Thanks to Brent Dykes, there has been a lot of talk recently about analytics action heroes. Everyone wants to be a hero, and everyone thinks that they are one or on the road to being one. My work unfortunately has me often facing the opposite; programs that are not succeeding, often due to villains. One of the great truths is that the villains never know that they are the villains, often thinking they are the real hero. They are constantly talking about action, they are involved, and more then anything they speak up for the use of data in the organization. To be a real villain, they have to be capable and smart, just like a hero, otherwise the damage they do would be mitigated. The problem is that they do it for all the wrong reasons and without the goal of actually improving performance. No one wants to be the villain, but why then do they so outnumber the heroes in our industry?
So how then do you know if you are the villain or the hero?
There is no magical litmus test to get your hero card, but there are many common traits that define the members of both groups. Here are a few barometers that might help you define where you are and what you need to work on to be whichever role you are trying to be.
There are heroes and villains at every level. It is not always a HiPPO versus the low man on the totem pole. Analysts and marketing managers are just as likely to run a program into the ground as VPs and CMOs. It isn’t about your title but about what the actions you take towards the program. Are you talking about making a difference while choosing actions that make you look good? Or are you actually doing the small things that aren’t looked at that really make a difference?
Heroes view their role as finding the best answer and doing what is needed to make the site succeed. Heroes judge their position by what they do to make others better. Villains view their roles as doing what their boss wants or what will make them look best. Villains use the position to focus on themselves. Heroes are interested in ignoring their “title” to do what is needed. Villains use their title to take credit for things and to keep things under their empire. Heroes know that there are many hurdles, but they won’t accept excuses. Villains are the first to complain about others, but then accept problems as excuses and then spend a great deal of time reminding you why it is the other person’s fault. Heroes know that you don’t know the answer to everything and that discovery is part of excellence. Villains tell everyone they have the answer and then find data to support their position and make them look better. Both sides talk about trying to do what is best, but the actions and the excuses determine quickly which side of the battle someone falls on. Everyone claims to do what is best for the site, but actions speak louder than words, and if you are worried about keeping people happy or doing only what you are told, then you are not doing what is best for the site.
Heroes’ skills are in finding multiple answers to problems and figuring out the efficiency and the value of each one. Their skills help educate people about what defines a good answer. They are capable of giving a presentation, but they are at their best with changing people’s misconceptions and finding the best answer, not just the first one that comes up. They know that to be successful, they need to know a little bit about everything and they never accept “I don’t know” as an acceptable answer. They go beyond what is asked and never settle for “best practices” or just returning a report. They know that just because their boss wants an answer to question A, that the company might be better served finding the answers to the questions that aren’t asked, so they focus their skills on finding those questions and answering them, even if that is not supporting someone’s agenda.
A villains’ primary use of their skill is directed towards self-promotion. They take every opportunity to show how valuable their “contributions” over focusing on what real value of the actions taken. They view their job as improving their “personal brand” and are more than happy to find data to support others claims or agenda, as opposed to finding the best answer. They are the first to dive in and find the answer to the questions their bosses are asking, even if that question has no real value. They blame others when they don’t know something and they are more than happy to tell others it’s their job to “figure it out”. They spend their time focusing on improving their presentation skills, networking, and self-promotion skills. All they want is to find an answer to the requests before them to make the people above them happy. They find no reason to find more than one answer or to challenge ideas, because the act of finding that answer makes others happy and helps them show their “value”.
Heroes love to research and view the thoughts of others. They do not however look at only one community or think that just because someone gives a great presentation that they are correct. They appreciate popularity, but know that the more people read a blog or buy a book, the more likely the material is to be what people want to hear and not actually valuable content. They don’t just accept a statement from anyone, especially when it sounds like exactly what they want to hear. They view the world through a lens trying to find everything that can be fixed and what is wrong with the current process. They don’t make excuses about time to dive into multiple disciplines or to find the latest news. They know that the time used to find a better way to do things will make them have multiples of that time available later. They take the time to read and find the best and worst quality materials out there because they care about content and know that simple almost never equals right. They know that you need lots of different perspectives on a problem to understand it, and that there is no single answer to any problem. They understand that today’s answers will prove to be wrong tomorrow, so they aren’t concerned with trying to prove themselves right as much as they are in finding the next “best” answer. They search out new perspectives and new people to continue a search for improvement.
Villains are also heavily involved in communities, in fact some of the most vocal and famous part of communities are villains. They use research and communities to promote their image and to tell the world how great they are. They find new ways to say the things that have already been said and view their self-worth and value as the act itself of making a presentation, not in the value of the content shared. They love to build their own groups in those communities in order to have more people propagate whatever myth they are selling at the moment. They are also always searching for the next big thing in order to get ahead of it, tell the world how they mastered it, and also to move on from what they were doing before the reality of their failure becomes evident. They don’t research or use community to find what is wrong with what they are doing, but instead to validate and promote their own agenda. They try to find what they can from every piece of information in order to make themselves look better and to bring others under their political umbrella.
Heroes view technology as a means to an ends, one that is often foolishly rushed into to meet someone’s agenda. There are great technologies out there, and no one would be able really achieve anything if it wasn’t for the great technologies in our industry, but they focus on getting things right, building out the right disciplines, the infrastructure, and not just learning one way but the best way to leverage any a tool to do a predisposed function. They aren’t impressed with having 50 tools running on your site, but instead with how many you have running in a way to really improve things. They live by the creed, “You can fail with any product” so they focus on creating the infrastructure to make the products they do have succeed. they know that just being able to collect data does not magically make it valuable. In order to do this, they are aware of all the various offerings on the market, but focus on the efficiency of each one. A hero is more interested in how often things go wrong and how to make sure they don’t fall into that trap then worrying about the latest great “success story”. They aren’t afraid to challenge sales pitches and “experts” to find the best answer.
Villains make their career on buying and getting the latest technologies. They love to be able to promise the next great thing internally and to “own” it to help themselves look good. They don’t care about what the likelihood of success is, but instead what they can sell internally about the “value” they are being promised. They rush to evaluate and get as many new technologies and to stay “ahead” of the field. They aren’t interested in building an infrastructure for success, but instead focus on what promises they can get to promote themselves internally. They spend their time “evangelizing” and not getting better. When things don’t work, they move on to the next technology or the newest industry buzz word and find someone to take the blame. They don’t care about building a successful program as much as they care about “integrating” all these technologies and finding a story to show their boss.
There are hundreds of other comparisons you can make between heroes and villains. The truth is that we are always having to balance one side versus the other. It may seem like a fine line between hero or villain, but remember that it is always up to you what actions you choose. Heroes know that you are forced to choose between doing those actions that make you look good and the ones that make an organization successful. Heroes accept the sacrifices and don’t make excuses. Villains convince themselves that they are the same thing and that what they are doing in all cases makes the organization better. No organizational structure or mental evolution of a program will make up for having villains in your program. We all talk about doing the right things, but at the end of the day, it’s not the stories your tell others or the justifications that you make to yourself, but your actions that determine which path you take.
The real question for you is, which do you want to be and if so, what are you doing to get there? All heroes have to go through a quest to earn their abilities, often with many hurdles and defeats. They are often not immediately rewarded for their skills and misunderstood, but in the end, they emerge victorious. There are always hurdles before you and you are always going to be searching for a way to get past them.
When your story is told by others, are you the hero or the villain?