I'm a big fan of data and analytics. Using data to make day-to-day decisions gives me sound footing supporting what I do. Harry Wong, the noted educator, has said that what you do is not important, that knowing why you do what you do is the important thing. Whether you agree with him or not, it's always intrigued me to understand why some people get results and some do not. Why do some sales people make that big sale and others let it slip through their fingers? Why is one presentation killer while another elicits nothing but yawns? Why will students perform for one teacher, but resist another?
Sometimes, successful people do not even know why what they do works. It just does. But there are those of us who have the curiosity to try to figure out the "why" of success.
How to Find Ideas
The methodology to getting our answers -- or partial answers -- does not have to be scientific or complex. It can be simple observation and paying attention. Also, what we look for can be just as diverse, whether we're looking for a better way to do something at work, increasing our health, or a better way to hit a tennis ball (Does grunting, yelling, or squealing with your strokes really improve your game or is it that we just believe we play better?).
Ideas can be found in reading research, listening to the radio, watching television, and personal observation. For example, while driving to church last week I was listening to my XM radio when FoxNews' medical correspondent, Isadore Rosenfeld, cited a study that suggested that those who eat curry at least twice per week could possibly stave off or prevent Alzheimer's Disease. Finding that interesting, I began researching the topic on the internet and found this:
The article also said that curry had also shown promise in studies to reduce joint swelling in mice with arthritis. The study suggested that positive results could be seen (or felt) in as little as two meals per week with recipes that included curry. Staring at a hip replacement for Degenerative Arthritis in the next few months, that got my attention.
One model for me in applying analytics and research at work was the previous Superintendent of my school district, of which I am an administrator. He constantly devoured studies -- or I should say, their summaries. He looked for studies with results that he wanted and then acted on them in our system.
One example is the notion that students who stay put in one school, put down roots, and develop relationships there, perform better than students who are uprooted one or more times per year and moved from school to school. Our superintended stumbled upon research that seemed to verify this common sense idea. Our system has a substantial number of children whose parents are migrant workers who move throughout the year, following the seasonal work that they do, such as picking tobacco and other crops. Before we knew it, we had the "Home Field Advantage Program" in place for the 10 most impacted schools in the district. Simply, if a parent moved from one district to another, our system allowed their children to stay at their same school and we provided the transportation that allowed them to remain there. It was a huge financial dedication to these students, as buses (which are not known for their fuel economy) would drive extra miles out of the way to pick up these students and bring them back to their home school and return them home everyday.
The system wasn't perfect. We had to find out how to deal with the state law that required students to attend school in the district in which their parents reside. Students were supposed to move according to the law. How to fund the increase in bus fuel was another obstacle. There was also the question as to whether the students' extended time on the bus in the morning and afternoons negated the positive effects of the students staying in their home school rather than moving. These are questions we still wrestle with. I'm only hoping that there are those in our central office who are collecting data to do our own study to see if our program provides results consistent with the original research. Every new program has obstacles, but the point is that we applied data to our real world and anticipate similar results as those in the study, albeit no guarantees are granted when you work on the cutting edge.
He also rewarded those school principals who sought out research-based ideas. When he first arrived in our school system, he brought with him a reading program that he had found success with in the past. Change is never welcomed by everyone and some grumbled about the new program. He extended an offer to us: Any principal who could provide him with an alternate research-based reading program - with the underlying research - could implement that program rather than the superintendent's. Good leaders encourage, as well as model, good habits.
Seeking and and acting on research-based or analytically observed ideas:
- Cause one to see possibilities for improvement in areas not considered before
- Give one sound footing to take effective action, being confident in the success of it
- Provide a defense to those who challenge new directions in thinking and creative programs
- Can lead to innovation, and will definitely lead to change
- Require strong leadership that is comfortable with change and its challengers
- Will lead to success in one's career
Outrun the Economic Bear
In this economic environment, employees are - or should be - looking for ways that set them apart. Specifically, ways to show supervisors that they are there to contribute substantially more to the organization than the value of their salary.
There is an old joke of two men who were hiking in the woods when they came upon an angry bear. They froze for an instant when one reached in his backpack and pulled out his running shoes. His friend, astonished, looked at him and said, "Buddy, you'll never outrun that bear no matter what kind of shoes you're wearing!" His friend replied, "I don't have to outrun that bear. I only have to outrun you!" And off he took.
Constantly looking for, applying, and promoting research-based business ideas that evolve into extra, profitable, projects is one way to stand out at work, increasing the odds for employment survival. These research or observation-based ideas can be the running shoes that can help you outrun your competition in keeping your job as positions dwindle in a sinking economy.