option so that the analytics formula isn’t contained in disparate workbooks. Instead, they are published to Tableau Server and people can should download their workbooks there, for ‘one version of the truth’.

As an external consultant, I work with Power BI because I think it has an astonishing reach technically as well as geographically. Some of my customers are global and I really need the certainty of global resiliency.. Gone are the days when Microsoft had a lot of disparate reporting technologies that didn’t talk to one another very well and we had lots of different interfaces that used to overlap. Customers got really confused about what to use. For example, do you put your KPIs in Analysis Services, or in Reporting Services? Now:

The answer is always Power BI! Take a look:

Microsoft Data Insights Summit

Apart from Data Visualization, what is Power BI useful for?

Power BI is particularly useful for:

  • businesses that are acquiring other businesses and they need somewhere to put the data, and keep the business running in the meantime
  • cost savings
  • GDPR – if you don’t know what this is, you need to contact me to find out more. Microsoft are in the forefront of working with customers to make sure that they are compliant.

Do I still see Tableau?

Yes – some of my customers don’t need public cloud because they pop up their own data centres if and when and where they need them. So, for them, they tend to stick with what they know, and what works for them.

What Business Intelligence tools do I see less of?

I see Qlikview less and less, as customers look to align their reporting and they can replicate their Qlik scripts in SQL Server and SSRS.

I also don’t see Pyramid Analytics appearing much, and I don’t get asked often about them. According to the Gartner report, 2017 may represent a critical period for the company and, rightly or wrongly, the Gartner Magic Quadrant does carry enormous weight when customers are looking for solutions. With many solutions, customers don’t use the full range of features contained in any technical solution, and Pyramid are going to have to work hard to explain how they compare / compete with the Power BI on-premise solution, which is going to go from strength to strength.

However, for others, particularly in the SME market, the Azure offering is extremely compelling. Power BI and Azure together mean that you can focus on the business, rather than working on the technology to support the business. I can also see that more and more data is going into the cloud, and I am part of projects where I am doing exactly that – cloud business intelligence. Cloud Business Intelligence is a real growth offering for me and I plan to keep being ahead of the curve.

Microsoft Data Insights Summit

Are people using Power BI or is it simply good Microsoft Marketing?

People are using it, yes. Here are the numbers, produced by James Phillips during the Power BI Keynote: Microsoft Data Insights Summit

Power BI and the C-Suite

Given it’s reach within the organisation, Power BI can reach the C-suite level as well as the rest of us, in the organisation. Before continuing, it’s probably worth reading about linear vs exponential business growth models e.g. HBR.

 

You can watch the video below, or read on for some of the headlines:

Here are some headlines:

Gross and Net Profit

Net profit

Progress Towards Targets

Revenues and revenue growth rate

Expenses

Employee Engagement

Let’s get started!

Gross and Net Profit

Slide18 Why do CEOs care? As part of the Digital Transformation process, the CEO must develop a guiding philosophy about how he or she can best add value whilst showing ongoing strategic assessment and planning. However, it is difficult for them to allocate time to the collection, cultivation and analysis of data. Instead, they need to focus on strategic decisions, and they need data to run their business, to understand how their customers behave and measure what really matters to the organization. Power BI can help to bring clarity and predictability to the CEO, and this session is aimed at CEOs, and those who support them with data, in order to see how they can be empowered by Power BI, and see it as a key asset within the organisations short and long term future. Slide16

Net Profit

This goes without saying, but keeping an eye on net profit at all times is essential for business leaders. This might be visualized as a line graph or quarterly chart. However you decide to represent the data, it needs to provide detailed, regularly updated information. You can get added value by allowing this data to be broken down.
With Power BI, you’d be able to tap your chart and see real-time data on profits by region, product type or team. First you calculate your gross profit, then your expenses, subtract expenses from gross profit, and you have net profit.

Calculate Gross Profit first:
Gross profit, also called gross margin, shows you how much money you made from selling a product.
It subtracts the selling price from your wholesale cost to calculate the difference. It does not take into account expenses from rent, personnel, supplies, taxes or interest. Gross profit is a required step toward calculating the company’s income or net profit.

Progress Towards Targets

You can use EXPON.DIST function in Microsoft Excel to help measure progress towards your targets.
Use EXPON.DIST to model the time between events, such as how long from the order placement takes to actual delivery. For example, you can use EXPON.DIST to determine the probability that the process takes at most 1 minute.

Revenues and revenue growth rate

By being able to instantly visualize how fast (or otherwise) your business is growing its revenues, it’s much easier to find out what’s going right and what’s going wrong. Need to lose some dead weight? Invest in a growing department? Respond to a new trend among consumers? Tracking your revenues closely is crucial and will help with those decisions. A line graph would again be particularly clear in this instance.

Slide22 Slide21

Think of a Rubik’s cube – people instinctively know how to use them, and to arrange the cube into colors. We also interact with colour and data in the same way; intuitively and quickly.

Expenses

Whether it’s staff, machinery, IT or property, your expenses are one of the biggest drains on your long term success. A dashboard can break these down instantly so you can see where your biggest outgoings are, and then make decisions about what’s costing too much.

Revenue per employee
Revenue per employee is a little like Return on Investment. Are your people actually making enough revenue to justify hiring them? Are they working at 100% capacity or is there room for them to work more, instead of employing new workers? A revenue per employee dashboard helps you make these choices rationally.

Employee Engagement

Measured by an anonymous survey, employee engagement is a key BI factor for any CEO. If your people are motivated, enthusiastic and giving their work 100%, you can be sure your company will grow. By contrast, unengaged colleagues will be a detriment to productivity. It’s essential to keep regular tabs on how employees are feeling about their work.

 

Summary

As part of the Digital Transformation process, the CEO must develop a guiding philosophy about how he or she can best add value whilst showing ongoing strategic assessment and planning. However, it is difficult for them to allocate time to the collection, cultivation and analysis of data. Instead, they need to focus on strategic decisions, and they need data to run their business, to understand how their customers behave and measure what really matters to the organization.
Power BI can help to bring clarity and predictability to the CEO, and this session is aimed at CEOs, and those who support them with data, in order to see how they can be empowered by Power BI, and see it as a key asset within the organisations short and long term future.

PASS BA Analytics Days coming up

BA Day Atlanta

Enjoy a day of intensive business analytics training.

BA Days are one-day learning events designed to provide intensive, in-depth training on business analytics topics.

To register or receive more information about either of the two upcoming 2017 BA Days, click on one of the dates below:

Wednesday, June 21 in Atlanta, GA, USA
o Data Science with Excel, Open Source R, and Python for Data Analysts
o Beyond the Basics – Advanced Power BI for the Business Analyst

Tuesday, August 1 in San Diego, CA, USA
o Applied Data Science in a World of Big Data
o Telling Compelling Stories Using Data to Achieve Business Goals

Sign up for the BA Insights newsletter for expert knowledge, articles, and information on future BA Day and other training events. Just go to myProfile and update communications preferences.

Azure Cosmos DB for the rest of us: 5 part blog series

For Business Intelligence and Data Science professionals, we like nothing better than the excitement of new ways to store data. So there was a lot of excitement over Azure Cosmos DB when it was announced at Build 2017.

Azure Cosmos DB can be described as the ‘everything everywhere’ database. Multi-model, all kinds of consistency, and so on. And that’s what many organisations want… something that’s close to a one source of the truth – it’s a one source for the data. But does that mean it’s the right source? How can the BI or Data Science consumer understand it? They are the ones who can be closer to the sign-off authority and they can help articulate the need for it.

I was interviewed recently for TechTarget and it became clear that the language and terminology can make Azure Cosmos DB’s utility harder to understand if you are new to it. I read the announcements and I thought… what does it actually mean, in the real world to Business Intelligence, analytics professionals and Data Science spheres? Hence this digestible blog series, aimed at explaining it in plain English for the people who will be the ones to consider using it. When you read the material, it pretty much says that Azure Cosmos DB does everything. However, it won’t do anything if it isn’t understood or made relevant.

Over the five days, I’ll pick out some of the underlying technology and why it’s useful in it’s different guises. In today’s post, I’ll pick out some of the terminology and explain what it actually means. Over the next four days, I’ll talk about the different flavours of database that are contained on Azure Cosmos DB, aimed at BI, Analytics and Data Science professionals. I’ll talk about some of the pieces that you can make use of in Azure Cosmos DB such as

  • Key-Value
  • Document Databases
  • Graph
  • Columnar / Column-Oriented Databases

Hopefully, by the end of the series, you’ll be as excited by the opportunities of Azure Cosmos DB as I am. If not, that’s ok – it’s possible that the technology isn’t for you, and inaction is an action in itself.

So let’s get started. Let’s look at the Azure Cosmos DB definition, taken from Microsoft’s site:

Azure Cosmos DB is the first globally-distributed data service that lets you to elastically scale throughput and storage across any number of geographical regions while guaranteeing low latency, high availability and consistency – backed by the most comprehensive SLAs in the industry. Azure Cosmos DB is built to power today’s IoT and mobile apps, and tomorrow’s AI-hungry future.

web-shutterstock-105518339

What?!?!?

Ok. Let’s go through that again, at normal person pace.

 

 

 

globally-distributed – distribution of computation close to the geographic location of the data and the users. It goes beyond interconnection of servers as in the ‘olden days’ of
legacy architectures. In this definition, the distribution of workloads within the
architectures must be visible, adjustable, and automated.

What does this mean for you?
It means you have the capacity to use the cloud facility closest to you. This is important for legal and practical reasons, such as data privacy laws in your region, for example.

elastically scale throughput – these means that computing resources can be scaled up and down easily by Azure. Azure will adapt to workload changes by provisioning and de-provisioning resources as required. If your requirement spikes for some reason, then it will rise up to meet demand. available resources match the current demand as closely as possible. Elastically scaling throughput refers to the capacity of information units being processed, and this processing does not need to be static.

What does this mean for you?
Think of your monthly reporting. Many organisations will run financial reports for the month end. This is a ‘spike’ in requirement, which you only need 12 times a year. You don’t necessarily want, or need, to buy servers and network resource specifically for this purpose; in fact, it may be overloading your existing resources. This is where Azure steps in. You could, for example, have VMs that wake up once a month, run your reports, and then go to sleep again.

elastically scale storage – your application to size the storage according to throughput and storage on demand, worldwide. Azure Cosmos DB is intricate enough that you could even scale second and minute granularities. You can accommodate unexpected spikes in your workloads, or size downwards as required. This is a change from previous architectures, where the database has often been the least scalable component in architectures. Often, the phrase  “scaling the database” means a project in itself.

What does this mean for you?
A data storage tier of an elastic application might add and remove data storage due to cost and performance requirements. For example, it could vary the number of used Virtual Machines for example – virtual machines ‘on tap’, if you will! Azure can monitor your elastic applications for you.

low latency – latency is the delay between a client request, probably a request made by you at your computer, and a cloud service provider’s response to that request.

What does this mean for you?
A data storage tier of an elastic application might add and remove data storage due to cost and performance requirements. For example, it could vary the number of used Virtual Machines for example – virtual machines ‘on tap’, if you will! Azure can monitor your elastic applications for you.

high availability – this sounds depressing but it’s very necessary. It assumes that there are points of failure at every component of a system, and that these points of failure will fail at some point. High availability is preparing that eventuality, by building in strategies for coping with for failure using automated processes to recover from it. Fault-tolerant systems designed for high availability are achievable in the cloud.

What does this mean for you?
It means keeping the lights on, and your  business running.

consistency – different entities (nodes) have their own copy of some data object, and they may not always be the same. This is a big topic and you can research further for yourself; this is tip of the iceberg – or speck of dust in the Cosmos? There are different types of consistency.

Eventual Consistency – this is the situation where conflicts can arise. However, nodes communicate their changes to each other to resolve those conflicts. In time, each node will agree upon the final value.

Strong Consistency – all nodes agree on the new or updated value. Here, all updates are visible to all clients simultaneously, which introduces a requirement for blocking in update operations.

What does this mean for you?
Let’s take the case of an online shopping basket. Your purchases may be up to date on some nodes… but not all of them. The others need to catch up in order to resolve the conflict. This may not be noticeable by you or the purchaser. This would be eventual consistency. In strong consistency, you want the data to ‘agree’ – for example, your monthly reporting. Your consistency level depends on your requirement.

 

How does this relate to Azure Cosmos DB?

Business value will be created in the applications and reorganizations enabled by Azure. You don’t have to worry so much about the Cloud infrastructure itself, for example, when considering tuning for throughput – Azure Cosmos DB allows you to easily increase or decrease the amount of reserved throughput available to your application. Also, since it is globally distributed, Azure Cosmos DB will replicate your data wherever your users are. For Business Intelligence and Data Science consumers, that’s incredibly useful for your users.

You can think more about your applications and workloads. Often, developers don’t want to think about database structures and they can rely on ORM tools to write SQL for them. This is really giving developers something that they do anyway; have a very forgiving place to store data.

You can choose what consistency you require. With Azure Cosmos DB, developers do not have to settle for the extreme consistency choices that I described earlier  – strong vs. eventual consistency. Instead, Azure CosmosDB offers some ‘grey’ in there by offering 5 well-defined consistency choices:

five-consistency-levels

Credit: Microsoft https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/documentdb/documentdb-consistency-levels

 

Consistency Levels and guarantees

credit: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/documentdb/documentdb-consistency-levels
Consistency Level Guarantees
Strong Linearizability
Bounded Staleness Consistent Prefix. Reads lag behind writes by k prefixes or t interval
Session Consistent Prefix. Monotonic reads, monotonic writes, read-your-writes, write-follows-reads
Consistent Prefix Updates returned are some prefix of all the updates, with no gaps
Eventual Out of order reads

 

As we progress through this series, we will add more to this question. But for now, over to you!

Your homework!

Here are some videos on Azure Cosmos DB for you to view. You can learn more about the research we implemented in Azure Cosmos DB by watching this video from Turing Award-winning, Microsoft Researcher, distributed systems giant and an inspiration, Dr. Leslie Lamport.

Next steps!

Tomorrow, we will talk more about key-value databases and how this is manifested in Azure Cosmos DB. Standby for more Azure Cosmos DB goodness!

A spoonful at a time: Dealing with the Imposter Syndrome with Spoon Theory

My friend Julie Holmes posted about a great article on the Imposter Syndrome recently. I’ve decided to share one aspect of how I am working to manage and improve myself professionally. I’m a work in progress, for sure, with a few sticking plasters in place.

What is Imposter Syndrome? Most people describe it as a feeling of being fraudulent; you’ll never be as good as other people think that you are. Mine is slightly different. It has occurred to me that I’m muddling along, trying new things before other people, and that’s why I run into issues.

“Don’t be the first to do something. Be second.” – David Bowie

For my version of Imposter Syndrome, I experience this as having two streams of thought. One thought talks about the things I need to do; my MIT (Most Important Tasks) list (not a ToDo list, which is like a wishlist!) – thank you Gordon Tredgold for that inspiration. The other stream is almost like a film script, and the working title is: you’ll never be good enough. Fear is writing that script, and it means that your decisions are inspired by fear rather than data or evidence. Fear is limiting, so how do you find some sort of even keel?

e0d1c789d2ac0f8d85e29d3d642b7bd1I am learning to tame my rampant inner imposter syndrome with a variation of spoon theory. If you haven’t read this article about spoon theory, I suggest you do that first. It’s by Christine Miserandino in 2003 in her essay “The Spoon Theory” on her blog But You Don’t Look Sick.
I’ve decided that I have only so many ‘spoons’ (or insert other nouns!) to give out during the day, on things that I care about. If it is worth a spoon, then I can write it down on my mind sweeper journal as part of my Bullet Journal efforts at productivity. For more ideas on that, head over to the wonderful Boho Berry‘s site.
So when I hear something imposterish – usually within about five seconds wakening up, when I start to think of all the things I need to do – I have started to ask myself if that thought is really worth a spoon or not. It’s a conscious effort to ‘undo’ the train of thought, but I’ve found that this trick is helping me to re-evaluate my train of thought before it goes charging through the day.
I’m brought down to earth enough, as it is.

Recently I got a LinkedIn invitation from someone who has never spoken to me in person. However, what they probably don’t even remember is that they wrote a personal series of criticisms about me,  in one of my presentations during my early career. Honestly, it nearly finished my speaking career because I didn’t think I could ever get back up on the stage again. I was flattened.

Speakers take feedback forms enormously seriously. I received the feedback, and contacted the event organisers to apologise profusely that they had received all of this commentary.  The writer had put a lot of effort into it, and it was about a page.

The event organisers pointed out to me that the rest of my comments had been excellent, I was well above average and they would be pleased to received submissions in the future. I was hugely relieved. There were two takeaway points here: I hadn’t noted the good feedback I had received, just the scorching paragraphs which were not constructive. Secondly, it showed me that, no matter how much you try, you can’t please everyone. There was nothing in the scorching feedback that I could take away and I could not do anything constructive with it at all. So, I started to grow a thicker skin, and I got back up on the stage. Initially, I had kept the feedback in a Word document on my desktop for six months – just to remind me, how close I came to nearly giving everything up. I didn’t accept the LinkedIn invite, because I don’t know them, and I didn’t want to open a door of communication to invite further comments – I’d seen enough already.

I did read the feedback again and I realised that I give myself enough criticism, without absorbing other people’s as well. It was time to grow more skin, and then I grasped onto the spoon idea.
If you think I’m crazy, that’s ok 🙂 I’ve been greatly inspired by Jim Carrey, recently, of all people – his thoughts on motivation, and his life experiences are shared with such humility, honesty and love for the human race that I’ve seen behind the persona. Jim Carrey talks about finding peace and letting go of our inner critic; and if you can watch his insightful YouTube videos, you’ll take a lot from them, I’m sure. I strongly suspect that he will never see this, but if he does, thank you, dear man, from this playful heart.
But it is helping me to be more confident and spend my ‘mental space’ more productively on the things that deserve it.

I hope that helps someone – if you have Imposter Syndrome, grab yourself some mental spoons and spoon your way through it. It won’t go away, but it will help you to be easier on yourself.

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