Reflections on HBR Technology Must Reads, Stitch Fix Case Study

Reference Case Study: Stitch Fix’s CEO on Selling Personal Style to the Mass Market

I’m not going to re-hash the article, you can go read it yourself, that’s why am providing the link, what I am going to do is highlight the things I found interesting, the first two weren’t technology related, but the third one was and the fourth one was more personal.

My first thought was who shops that much and/or needs that many clothes? Now, to be fair, I’ve never been much of a shopper, I typically only buy things when I need to replace something that I’ve worn out. There were a few exceptions to this after I moved to Berlin and realised I’d gotten rid of a few things that I really should have kept, and bought things to replace them, but mostly, I just replace things that have worn out.

My other thought was around the fit/sizing. I have a terrible time finding things that fit the way I want them too, even when I know my measurements and buy according to the sizing chart, so I end up in a store/stores trying things on, who needs the hassle of online shopping and sending stuff back?

But, turning to the technology, that part was interesting, allowing for the fact that I am not even remotely in the target market for such a service. The fact that they have used AI/Machine learning to bring the fashion industry into the 21st century is interesting. It is all about understanding the customer-base/target market and the nuances of the sector and knowing what to do with the data once it’s collected. 

Finally, and more personally, I liked that Katrina Lake, the founder and CEO of Stitch Fix, when she didn’t see anyone else doing anything to address what she perceived (rightly) as an opportunity in the market place, decided to do it herself. This sounds like something I would do, and in fact have done, not that I have started a successful online business, but I have stepped into the void and provided leadership and guidance when there was none; I have done things that I thought “someone else” should be doing/responsible for but they weren’t interested or didn’t perceive the need. 

Those are my thoughts (quick and cursory as they may be) on the second article/case study in the HBR book, “On AI, Analytics, and the New Machine Age”.

Reflecting on the week that was: November 9, 2019

I have had some interesting conversations this past week, both personal and professional and some that were in between. I was told that I was a pioneer, and inspirational. Being called a pioneer was new, so I particularly liked that.

After years of being asked, “what I do” I finally figured it out (I have another blog about that), which was very satisfying and revealing. Now that I know what I do, I can much more easily tell people, and explain why they need me to help them be successful with their digital transformation project (or other big, unwieldy initiatives).

However, something someone said, in one the conversations is still bouncing around inside of my head: they said, that people want to know how to break-through the shell of what they’ve learned/been taught. Which is a noble thought; an admirable goal.

But what strikes me is that they want a shortcut. They want a course, or a checklist, that when you do these things you will have become aware, you will have dropped your mask, you will have unlearned the negative patterns you have learned. And certainly, there are retreats you can go on, books you can read, therapy you can do, coaching or mentoring you can get, and they all help move along the path, but there are no shortcuts. It takes as long as it takes, it happens when it happens and even when it happens, it continues to evolve; it never stops, you never arrive. Get used to it.
We have been taught that if you take the course, get the certification, finish your “to do” list, that all will be right with the world, that we will be successful when that happens. But it’s a big, fat lie.

You define success, the same way you define happiness. Looking for external approval and validation is only going to make you miserable.

What is success for me? Having work that I like doing, working with people who trust and respect me, spending time with friends, painting, going to museums and art galleries, seeing art, going to jazz or classical music concerts, going for a walk in nature, people watching, allowing my mind to wander, spending time along (sometimes a lot of it), reading, watching movies, eating good food (especially with friends), connecting with people, sharing my story/experience, learning, experimenting. 

It has taken me a lot of time and effort to figure these things out, it’s not been easy, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. There are no shortcuts.

What do I Do: the box I fit into

What do I do?

I get asked this question all the time; for years I have been asked this question. At the beginning of my career I could say I was an accounting student, or an accountant, and people understood this. However, the more education and experience I got, the more difficult it became to say precisely what I did. 

When I became self-employed, I used to say that I did knowledge management consulting, and I did, but people (mostly) didn’t understand what that meant, so I tried to explain. I could give examples of projects that I had done and the impact that it had had, and they sort of understood, but not really. They smiled and nodded and we moved onto another subject.

I have been self-employed for 16 years, my consulting practice has changed and evolved, the “how” of what I do has changed. I now incorporate artistic methods/thinking into what I do (the truth is, they was there all along, I just didn’t have a name for it, much like the agile, and design thinking practices I incorporated in to my methodology, without having a name for them either). But, honestly, no one cares about the “how”, they care about the results. 

What are my results? 

I stop you from failing with your big, unwieldy projects and programs. Your big, cross-functional, cross-organisational initiatives, that don’t neatly fit into a box. Those initiatives that have lots of stakeholders, lots of moving parts, lots of conflicting objectives. They have technology, they have processes, they have people.

Examples: One organisation recognised an ROI of 165%, while another was prevented from throwing out a million dollar (Cdn) IT investment and starting over.

In the current environment, these projects are called digital transformation, and up to 95% of them fail. When I first started, they were mostly called knowledge management, and somewhere around 50% of them failed. Certainly, one of the first KM projects I did had failed twice previously under different project managers, and I came along and did it using an iterative, collaborative approach (what might be called agile and design thinking now). Not only did I have a successful pilot with 100 people, but eventually had almost 7000 people using the platform, which increased to 10,000 on the momentum of what I had started even after I left the organisation. 

Since going out on my own, I have helped other organisations do this—well, at least the ones that trusted me. There were some that were uncomfortable with my cross-functional, collaborative, iterative approach, and so shelved my work, which is their prerogative. 

My success is built on experience, trial and error, persistence, collaboration, communication, curiosity, critical thinking, leadership, and a willingness to admit that I don’t know the answer but I’ll find out. There is no course that teaches these things, only experience. 

Courses and certifications teach theory, they teach best practices. But as anyone who knows about best practices will tell you, best practices are dependant on the organisation, the situation, the culture, the people, the technology, and the processes. Best practices from one situation/organisation will not necessarily give the same results somewhere else. 

Experience takes best practices and asks the question, how do we take that and make it work here, in this environment, with this technology, with these people?

What do I do?

I ask the questions, and I successfully plan and execute big, unwieldy projects.

How not to fail at digital transformation

It is said that digital transformation projects fail up to 95% of the time! [1], I’ve seen slightly lower numbers, but still exceptionally high.

I’m not going to go into the why, the article I linked to above does that, and I will let you read that, what I’m going to tell you is how I implement digital transformation projects successfully, so that you can do it too.

One of the keys is to work across the silos of your organisation, this makes a lot of people very nervous, but it’s the only way to do it and be successful. This means talking to people, involving them, keeping them informed.

Another key is to involve the users. This often gets called design thinking, these days, but design thinking wasn’t something I’d heard of when I first did it 20 years ago, it just seemed to be the right thing to do. I certainly don’t know what would make people’s jobs easier, and reduce their workload, or at least not increase it, so I ask them. I talk to them about their processes, what they call things, how they are organised. The things that worked for them, what didn’t work for them.

Once I get their input I create wireframes or prototypes and validate them with the people I’ve talked to, making modifications where I’ve misunderstood something or not asked enough questions. We often do this 2-3 times until we get it right. This gets call agile, trying and failing, or iteration; again it just seemed to be the right thing to do when I first did it. I was realistic enough to know that I wasn’t an expert in whatever my users were, so if I was going to help them, I was going to need their help–it was a team effort, we were in this together.

Something else that is critical is keeping everyone informed: users, management, other stakeholders. We have regular emails, updates, and meetings as well as documents being posted online for people to access. It takes a lot of communication: A LOT!

I ask questions and ensure alignment. When something doesn’t make sense, I go back to the users, the use cases they had described, the organisation’s vision or strategy, whatever helps me ensure we are moving in the right direction, in the best interests of the people I was working with and the organisation as a whole. If I have conflicting information, we talk about it and make a decision, sometimes, I make the decision, sometimes the team does, whatever keeps us moving towards the goal. The times that I make the decision, I explain my rationale and reasoning, so that people don’t feel excluded, like I have “done it to them”. We are in this together, we only succeed together.

I treat people like equals, with the trust and respect they deserve. They come to trust me, and work with me to achieve our objectives. It is hard. Lots of people don’t like it. Lots of people want a command and control approach, but that’s not going to be successful. We’re in the age of the knowledge worker, and have been for a long time. It demands a different approach than the industrial age.

You have to be passionate, tenacious, and willing to admit you don’t have all the answers but you’ll find out. Success takes leadership, not a place on the hierarchy.

Boxes I Fit Into

I have written/spoken a few times lately about how I don’t fit into a box, and that’s true, I fit into many boxes, based on my education, experiences, and areas of expertise. Here is a list*, in alphabetical order:

Abstract Expressionist
Accountant
Agile Implementer of Solutions
Analyst
Artist
Author
Big Picture Seer
Business Analyst
Business Process Analyst
Business-Technology Aligner
Catalyst
Challenger of assumptions
Change Manager
Chaos Organiser
Coach
Collaborator
Communicator
Community Builder
Connector
Consultant
Creative
Critical Thinker
Culture Changer
Decision Maker
Design Thinker
Digital Transformer
Executer
Facilitator
Financial Analyst
Follower
Gamification Consultant
Human’s First Advocate
Implementer
Influencer
Information Technology Process Consultant
Innovator
ITSM Master
Knowledge Management Expert
Knowledge Manager
Leader
Learner
Listener
Manager
Marketer
MBA
Mentor
Networker
Organiser
Painter
Planner
Problem Solver
Process Analyst
Process Designer
Process Thinker
Product Manager
Program Manager
Project Manager
Public Speaker
Questioner
Realiser of Potential
Sales Person
Solopreneur
Strategist
Strategy Developer/Creator/Implementer
Taxonomy Developer
Teacher
Team Builder
Technology Person
Technology Requirements Analyst


*I reserve the right to add to/edit this list

Feedback on a Workshop Experience

I’m working on some new marketing/positioning materials and going through the quotes etc. that I have from clients over the years and came across this one from a workshop I did a couple of years ago with a couple of colleagues, although the feedback is directly about me/my role. The workshop was about bringing artistic principles to the workplace and combined artistic activities with more typical (and expected) business activities. The participant wishes to remain anonymous, and I have edited the person’s words for clarity, but otherwise the words are theirs.

“This was one of the funniest workshops that I have ever attended…what I can say though, is two things…

“I had…I am a very curious person, so even prior to the workshop I had [wondered] who is that Stephanie Barnes? I had found her website and looked at some of her art because I wanted to know who is that person, right? I certainly intensified that quite a bit after the event, because I thought this really very interesting, but what else does she do? I need to look at some of her paintings more closely.

“The second thing that happened was that I was really very, very impressed with the way that Stephanie conducted this workshop and how she actually managed, it was magical, but anyway, she managed to make us as in also me, actually paint, I have it sitting at home. Me, I would normally say, ‘aaahhhh’ before I do something silly or stupid or you know…but without having to feel funny about it, just let it evolve, just let it naturally happen, or whatever. I don’t really know how all that worked and came into being, but it was certainly her way. And it was secondly, that the workshop was prepared really well, we had all these facilities that you could think of to become creative, all sorts of crayons, acrylic colours, and all sorts of tools that you could think of and we were treated as (and this is also something I appreciated very much) we were treated like artists ourselves. Like, you know, just get on with it, just do it. And never-the-less, we were always invited to ask for help, or tips, advice…so that was the workshop.”

I am so glad I found these comments, they made me smile and remember why it is I do what I do. I am also grateful that this workshop participant took the time to share these thoughts.

Entelechy: a poem

Realise your potential.
Realise your team’s potential.
Realise your organisation’s potential.

Do you know how?

Engage the whole person: the analytical part AND the creative part.

Stop forcing people into boxes.
Engage the whole person.

They will be better off.
The team will be better off.
The organisation will be better off.

Brick Wall Chats

I have decided to start a new video series.

I’ve had nice/good/supportive feedback from the videos I’ve been doing with John Girard (the KM and Creativity series) and Paulina Larocca (the Creativity Chats series) but scheduling time to record them with John and Paulina has been come increasingly challenging because of our schedules and the timezone differences, so, I’m going it alone.

I’ve decided, at least for now, to call the new series: Brick Wall Chats because of the background I’m using in the videos. People seem to like the background because it’s colourful and different and interesting, which is why I liked it too.

Right now (June 3, 2019), I have recorded 15 videos and will release one per week. The topics range from the business to the personal: metrics and digital transformation to how I have come to be doing the work that I am doing.

If you have a topic suggestion, feel free to get in touch, the same goes if you have comments or feedback about any of the videos. You can subscribe to my channel here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCCQHNT4UDtM4o-Dcqd9cLGw?view_as=subscriber.

Looking forward to sharing my thoughts and experiences with you.

What I do….in my own words

I have written this as a response to someone who is curious about what I do, but hasn’t been able to talk with me, I share my slightly edited response at his request.

First I have to start with a link to the videos on my website with a recommendation that you watch them, I’ll try not to repeat myself here.

The work I do is centred around helping people to rediscover their creativity. I work with organisations and individuals to do this.

With individuals we engage in a variety of creative activities and discussions about how they can be more creative in both their personal and professional lives. This conversation typically goes over a series of sessions during the course of a period of weeks or months.

In the case of organisations I work with them to look at ways to make their staff more creative, which leads to innovation so that the two are tied together in an organisational setting more so than in personal setting. We look at ways to bring these activities into the daily activities whether it’s in meetings or in the office environment in general– something they can do in their offices or cubicles or in a meeting room with some other people, we look at doing workshops on a regular basis as in an organisational setting it is more about culture change and employee engagement, which as we both know, studies have shown that increased/improved employee engagement has positive effects on the organisation and its profitability and success.

I come to this work through a path that started in accounting and information technology, then knowledge management. There’s more about that in the first part of the second video in the Creativity Chats series that I am doing with Paulina Larocca, so I won’t repeat that here, you can watch the video, here https://youtu.be/1jxUgHyTRDk

Our exchange started from your question about employee disengagement and ways to decrease it; usually people talk about increasing employee engagement rather than decreasing employee disengagement. I know I sent you a blog post from another site as well as the one on mine and that you are looking to put some dollars behind that. I think if you take figures from the Gallup studies that look at the consequences of increasing employee engagement by 10%, for example, it is going to give you the numbers you’re looking for its just that it’s the opposite of how you been thinking about it.

The creative leadership work that I talk about on my blog can be seen as a contributing factor in improving employee engagement so you may want to consider that too.

Anyway I hope this all helps let me know if you have questions.

Best Regards,
Stephanie

Taking Your KM Program to the Next Level

What is KM about?

It depends on who you ask and what their experience is with it. Some people/organisations focus on technology, some on people, some on process, a very few recognise that it needs to be a balance among the three, and for good measure also create a strategy to support their plans and ideas and to ensure alignment with the organisation.

But beyond that, what is knowledge management about? Why do we/our organisations do it? 

For many organisations and people the answer, has to do with learning, and being able to do their jobs efficiently and effectively. I always liked to say it’s about giving people the knowledge they need to do their jobs, whatever form that knowledge took. But, what if it’s not quite that easy, especially as jobs, like life, are becoming ever more complex?

It’s really not enough to give people a database or app or platform to share knowledge. It’s not enough to implement a lessons learned process, or communities of practice. All good and noble pursuits, but what if that’s not enough to deal with the complexity?

The World Economic Forum’s most recent Future of Jobs Report, a summary of which you can read here, says we need to be life long learners. It also lists the top 3 skills that are growing in need/importance:

  1. Analytical thinking, and innovation
  2. Active learning, and learning strategies
  3. Creativity, originality, and initiative

What struck me most about the #1 item on that list, is that is is both analytical and creative, it requires “both sides of your brain” (yes, I know that we have found that that’s not physically how the brain actually works, but I like the metaphor of it, so I’m using it anyway). But so for so many people their creativity was educated and socialised right out of them. They needed to get good marks in school, do well at their jobs, etc. and so in order to fit in they learned to regurgitate facts and think like everyone else.

However, in today’s world, and in the world that is quickly coming at us, regurgitating facts and doing what we’re told, isn’t enough, doing the “same old, same old” isn’t enough. It’s time to look at things differently, to learn new ways of doing things, to re-learn our lost creativity. KM programs should be supporting that, after-all they are about organisational learning, creating new knowledge (which is innovation, by the way).

And, one of the best things about focusing on creativity and innovation is, people understand what those terms mean, no one understands what knowledge management is. Another great thing about creativity and innovation, is that there is lots of research that supports its importance to people and the workplace, something that can’t be said about KM (mostly because KM can’t decide what it is, not that it’s not useful).

So, for all you KM people out there, don’t you want to take your KM activities to the next level of organisational learning? Help make your organisations innovative and creative? Help them meet the challenges of the age we live in?

Let’s talk about helping people re-learn their creativity!

This is only one way to re-learn creativity, there are lots more….