Do you make decisions based on data or based on your gut? In this episode, Tim Reitsma and Darren Person—Global CIO at The NPD Group—talk about the importance of a data-driven culture and how we should approach creating this culture.
- The NPD Group is a market research company specializing in bringing the world’s point of sale data together with the goal of helping retailers and manufacturers make better decisions, both around how they should price and promote their products as well as what types of products and features they should bring into those products. [1:59]
Leadership is really about understanding and engaging with your teams and understanding the needs that everyone in your organization is different in each and every way.Darren Person
- A big part of leadership is really understanding your people. [4:11]
- During the pandemic, Darren created a “what’s on your mind?” session. [5:14]
- According to Darren, there are two parts of leadership: the inside-out and the outside-in perspective. [7:05]
- While Darren created the “what’s on your mind” session internally, he also created a CIO outreach program with other clients that they had. [7:47]
- The larger concept of building a better world of work, it’s really how do we leverage both the assets that we have internally and our entire network to figure out the best model and how do we help each other be more efficient, better at what we do, and take stress out of what we do. [10:53]
- Darren shares how making data-driven decisions supports a better world of work. [12:55]
Data is like a guide. It’s there to inform what decisions we make and also to be able to help explain why we made them.Darren Person
- A lot of companies are collecting data. It’s really about picking the right metric for that business and that’s going to be a different metric per company. [18:25]
- The kind of decision making is understanding your customer. It’s understanding when’s the right time to introduce something that’s game changing. And that requires a bit of that gut instinct. [21:07]
You need to create smaller iteration so you can fail fast and fail cheap, versus fail big and take a long time to do it.Darren Person
- Everyone wants to know what the goal is. Not everyone wants to be told how to get to that goal, because each of us is different. We all have ideas and we have different points of view on how we can get somewhere. [31:21]
Focus on the outcome, let the teams focus and think through the how, and that’ll hopefully help you guide towards where you want to get to.Darren Person
- Our people are our biggest and our most important asset. [32:54]
- Darren shares a metaphor on how he thinks about leadership in an organization. [33:43]
Even if you have the right people, if you put them in the wrong positions, you’re not gonna be very successful. You really have to figure out the balance of both.Darren Person
- Darren shares where someone can start towards creating that safe space to become that data driven organization. [35:26]
Meet Our Guest
As Global CIO, Darren leads NPD’s Technology Group, encompassing the company’s operations and technology organizations and is responsible for spearheading the development of NPD’s next generation platform addressing clients’ needs through innovations in data and analytics.
Darren is a Silicon Alley technology executive with more than 20 years of experience across a wide spectrum of industries. Prior to joining NPD, he was with RELX Group, a global information and analytics company, where he held several key roles driving the technology vision, strategy, and execution from cloud migration to implementations of enterprise scale data and analytics.
Before RELX, he was CTO for CBS Television Stations and held senior technology and product leadership roles with Lifetime Entertainment, Adecco, and USA Networks. Darren is an active participant in supporting his industry colleagues through the CxO Professional Network and since 2008 has been member of The New York CTO Club, an independent, not-for-profit, invitation only group of senior technologists who meet regularly to address key industry challenges. Additionally, Darren has served on the BWG Strategy advisory board for senior executives across technology, media and telecom since 2015. BWG industry professionals participate in a series of roundtable discussions, which are valuable resources for market intelligence, business development and personal/professional networking.
Darren resides in Long Island, NY with his wife Jamie, son Max, daughter Kylie and French Bulldog, Leo.
When you think about how you build a better world of work, it’s your ability to tap into all of the resources that come with you as an individual.Darren Person
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Read The Transcript:
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Darren Person: I think a big part of leadership though is really understanding your people. One is understanding that you can generate a tremendous amount of work, but also understanding, like, what are the challenges, what's going on in people's lives, what's important to them? And then figuring out how you make an environment that's supportive of all of those attributes.
Tim Reitsma: Welcome to the People Managing People Podcast. We're on a mission to build a better world of work and to help you build happy, healthy, and productive workplaces. I'm your host, Tim Reitsma. And today I'm joined by Darren Person, a tech exec with over 20 years experience who's currently the CIO at NPD Technology Group, a leading company that addresses clients' needs through innovations in data and analytics.
So in our conversation today, Darren and I talk about the importance of a data driven culture and how we should approach creating this culture. And guess what? It starts with us, the leaders. Creating a culture of safety, innovation, and trust. It's not necessarily about creating spreadsheets and formulas. Sure, that's part of it, but it's really building the systems that allow our people to know what matters, what metrics make sense, and how to have fun along the way. So stay tuned.
Darren, so good to have you on the People Managing People Podcast. I'm excited for our conversation today. We're gonna be diving into that question about data driven decision making. And I know for some that's maybe not a fun topic or an easy topic, but man, it is such an important conversation, especially when we think about our businesses, building a better world of work.
And, so I'm excited to, to dive in. So, welcome, thanks for coming on. And before we get into it, why don't you just tell us a little bit about what you're up to? What keeps you busy these days?
Darren Person: First off, thank you very much Tim, for having me on. It's great to be here with you and your listeners. So, so thank you again. So, let me tell you a little bit about me.
So my name is Darren Person, the CIO for a company called The NPD Group. We're a market research company. So we really specialize in bringing the world's point of sale data together and really with the goal of helping retailers and manufacturers make better decisions, both around how they should price and promote their products as well as what types of products and features they should bring into those products.
So that's a little bit about me really quickly. So yeah, it's really good to be here.
Tim Reitsma: Yeah. It's, it's such a fascinating role that you play. And when we were, you know, connecting at a pre-call about your role in NPD Group and how you collect data to make better decisions or help organizations make better decision.
And before we just dive into that, I always ask my, my guess a couple leading questions, a couple standard questions, just cuz I'm curious guy. And uh, I'm kind of doing my own research if, if you will. And I love asking people this first question, what does it mean to be a leader?
Darren Person: Yeah, look, I, I think, you know, when you think about leadership, I think this is always a, always an important topic around, you know, what is a leader? What, what are the attributes, the features of a leader? You know, I think first and foremost, for leadership, it's really about understanding and engaging with your teams and understanding the needs that everyone in your organization has, is different, right, in each and every way. What drives and motivates one person is different than what drives and motivates another person.
The one thing I tell you that I always try to bring to light is the reality as you move up in an organization, an old boss once said to me that, you know, you, as you move up in the organization, it's almost like having a Bullhorn, right? Every word you say is amplified a thousand times for every level you move up. At the CEO level, it's amazing that the, the slightest whim, right, of a, of a word can actually generate a tremendous amount of activity in a business.
So I think part of being a leader is also realizing that you have a lot more weight when you say things and to be mindful of what you say, cuz you can drive a tremendous amount of work into an organization without ever really having imagined that you were doing that.
So I think a big part of leadership though is really understanding your people. One is understanding that you can generate a tremendous amount of work, but also understanding, like, what are the challenges, what's going on in people's lives, what's important to them? And then figuring out how you make an environment that's supportive of all of those attributes.
Tim Reitsma: Yeah. It's, what I'm hearing is creating that inclusive culture, that inclusive space, because you're absolutely right. Our organizations are made up of, of individuals, our unique individuals, and we all have different needs. We all have different aspirations. And as, so what I'm hearing is, and a key part of being a leader is really that understanding where people are at, what do people need and how to create that environment for people to, to thrive.
Cause if people are thriving, our businesses thrive. It's uh, not as simple as that, but yeah.
Darren Person: No, I agree. And look, one of the things I think that the pandemic, you know, as, as awful as it's been, has done for organizations is it's given us a little bit of a window into just how important connecting with people really is to your, to your overall ecosystem.
So, you know, for example, like one of the things that I did during the pandemic, which I created this "what's on your mind?" session. And, you know, what I usually start this session telling people is, look, as the CIO of the company, you know, I'm privileged and honored to kind of have a variety of ways to communicate to everyone. My town halls, the emails that I send out, I get to communicate to the organization at abroad the things that are on my mind.
And what I really wanna do is create an opportunity for people to share with me what's on their mind. So every week, you know, I assemble a small group, six to seven people. It's designed to be cross functional, so there's people from different parts of the organization so that they can each hear what's going on in their own world together, what's on other people's minds.
Sometimes there's very similar. Sometimes it gives other people appreciation for other parts of the business that they may never have had before. And the feedback that I've gotten from the team has really been phenomenal around how much they appreciate the program and how much it's helped them. It also gives them a, a window to realize that in addition to being the CIO, I'm a, I'm a father, I'm a husband.
I'm a, you know, I'm a dog lover, you know, things like that. Like a little maybe kind of making me a little bit more real than just always being some couple of words on a, a diagram somewhere or, or just everyone looking up to some kind of super Uber leader model.
Tim Reitsma: Oh, I love that. It's creating that safe space, that trust cross-functional teams, two way communication. If that is the one takeaway somebody's listening to this podcast is, I know that's not the, what we're gonna be talking about, but man, that is such a phenomenal thing that you've implemented, you've done, you've taken the initiative.
And yeah, it, it builds, it just builds the culture and adds to the culture of the organization.
Darren Person: Yeah, it does. The, the other thing, Tim, which I maybe you'll find interesting, right. So part of, you know, part of leadership is, is two things, right? It's kind of your, your inside out and your outside in kind of perspective. In a lot of ways leaders think about the leadership that they can drive meaning. Am I a good manager? You know, am I setting the vision, the strategy for the organization? Am I mobilizing things?
The other parts is trying to figure out for everyone's role, including someone like a CIO who traditionally is inward facing kind of a role. How do you actually become a closer business partner and more aligned with the support and direction that your organization is going. Is there a way for you to help your business leaders be more successful in the organization? So while I created the "what's on your mind" session internally, I also created a CIO outreach program with other clients that we had.
And, and really this was in thinking about technology being this agnostic kind of area that, you know, we can always talk about no matter whether we're competitive or not competitive, like there's nothing competitive about whether your windows machine works or doesn't work, right? Like those are always discussions that we can have as CIOs. So I created this CIO outreach program really to enable discussions between other CIOs.
Now they tend to be our clients at NPD, cuz it's easy, right? I have access into those companies to go and make those conversations and connections. But by doing that, it's also then helped me have a stronger seat as a leader in the company, cuz I can actually share back what are the problems that I'm hearing that our clients are having.
And I can bring that back as part of the leadership team. So again, leadership, not just being top down in an organization, but also being thought about more holistically around how can I be a better CIO for the company and a better partner for all my other business partners as well.
Tim Reitsma: I love that. I love what you said, just the, the outside in, inside out and, and sharing that with your outward community as well, and building that connection. I mean, not only is it good for business, but it's also good for, for your clients and as well as, as creating that, that safe space, that common area for people to come to and, and, and to connect.
So, that's awesome. I, I think we could probably spin up a whole conversation just on that, because it's, it's leads into my next question, which is, again, our purpose here at People Managing People is we wanna help you build a better world of work. And we'd love to hear from you, when you hear that phrase, what, what comes to mind?
What, what, uh, kind of rings, rings in your ears when you hear that?
Darren Person: Yeah, well look, a number of things. You know, I, I think, the best way to think of it is really around like how do we help each other at the end of the day? Right. When you think about building a, a better world of work, you know, we, we live to work, we don't work to live, right?
So, did I say that wrong? Maybe it's the other way around. Either way you get the general idea, like the goal, the goal, I think for all of us is that, you know, a big part of where we spend our time is the daily work environment. And in order to do that, we, we kind of create these pseudo families inside that environment.
And also the net, these networks of people that we collaborate with and we learn from, and we share with. So when you think about like how you build a better world of work is, it's your ability to tap into all of the resources that come with you as an individual. So, you know, when I joined NPD, one of the things that, you know, I had shared is, Hey, you don't just get me and my, my ex direct experience.
But also, you also get my network, the collection of people that I've built over the years, who I can go to when I'm struggling with something, or I have an issue or a challenge. It's really this network of people that I can reach out to who are also experienced in a thousand other things and can give direction.
So when I think of that larger concept of building a better world of work, it's really how do we leverage both the assets that we have internally and then our entire network to really figure out what the best model and how do we help each other be more efficient, better at what we do, take stress out of what we do, right?
That probably the most stressful part of a job is when you get point up against a situation that you've never been in before, and you don't know what to do. And the release trigger is having someone who has done it and been there before, who can come in and help guide you through it, even though there's slight nuances in all of that stuff.
So taking anxiety out of the work environment, all of those kinds of things really helped build what I think would be this better world of work.
Tim Reitsma: Yeah. It's that support network. And you know, it kind of leads almost into our, our conversation about data-driven decision is, you building that support network, supporting each other as human beings.
And I, I love that, that comment you made about stress, right? Being able to support each other and saying, but also having that trusting environment where it's like, Hey, I've never done this before. I wanna do it. I need to figure it out and not be ostracized or punished because you don't know how to do it.
But in, in the flip side of that is creating that space where, hey, I don't know how to do this. And I can imagine if somebody came to you there in your organization, you'd roll up your sleeves and go like, all right, let's, let's figure it out. I'm gonna coach you through this. I'm gonna walk you through this. And, so the next time it comes up, you're gonna know how to do it.
So that's, that's awesome. And so just to kind flip that a little bit into what we're talking about today and about making data driven decisions. And when we think about data driven decisions, I've, I, I think at least for me there's kind of the two sides of it. One is we don't need data. My gut tells me everything, I'm good.
The other side is data only. We need to be making those data driven decisions. So when we think of that, how does that support building a better world to work through that sense of, the data driven framework or data driven decision making?
Darren Person: Yeah, I think the, I think the first thing to think about is, data is like a guide more so than anything else. Right? It's, it's there to inform what decisions we make and also to be able to help explain why we made them. So, you know, when you think about things like, um, I don't know, take, take any topic, but take a topic that would probably be dear and dear to some of our clients.
So, you know, what features should I build into the next TV that I'm gonna make? Right. Now you could certainly just go and try to wing it. Be like, I feel like HDMI ports are really important to my clients. Right? And that, that's what I'm gonna go do. Or you could really take a look at the history of what's recently sold.
Now, remember what, what's recently sold isn't a predictor of what we'll sell in the future. But what you can do, and this is kind of almost like reverse engineering. What would be like a conjoin analysis, right? Where you kind of go and you show someone a product and you change the features and change the price points.
And based on what they select, it starts to show you their propensity and interest. They're willing to pay more money if the product had this feature. Well, we collect the world's point of sale data. So we actually have the answers to those questions. What did people actually buy? And then when you look at all of the features of what they bought, let's take a TV as a, just a really simple example, right?
The LED versus LCD versus the different screen types, HDMI ports. What you can then see in the data is these patterns that, oh, okay, based on this range of product, people really chose the HDMI ports, or they chose LED versus LCD or QLED, like you could see what people were opting for. So now that helps inform your decision. Doesn't necessarily mean your decision is gonna be the right one, but certainly you're in a better position to make that decision, plus applying some of your learned experience.
And maybe even some conversations you're having with customers that are more gut feel to extend that out a bit further. So I, the way I kind of think about data is really as a guide for, for most people to help them make informed decisions. It's certainly not the answer.
And, you know, I think, look over time, machine learning will get better and, and get better. But, you know, until someone could predict the stock market, you know, it could be a tons of data of trends in the stock market and we still can't predict, you know, what's gonna happen tomorrow. I think the reality is there's always gonna be a little bit of, of decisions, but certainly we have portfolios from the stock side, that's based on historical understanding.
And we feel that that'll give us our better, uh, our best returns in the long term. So both of those models, the stock example and the TV example are just different ways to think about how data can be applied to help us make some better decisions.
Tim Reitsma: Yeah. And I think that example is true across all types of businesses. You know, we're in, uh, the digital publication space. So we make bets on what type of content our audience is going to, is going to appreciate, is gonna read, uh, how's that play into a monetization strategy. You could be doing that when you're building high tech product or, you know, like a, an appliance or a household that like a TV.
So there's companies that collect so much data and then get almost paralyzed by that data. And, but there's also companies who just go off gut feel. I worked for a company who made a decision purely on gut feel. And we ended up throwing out thousands of products in, in, you know, multimillion dollars of investment just gone, because we thought we could play in a space that we just didn't understand.
So on, you know, we don't wanna be paralyzed because we have too much data, but we also don't wanna be paralyzed because we don't have enough data. So, I'm just curious about an example, if you have an example of a company who's done it well, or who is doing it well using data to drive that decision to push their organization forward, but also on the flip side, have you seen some terrible examples?
Darren Person: Yeah, look, I, I think, you know, I have to tell you, this is a muscle that a lot of companies have been getting better at doing. So a lot of manufacturing companies, lot of retail companies, to your point, publishing companies. I'm not even, I'm not sure there's an industry today where the muscles aren't getting stronger.
I think maybe the big question is whether or not they're, they're picking and choosing the right metrics to guide them, right, which data points that they should really be looking at, what are the most important data points specific to their business, and obviously what's going on in the, the larger environmental situation that we've got now, right?
So if you think about it, you know, we kind of had the pandemic. That was a big pivot and change in the way we operated. Now, you've got coming a bit out of the pandemic, right? We can't say we're fully out of it, but we're slowly coming out of it. And then you've got yet another hiccup with the great resignation kind of ecosystem that's going on out there.
So a lot of these economic plays that are going on also way into the larger question, but I think at the foundations is really around how these companies specifically drive some of that decision making and which metric they need to look at given that current environment. So, you know, before the pandemic, you may have only been looking at, you know, top line revenue growth, right?
Because companies were doing really well. The cost of producing things was really cheap. You know, now that we're slightly in this recessionary potential kind of period, maybe it's not about just pure top line revenue growth. Maybe it's actually about how you optimize your margins and get better returns, your profits, your EBITDA kind of statements.
I think, to that point, right? I think a lot of companies are collecting data. It's really about picking the right metric for that business and that, that's gonna be a different metric per company and what the business is that that company is in. And I think a lot of companies are strengthening this muscle, and they're getting better and better at it over time.
I don't know anybody that's, that's doing it tremendously poorly. I think most of those companies are probably either going out of business or, or not around anymore, just given the amount of data and how other people are doing it and have stats, you know, more of a strategic advantage to using data to help make them make decisions.
Tim Reitsma: Yeah, it's, uh, there's more and more companies who are leveraging metrics and their data. And you know, the big question that always pops in my mind, or even from small companies is, well, what metrics matter? So, well, what metrics matter to your business? And if you're in a for-profit business, well, I think, you know, profit margin and everything you said you need revenue.
If you're a nonprofit, maybe you still need money. So maybe it's a, but it's a slightly different metric or, you know, we're in the publication space. So there's, there's more to it than just looking at revenue or the number of pieces of content that go out. And so when we think about like that data driven decision and we've sort of alluded to this earlier, there's this idea of gut feel that goes into it.
And so we know that, you know, we said earlier on data is the guide. But sometimes we just need to make that decision and, and own that decision. And that's, I think scary for some people. So how do we, how do you balance that? Like in your role as a CIO, right, you're collecting all this point of sale data and you're looking at something, how do you then go, okay, well, the data's saying X, but I think it's Y. Do you ever, do you ever have that internal battle yourself?
Darren Person: Oh yeah. I mean, we, we, we do this all, deal with it all the time. It's a little bit around, like how do we think about the new capabilities? Something new that no one's ever thought of, right. If you think about Apple as a great example, as a company, there was no data that, there was no data that led them directly to the notion of the iPod. Right?
There was data that people wanted to listen to music. There was data of how much music people were listening to. And there was some early ideas about, you know, what, what are better ways to organize that content and how to deliver it to people. Right? We had, you know, we had Walkmans, right. We were able to do it, but it required a little bit of leap of faith.
And this general, you know, notion that Steve Jobs had at the time to think outside the box. Now, the iPod could have, was a, was an amazing boom, but it also could have went a different way if, if the customers, the client, the people, the consumers of that product weren't willing to adapt to it, weren't ready for it. Right?
So a bit of, you know, that kind of decision making is it's understanding your customer. It's understanding when's the right time to introduce something that's game changing. And I think that, that does require a bit of that gut instinct, as part of that. I don't know how much the data can tell you that besides the criticality of going and meeting with clients and going to speak to people and learn about what their challenges are.
And then doing what you do best, right? You take all of your experience and you say, okay, here's what I've heard. And what do I think is a way I can do something completely differently. And again, that's all grounded still in, you know, all of the, the things that got you there. But I think the differentiation comes is that last mile of, of change and differentiation that you bring to the table.
Tim Reitsma: Yeah. I saw this somewhere on social media in the last day or so of this pick image of a bicycle and it's completely deformed. And the caption was something about, you know, companies trying to solve problems that don't exist. And so, you know, it's almost like taking the opposite approach of like purely my gut feel this, this is gonna be a problem in two years.
So I'm just gonna build something without actually understanding what's a problem we're trying to solve. And I think I also heard somebody recently say, you know, customers buy products to solve problems. Back to your TV example. If you only have one HDMI port, but you've got 13 devices. Is that going to actually meet that customer demand?
And so it's really that, you know, I think you, you're right, that balanced approach to it.
Darren Person: I also think Tim, building on that a little bit as well, which is, look, you need space to try things, new things, right? There's gonna be new technology. There's gonna be new capabilities, new ideas. So I think, you know, again, you know, thinking about building a TV, I don't think anyone goes, should the TV be in color or not anymore? Right?
Eventually, data becomes fairly standard, right? It's, okay, it's definitely gonna be a color TV. Okay, it's definitely gonna be, you know, 65 inch. Right? Whatever, some of those things are like table stakes now. Now at one point they weren't, right, well, would people really want color versus not color?
Like those were actual questions. I think now you've gotten to that point. Now you've got other questions. So for example, a Smart TV, right? Will people wanna use a smart TV or will they feel more comfortable with a Chrome device or a fire TV, kind of a, or an Apple TV kind of a device. So I think those are the opportunities like, well, what happens when we integrate that into the television set?
Like, is that something a customer or client would really be interested in using and would they use it more so that way? And data's not gonna tell you that, cause there's gonna be no data points to get you there. You kind of, that's your leap of faith, that's your instinct. And then you try it. And now you use that as your data points.
So I think also just companies creating the space to try, knowing that some of these things are gonna fail and even data driven things are going to fail at some point. Right? Or it's just not a perfect science. And I think just being open to that and creating space for that to happen is a, is a huge win.
And that kind of ties back into the leadership conversation we started with.
Tim Reitsma: I'm glad you made that connect, cause I was gonna make that connection too. I think we just went full circle, which is cool. You've got all this data. You think we, you think you know the path, but if you don't have that psychological safety, that culture of experimentation, that culture of trust of, Hey, we're just gonna give things a try and see what happens.
Obviously we, you know, things are gonna fail and that's okay. So, you know, I'm gonna put you on the spot a little bit here is that question of how. How do we then, you know, take all these inputs that we've gathered and how do we then create a safe space or a culture of trying a space, as you said, the, the space we need in order to innovate, in order to, to grow our organizations or our products or whatever that looks like.
Darren Person: Uh, it's a really good question. And look, every company is tackling this, you know, a little bit differently. So I think for me, what's worked really well is when we create projects, you know, there's two ways to create projects.
There's, you know, you can set the expectation that you know all the answers and I need X dollars and you'll get Y return back. And Hey, yeah, there's a bunch of risk, but here's the big project. The other way, which is the way I kind of prefer is what I would take as a more iterative. Some people will call it Agile.
I don't think it's pure agile, but it's a more iterative approach. It's how much do you need to spend to know whether or not your hypothesis is correct. So you'll start with a hypothesis. And then the question really is, is okay, now that I have this idea, at this point, day zero, I just have an idea.
There's a hundred percent risk in that, right? I don't know if it's gonna be successful. The only way I know is I have to do something to start to de-risk that project. So if you can quantify, let's say a step one. I need to spend, I don't know, let's say a hundred dollars to, to figure out whether or not this idea or this hypothesis makes sense.
Then that is a way to present projects and ideas to the business in a way that will first off is tangible, right? You get everyone to buy into the hypothesis, but to evaluate that you're not asking for some major amount of investments, a multi-year kind of project that may or may not succeed, but rather continuous innovation, continuous learning.
And then you create these release levers, right? At some point, after spending the hundred dollars, if the project doesn't seem like it's gonna make sense or introduced a whole bunch of new risks, you now have a place where you haven't spent that much money and you can pull the trigger and say, okay, we're gonna stop.
Maybe we'll switch to a different hypothesis altogether. And I think a lot of places where people get stuck is they make that upfront commitment to deliver something. And then they start to panic because maybe their hypothesis was slightly wrong. And maybe they should have asked a different question, but they already presented this big idea.
And now they're stuck and they've gotta figure out how to deliver against that idea. And that I think is what typically creates that cycle that you see, or, or that we're not seeing enough of, right, is that ability to kind of have a free space and a safe space to fail. You need to create smaller iteration so you can fail fast and fail cheap versus fail big and take a long time to do it.
Tim Reitsma: I'm rapidly scribbling notes because you know, when we're gonna be releasing this in the next, in the next six weeks or so. And, and, but this is top of mind for me, as we're looking to build out a product and we're going down that path and it's a significant investment. And I had a big conversation today.
Not when people are listening to it, but when we recorded this as to how do we de-risk this. It's a big investment. I believe in it, person who's gonna help create it. We believe in this. But is it what the world needs right now? Is it what people are, are seeking? It's, and so how I, I love that, you know, you wanna fail fast, fail small, uh, versus, you know, throw everything out there.
But it's creating that culture of innovation and early, one of our early episodes, we had John Carter on, he was co-founder of the Bose, noise cancelling headphones. And he had talked about this culture of innovation. You gather the data, you gather the information and you experiment. And instead of looking for, you know, the failures in it, but what did you learn out of that process?
And yes, there's cost to that obviously, but I like, you know, I love that, a hundred dollars versus a hundred thousand dollars. That's a, that's a big, big difference.
Darren Person: It is. And, and by the way, like there are great stories out there and, and I would highly recommend people look up some of the stories of companies that were built on the back of this. Like Zappos is a, a great story to read about how Zappos was built.
I think the first, the first instance of zappos.com if I remember the story correctly was there, it was like a website, but there was no eCommerce engine. When an order came in, someone on the back end would literally run around and go to stores to buy the shoes, to fulfill the orders. Right? And that was them trying to understand and figure out well, would people even be willing to buy shoes online at this point?
And what would they need to do in order to make people feel comfortable with buying shoes? There's a, there's a couple of great ones. I'll see if we could, I can find the, the article on it that talks about the history, but I just think you, you can get motivation and insights and inspiration.
And when you're pitching your ideas, like talk about what other companies have done. Talk about big names who have actually started this way to support your idea and show how this is your hypothesis and, and how you wanna start off small and how you're gonna iterate to figure out whether or not it's gonna get there.
I feel like that really does help. So that first off it doesn't seem like it's some unique idea that's never been tried, because a lot of it isn't. Right? It's we we're just iterating on what other people have already done, even though we're changing the industry, maybe which, which we're doing it.
Tim Reitsma: Yeah. And so even right back to the, to our topic of data driven decision making across organization, the importance of it, but coupling that with what we're just talking about is that culture change. That from, from that top down, that leadership as a person like yourself, sitting in your position is creating that safe space for your team to thrive and experiment.
And that, you know, the word that comes to mind is fun. Now it turns into it's, it's fun rather than oh, what if I get it wrong? And, I'm curious, how do you weave this into your, your team and your organization?
Darren Person: So, you know, the, the easiest way I can think is, you know, I think you start with outcomes, right? I think that a lot of projects tend to start with, like, here's what we're gonna do and how we're gonna do it. I think that sets you off on the wrong track. I think you have to set the goal of what you want the outcome of your effort to be. And then you've gotta empower the teams to try things out, to figure out what the right tools, technologies are.
And then even to innovate, maybe even to come back to you with, Hey, I know you said we should do this, but this could be a really cool way and it's a bit of a pivot off of what you were thinking. So it's getting that collective mindset going. But I think if you lead with more of the outcome of what you want to achieve, and you let people innovate on that outcome, that's the power of leveraging.
And I, and I bringing back to the leadership topic, right? That's the power of leadership because everyone wants to know what the goal is. Not everyone wants to be told how to get to that goal because each of us is different. We all have ideas and we have different points of view on how we can get somewhere.
And it also kind of breaks apart that group think problem that a lot of companies run into. So I think that's gonna be, that's a big key is, is focus on the outcome, let the teams focus and think through the how, and that'll hopefully help you guide towards where you want to get to.
Tim Reitsma: I love that. You know, it's, as we, as we're looking to, to wrap up the conversation, I think that that sums it up so nicely.
Cause anybody who's leading a team or, you know, as an individual contributor or sitting at the C-suite in an organization. As they're listening to this podcast and thinking about data driven decision making, it's not just as simple as, okay, we just need to hammer out our metrics, collect the data, and that's just gonna form the decision, uh, where we're gonna go.
It's more than that. And it's about the culture. It's about how you lead. It's about creating that space to, to utilize that data in a way that then drives the business forward. And it's again, the theme that I think I'm picking up on Darren, and please correct me if I'm wrong is, is really that, that, that environment is so key.
The data obviously is key. We need to have good data to make good decisions, but setting up that, that culture within your team, within your organization to thrive, not, not fear is, is crucial.
Darren Person: No, it's exactly right, Tim. Cuz it's really important, you know, and I know it maybe sounds like a cliche because people say it, but your, our people are our biggest and our most important asset.
No matter what we do, you know, I'll always, I'll joke with my team. I'll always tell them I stand on the shoulders of giants, but the reality is, is I don't do stuff myself. Right? I cannot deploy technology on my own in an organization. I cannot, you know, write all the code by myself in a company.
In fact, they don't write any code, haven't written code in the organization in a while. And, and if, and of the code that I do write not many of my engineers wanna put that into production anymore. Cause the reality is is we, we hire people now who are even better than we are. You know, our job is to facilitate putting together the best of the best in a team that can be successful on.
And when I was in college, I road crew. And for those that don't know road crew, it was, we road in what were called eights. It was an eight person, boat. One of the things that I was fascinated about was, you could put people all, you could put those eight people in a boat, but if you put them in the wrong configuration, the boat will clunk along and won't go very, it won't go very fast on the water, which ultimately is the outcome.
The goal of why you're putting people in the boat. You want the boat to go as fast as possible, but then you find the order in which to put people in the boat, that it goes its fastest. And you find that each seat has its special attribute, if you will, whether you're a lefty or a righty, whether you're comfortable here or there, but when you put people in that right combination, the boat goes as almost as fast as it looks like.
It's just skimming the water. And I think that's our job as leaders is to figure out what's the right combination of people to put in the boat. And then even once we put them in the boat, what's the right placement for those people, so that that boat can go as fast as possible. And that's my best metaphor I can give you on how I think about leadership in, in an organization.
And also even if you have the right people, if you put 'em in the wrong positions, you're not gonna be very successful. You really have to figure out the balance of both.
Tim Reitsma: I love that metaphor. Thank you for sharing that. There's so much wisdom just packed into, into that last, uh, last little bit, Darren.
And as those who are listening, where do we start? What's the one thing we can do today to start, because it's like, okay, do I have to start collecting data? And how do I do that? How do I come up with metrics? How do I build this culture? Like, what is the, what's the first step that somebody can, can, can do today to work towards creating that safe space to become that data driven organization?
Darren Person: Yeah, I, look, I, I think the there's two things. So on the leadership side, there's nothing stopping you from becoming, becoming your own leader. Right? You know, I do it from, uh, the CIO position, but there's nothing stopping people from getting, getting together, getting colleagues together, creating their own what's on your mind sessions.
I'm just a facilitator in those meetings at that point. The meetings kind of take on their own, their own world. And especially in this remote work environment, you know, one thing I'll always hear from teams is, oh, well, we don't really have the water cooler, you know, anymore to kind of go chat about. Well, you know, you don't have the physical water cooler anymore, but there's nothing stopping you from creating a virtual water cooler.
Uh, right? And I, and I think just that general notion of stop looking up for some guidance and figure out how you can look at yourself and how you can become a leader in helping drive some of those important attributes. Like how do I help build a community of people? So on the leadership side, I think, you know, take, take that drive, take that initiative.
Don't look up all the time, waiting for some, something to be bestowed upon you. Take, take the onus and, and attribute of it. On the data driven side of the organization, look there, you know, we, you know what comp, what metrics drive most companies. I think, you know, one thing you can do certainly is, is chat.
See if you can speak with someone on your board, talk to your CEO, talk to your, you know, your leadership team, understand what metrics they perceive to help drive the company forward, and then use that to help inform one of the things that you, your teams need to do to support that. Because, again, coming back to the pandemic.
One of the things that became really clear in the pandemic was when all the other chips were down, focus, is was the guiding light for everyone. And what the pandemic created is it forced us to focus on what was most important, both, and let's put it honest, right? Both professionally and personally, right? A lot of people found a new, a new appreciation for family time and quality of life, which is great personally.
And businesses found a new focus, right? It was look at all these thousands of things that we're doing. Well, we've gotta stay solvent, let's put all those things to the side. Let's focus on what are the key things we need to do to be successful and keep the business running. And those companies actually turned out doing better in the long run than the ones that continue to just keep doing what they were doing.
So I think understanding, learning the key metrics that are important to an organization, and then how do you create that singular focus for your organization is gonna help you be successful in driving those metrics up, is gonna be key to being successful.
Tim Reitsma: I love that. Focus. That's a word that I'm gonna embody over the next couple weeks is that, you know, there's a hundred things you can work on every single day, every single week, but what is that, what's the, what are the one, two or three things that are gonna drive your business forward? And how do you then empower your teams to also drive that business forward.
Darren, thank you so much for coming on to the podcast. I have so much to take away from this and some learnings that I need to apply into even my business. So thank you for, for coming on and, and even helping me. And I appreciate you coming on today.
Darren Person: Nah, thank you, Tim. And again, thank you for, for having me on and, and what a great discussion. Really appreciated.
Tim Reitsma: Yeah, thanks.
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