As the world becomes more and more com­pli­cated, the bat­tle between those on both sides of the func­tional knowl­edge gape becomes more vital. The need to con­stantly update your world view; the speed of change and the need to move past no longer rel­e­vant con­cepts leaves many peo­ple strug­gling to keep up and far more will­ing to lis­ten to any offer to lighten their bur­den. When peo­ple do not know what they do not know, any­thing sounds like an oasis in the desert. To make up for this, there is a mas­sive amount of groups who promise “solu­tions” to this fun­da­men­tal prob­lem, pro­vid­ing an answer of tech­nol­ogy as the sole means to to make up for this fun­da­men­tal inabil­ity to adapt to the con­stantly chang­ing word. The prob­lem comes not from this chal­lenge, but from mis­tak­ing the solu­tion being sug­gested for the sole require­ment to the desired end result. Tech­nol­ogy is part of a solu­tion, but with­out under­stand­ing that your peo­ple must change; no tech­nol­ogy will ever pro­vide its promised value and very lit­tle will ever be achieved. When we fail to under­stand that change starts with how you think, not with what you pur­chase, we lose the abil­ity to gain value from any “solu­tion” that we can ever acquire.

The same cycle plays out time and time again. Senior exec­u­tive defines a “prob­lem”, such as a lack of clean data or ease of deploy­ment of tech­nol­ogy or the need to cre­ate a per­son­al­ized expe­ri­ence. Peo­ple pro­ceed down a path of try­ing to both be the one to find a “solu­tion” while at the same time find­ing ways to pass blame for the cur­rent state onto another party, be it inter­nal or exter­nal, as any new solu­tion must replace the prior “solu­tion” that did not in fact solve all the world’s prob­lems. They reach out and research and find a provider to give them a solu­tion that makes the largest promise about “ease” or “func­tion­al­ity”, or the one that they have a prior rela­tion­ship with. From there, it is a process of dis­cover, promises, and then acqui­si­tion. The tool then gets shared to all the other groups, and the indi­vid­u­als who now find them­selves with the task of try­ing to get this installed, also must make sure that their boss does not upset oth­ers in the com­pany by insti­tut­ing a change in the sta­tus quo. Each group pro­vides “needs” in a one way direc­tion that become part of a mas­sive deploy­ment project road-map. Groups con­tinue to get buy-in and then try resources to deploy, each time acqui­esc­ing a lit­tle bit to each group they work with. Even­tu­ally the solu­tion goes live, activ­i­ties and tasks enacted, and every­one moves for­ward. The same prob­lems arise a year or two down the line, agen­das get for­got­ten, and large pre­sen­ta­tions are held to try and find a pos­i­tive out­come for all that was invested. Very lit­tle has changed, very lit­tle has really improved for the orga­ni­za­tion, just a new piece of tech­nol­ogy has been invested in to replace the old tech­nol­ogy that went out the door.

I am in no way say­ing that tech­nol­ogy is a bad thing, I work for the top mar­ket­ing suite in the world, and wouldn’t if I did not feel that the tools them­selves were best in class. Tech­nol­ogy is sim­ply a mag­ni­fy­ing lens, increas­ing the impact of what your orga­ni­za­tion does great, but also where it fails. The real­ity is though that few com­pa­nies get any­where close to the value they should from the tools, and often that lack of value is accom­pa­nied by mag­ni­tudes of increased effort. If groups would start with a real hon­est change in how they under­stand the world around them based on each tool, they would find that they are wast­ing almost all their efforts in the vein attempt to jus­tify their prior actions. Each tool is an oppor­tu­nity to change and improve the effi­ciency of your orga­ni­za­tion, yet in almost all cases this vital task is talked about or ignored, and never enacted in a mean­ing­ful way. If you do not start your time with a tool with a dis­cus­sion around what dis­ci­plines define suc­cess and fail­ure for that spe­cific tool, than no tool will ever do more than just be win­dow dress­ing on bad orga­ni­za­tional dynamics.

One of the first things I try to teach new ana­lysts and con­sul­tants is that there is no such thing as a tech­ni­cal solu­tion. All prob­lems are strate­gic, they may have a tech­ni­cal solu­tion, but they are truly strate­gic in nature. It is far eas­ier to find a mas­sively tech­ni­cal work around to do the one thing that senior VP X is ask­ing for then it is to take the time to dis­cover if that effort is needed or if it will pro­vide any actual ROI. The unfor­tu­nate truth is that for a vast major­ity of the “prob­lems” that are being iden­ti­fied, a suc­cess­ful or non-successful answer to that stated prob­lem would have no change in the fact that they are not going to receive value. Slick inter­faces don’t make up for poor strat­egy, inte­gra­tions between plat­forms do not make up for not under­stand­ing your data. The truth is that in almost all cases the real prob­lems are the ones that we are turn­ing a eye from; they are the ele­phants sit­ting in the rooms that we refuse to talk about, so instead we make excuses and sac­ri­fice out­comes in the name of tak­ing credit for change.

This is the nature of con­fus­ing the “solu­tion” for the desired out­come. Solu­tions are a means to an end, not the end itself. Never con­fuse the need to add func­tion­al­ity with the goal of that func­tion­al­ity. you are not just adding test­ing to someone’s day to day job, you are ask­ing your entire orga­ni­za­tion to dis­cover what the value of its own actions are. You do not just find a tag solu­tion for the fun of it, you do it to save resources so that you can then spend them on valu­able actions. You do not just start a per­son­al­iza­tion project from the good­ness of your heart; you do it because you believe it will increase rev­enue. As soon as you keep the con­ver­sa­tion about the end result, then you can have a func­tional con­ver­sa­tion about the effi­cien­cies of var­i­ous paths to arrive at that point. Do you really need 90+ tar­gets active, or would 15 give you a higher lift and much lower costs?

The cycle that tech­nol­ogy gets brought into is the prob­lem, as are the egos of those that own that pur­chase. Like most real world sit­u­a­tions, it is far eas­ier to make promises then to fix real prob­lems or to deal with other groups and how they think about and tackle their own prob­lems. Ana­lyt­ics, test­ing, and mar­ket­ing are not things that are just done, even if your job is often times just a series of repeat activ­i­ties. These actions are done to improve per­for­mance, which means that the change has to hap­pen with which actions you are tak­ing the resources to do, not just chang­ing tech­nol­ogy providers. If more time is not spent on reform­ing the envi­ro­ment around the tech­nol­ogy, then all time will end up wasted. Never get caught up in the cycle and the can ques­tions, with­out con­stantly keep­ing a vig­i­lant eye on the should ques­tions of all actions.

No mat­ter if an idea is good or bad, it is always going to be eas­ier to just do what your boss asks, and even eas­ier to find a way to con­vince your­self that it is some­how valu­able. We con­vince our­selves as oth­ers con­vince us that we are doing the right thing. We do not want to take the time to think about our oppor­tu­ni­ties to do things in a dif­fer­ent way. Sadly most actions com­monly done in our world are not valu­able or effi­cient, and in all cases can and should be improved. You must first get over your own fear of doing the right thing before you can ever try and get those above you to do the same. The bat­tles worth fight­ing when you bring in a piece of tech­nol­ogy are not about how many devel­op­ers can you get to deploy a solu­tion, or how can you get an agency to run it for you, but in how do we find ways to fun­da­men­tally change cur­rent prac­tices to learn and grow with the technology.

There is no short­age of peo­ple who are will­ing to promise that you don’t need to really look inwards to get value, and in some cases they are able to pro­vide some momen­tary glimpses of value. Great tools offer you the chance to suc­ceed, but do not guar­an­tee that out­come. No tool will ever be able to make up for the incor­rect appli­ca­tion of its fea­tures, just as no orga­ni­za­tion will truly change unless change is more impor­tant than task. In the end though, every suc­cess I have ever seen or had with an orga­ni­za­tion comes from fun­da­men­tally chal­leng­ing and chang­ing exist­ing prac­tices and in cre­at­ing sim­pler ways to get more value. Change is hard, most can not achieve it in a mean­ing­ful way, but all value comes from change. Not from cre­at­ing com­plex ways to accom­plish a task. Com­pli­cated will never mean valu­able, com­pli­cated will always sim­ply mean com­pli­cated. Never for­get that a solu­tion is a promise as a means to an end, and that the real abil­ity to achieve that end, or more, comes from action, not from just a tag or from a solu­tion being deployed.