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Month: April 2010

Librarian looks up a real “solution”

A friend of mine runs the library at a small university near me, and she hears pitches all the time for neat technology. I suppose she doesn’t hear much about BI, just library stuff, but let’s not get hung up on the details.

To keep her priorities straight, she keeps a “ruthless focus” on the library’s real needs. She keeps Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in mind, the theory that people satisfy needs in order, from basic needs like breathing all the way up to “self actualization.”

She tells about one upstate New York librarian she heard about back when libraries were first urged to go online.

A consultant went to visit a small library — one of those Barbie Dream libraries that are hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and staffed so minimally that the library worker covering the single desk will excuse herself to change the toilet paper and greet the UPS delivery person.

So the consultant explained to the library director that the online catalog could do this, and it could do that, and it would have all these marvelous functions, and the library would be so much farther ahead, etc. etc.

And the practical old librarian who had been quietly listening tilted her head and replied, “I’d still rather have a flush toilet.”

I hear so much about “solutions” that I think are probably not solutions at all. So I found K.G’s excellent post refreshing. See what you think.

A “Bart” just wants protection from the “Marges” and “Homers”

One of the pleas in Mark Madsen’s fascinating keynote at the TDWI conference in Las Vegas was to let the “Barts” work. The Barts are, of course, the Bart Simpsons among us, the sometimes nerdy rebels who actually come up with interesting analyses and other useful things.

When the lights went up, a “Bart” was right nearby me at the big round table. Though he “loved” Mark’s salute to his work, consultant Rick Paul wanted more.

As a Bart, he works with a lot of “Marges” and “Homers.” In Mark’s model, the Homers are the everyday business intelligence consumers, about 80 percent of most work groups. The Marges are about 18 percent, and they actually think a little. The last 2 percent are the Barts, the ones who analyze and invent — and who’re limited by the BI systems built for Marge and Homer.

The more painful obstacle facing many Barts, says Rick, isn’t about any technology.

He tells how his team started with three people, all data architects, all smart. “We could do anything,” he recalls. Now the team has 120 members, many of them Homers. They’re of the 80 percent who consume but don’t invent or even think very much. “They’ll fake inability,” he says, “to tempt or coerce the three innovators to do their work. They say, ‘Oh, you’re so good at this. It’ll just take you a few minutes to do this.'” It really does take only a few minutes, but “it’s not thinking work.”

“I’m lazy,” he says, “but when I don’t want to do something, I figure out how to automate it.”

Rick says he’s still trying to figure out how this situation can be resolved. He mentions isolation, but he also thinks of encouraging the 80 Percenters to have some vision for their own careers. They should have some way to “add intelligence to their own work on a daily basis. They should be actively engaged with their work.”

Smaller teams might also work, he says. In a team of 120, it’s easy enough to do nothing for weeks at a time. It’s much harder in a team of, say, seven members.

“The innovators have to be positioned to influence the company,” he says, “but not be abused.”

Failure to communicate with the Boomers

Why do creative data analysts meet resistance? I’ve written about them before: many are young, they’re smart, and their credentials might still be slim. But they’re still a value to their employers, no matter who knows it yet.

At least some of it’s about Boomers vs. the up-and-comers. One corporate communications consultant I talked to, Liz Guthridge at Connect ConsultingGroup, has seen all this in action.

“Boomers are still interested in experts,” she says, “people with loads of experience and loads of credentials.”

Liz tells of one client, a Syracuse University alum, who hired a young guy as CIO. The newly hired young man was “impressive,” Liz recalls. Among other attributes, he had done a double major in college of public relations and information technology. This was his first job out of school.

The client, she says, kept belittling his knowledge — even though he was, Liz says, “really solid.” The problem was in the way the new CIO communicated with the boss.

Liz has advice for younger people with important things to tell their Boomer bosses. The first three points:

1. Think of the exchange from the senior person’s point of view. Since boomers love experts, always provide proof points. And not from Twitter but from boomer-recognized sources like the Harvard Business Review.

2. Network from the bottom up. Find out who the senior person listens to and talk to them. No explicit appeals, just talk.

3. Use the senior’s preferred communication channel. The woman who hired the CIO liked to schedule phone calls, not email or text.

The young CIO, she tells me, is still on the job, though he’s cut back his hours.