February 06, 2011

Analytics Sunday: Chip On Your Shoulder

This is a picture of Aaron Rodgers, the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers.  Today, Green Bay plays Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl.

It's been said that Mr. Rodgers sometimes has a "Chip On His Shoulder".  In other words, from time to time, he'll feel "slighted" when something happens to him, causing him to motivate himself to perform even better to prove others wrong.  He wasn't recruited by a big college (or, for that matter, any college).  He was drafted 25th by Green Bay in the 2005 draft.  He wasn't selected for the Pro Bowl this year, in spite of staggering statistics and a Super Bowl caliber team.  He replaced a beloved legend.  He used these issues to amp his performance, to prove the doubters wrong.  Heck, it has been said that he has a list of every NFL team that chose not to draft him ... he seeks to play well against those teams to prove to those teams that they should have drafted him!

Negative events can define you, or negative events can motivate you.  In Aaron's case, he uses each slight as an opportunity to prove his doubters wrong.  And here he is today, leading his team in the Super Bowl.

You are an analytics expert.  This means that, at some point, you're going to alienate folks, especially the punditocracy.  There are executives, psuedo-analysts, information technology leaders, data mining practitioners, business intelligence leaders, vendors, and web analytics experts who have a financial or political interest in protecting their position in the industry.  You will threaten their position, because you are going to innovate, you are going to offer metrics or analyses that contradict their worldview, undermine their business model, impede upon the message they actively sell to their own community, or diminish their perceived influence in the industry.

Their objective is to shut you down.  The executive won't share your data in important meetings.  The IT staffer won't create the database you need to conduct your analytics work.  The web analytics leader will produce research that illustrates the exact opposite fact that your research illustrates.

When the community attempts to shut you down, you have at least four choices.
  1. You can get in line, an do exactly what the punditocracy wants you to do.  In kind, you will earn psuedo-love from the punditocracy.
  2. You can fight, tooth and nail, to prove that you are right, and you may or may not win.
  3. You can turn the other cheek.
  4. You can place a chip on your shoulder.
Right or wrong, I tend to place a chip on my shoulder, though I know it's written that it is wiser to turn the other cheek.  I tend to be motivated by being challenged, motivated to demonstrate what the data is telling us is more relevant than the opinions of a select few.  I can look back over nearly 25 years in this industry, counting all of the innovations that grew from times when somebody disagreed with what the data suggested.

Now, there's an art to being motivated by negative feedback.  If you get negative feedback because what you are sharing is fundamentally flawed, well, then you need to accept the negative feedback.

But if you get negative feedback because what you are sharing stands in stark contrast to the published message of the punditocracy, and your message accurately represents customer behavior, then you've earned the right to soldier on, and you probably need to soldier on in a diplomatic manner.  You can still do this while having a chip on your shoulder.

Be motivated by the data, and the truth!  Don't let an executive or industry pundit squelch you, instead, find a forum to share your message.

An example:  I once worked with an executive who did not agree with the message I was sharing, though the message was going to be very important to the future of the company.  So I created a daily quiz that I shared with the executive team ... I asked a question, gave three choices, then shared the answer revealed by actual customer data.  Did this technique nearly get me fired?  Absolutely.  Was I able to evangelize my message and teach folks how customers truly behaved?  Absolutely!  Did I have a chip on my shoulder.  Oh yes!  I was not going to be stopped, I was motivated to share facts as revealed by actual customer behavior, I was not going to be motivated by a potential hypothesis that fit somebody else's worldview and was only valid for a minority of customers.

If you do your job well, you are going to be excluded, you are going to be criticized.  

Somebody is always going to demand that you "stay in your swim lane".  

If you're going to be forced to stay in your swim lane, you may as well try to win the race.