The one piece of advice everyone in analytics needs to hear


conversationI was recently asked why I would recommend my new class, Explaining Analytics to Decision Makers:  Insights to Action.  The answer goes back to some great advice, a lunch of eggplant parmesan and in another more twisted way, to what was ironically affectionately known as the “bomb plant.”

Early in my career I was working for a large company on a project.  On this project was Bill, a well-respected, seasoned professional.  It was known Bill was a year or two from retirement.  Far from waiting out retirement, this gentleman was floating from project to project with little pressing responsibility and offering advice where he could.  I knew of his reputation as a respected engineer and was pleased that through a good friend I had gotten to know him.  Bill had heard that I was considering leaving my current position and starting an independent consulting practice to provide analytical support to a variety of clients.  (This was well before today’s market and was more of a stretch than such a plan would be today.)  He suggested we meet for lunch to discuss my plans.

Adapting to changes

Over lunch as we discussed my plans, he reflected on his long career.  After growing up in east Georgia, he found himself misplaced both psychologically and professionally by the development of the Savannah River Plant.  Affectionately known by the locals as the “bomb plant”, the building of the plant changed the region.  Following a theme of all great southern writers, it was the backdrop of a changing South and the undercurrent of life captured by Pat Conroy in The Prince of Tides.

But Bill’s story was direct.  Life as he knew it, based on a tight circle of life long contacts, had changed.  He had found himself in the big city and had to live his off engineering skills.  He talked about how his life changed and how he had to change.  I listened intently as he was easy to listen to.  He imparted his expansive knowledge with an easy manner.  I was not aware he was leading up to a life changing moment for me.

Selling yourself is key

Halfway through the eggplant parmesan he delivered a straightforward statement.  “You’re good enough to do what you are planning to do.  And if you attempt to do it you will fail for only one reason.  That reason would be not recognizing how hard you will need to sell yourself and your work to get business.  You may think you are smart enough that people will come to you without that effort, but it is not true.”

Over the years I have had countless bright people tell me they want to do what I do – running a small consulting firm working on a variety of projects.  I am asked for advice and I do my best to prepare them.  I ask them how they like sales.  “No, I don’t want to do sales, I want to do analytics,” is the reply.  I have seen many fail, very predictably.  Without Bill’s advice, I would have failed too.

Bill’s advice applies to anyone in any analytics job, anyone who wants to increase their value and increase their position in their careers.  I have seen many efforts to explain analytics fail.  I have been responsible for my share of them.  I have learned that the skills and objectives are different than expected.  Like Bill did, it requires stepping out of your comfort zone.  I try to capture those differences in my new class.  In part, I do this as a way of thanking Bill.


About Author

Jeff Zeanah

President of Z Solutions, Inc.

Jeff Zeanah is President of Z Solutions, Inc., a firm focused on customized analytical consulting for over 20 years. He has consulted with industry leaders in manufacturing, retail, software, public health, science, finance, and utilities. A frequent lecturer on the topic of explaining analytics and the management of analytical projects, Jeff enjoys sharing field experiences with colleagues. As a recognized expert on neural networks and a broad range of exploratory data mining tools, Jeff has authored papers on neural networks, exploratory data mining, and the implementation of those techniques in organizations. He is the developer of exploratory approaches and techniques that have been used by Fortune 500 companies, independent researchers, government agencies, and over 30 universities worldwide. Jeff’s approaches have been applied in areas as diverse as market research, software license compliance, tasting wines, nutrition, sizing electric transformers, and classifying stars.

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