Content analytics shows us alternative pathways to success

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To be “enterprising” is to be eager to undertake or prompt to attempt. To show initiative and be resourceful. These are leadership traits, so to be enterprising is to lead. “Analytics” is how we use data to inform decision making, in the context of achieving business objectives. These are management practices, so analytics is about management.

”Enterprising Analytics” is about being creative, resourceful and adventurous with decision making to achieve business objectives. It is about the set of leadership and management practices that need to be in place for an organization to make the most of it’s analytics investment.

Writing is evidence of thinking

This is a basic rule of the modern professional that will hold until we become mind beings. It applies to everyone who has to integrate their work with someone else’s work. Which means every knowledge professional — that is, most of the modern business world. It’s particularly important for management professionals. It’s their task is to integrate the work of knowledge professionals for the benefit of the organization.

Many people will say they’re bad at writing. Yet the same people will talk during meetings. Sometimes at length. And sometimes with great eloquence. The problem with talking is that what people say exists only in the present tense. Once it’s said, it’s gone forever. Then people start changing the memory of it. And we end up with different versions and various flavors of avoidable disputes.

Writing is evidence of thinking. We hire knowledge workers to think and then convert their thinking into action. Writing our thoughts down is the conduit to action. It helps management professionals connect everyone up and move forward.  The marketing term for this is content. The language of marketing has spread with the growth of marketing analytics across the enterprise.

Content analytics identify pet beliefs

One of the problems with the growth of content across the enterprise is that much of it is mediocre. Business is susceptible enough to buzzwords and abstractions already. It doesn’t need a mass of misunderstood marketing-isms heaped upon it. The language of every profession takes time to learn, and none are universal. It takes time to craft messages that have impact. Any fool can tap out 40 pages of high-sounding nonsense but clarity in message needs reflection.

The challenge for the strategic CxO is to find the great work in among the fluff, road maps and stories on a page. Content or text analytics is a good place to start. It won’t tell you where the great work is, but it will tell you what people think is important. Why they think it important is another matter. Discovering why is the point of content analytics. Every profession has its share of pet beliefs that survive only because they’re held to be precious. Content analysis will identify the patterns. But we need to know whether these patterns will impact mission transformation.

People produce content that looks like work, based on what they think work should look like. But such content isn’t evidence of thinking. One of the things to look for are the dissonant views. The metaphor of the organization as a machine doesn’t help. We want to see people forming strong emotional connections with the organization’s mission.

Build a map of how the organization thinks

It is this sense of mission that leads people to make the commitment to produce written work of great value. It’s this material that strategic CxOs want more of. They don’t want to see more rote headlines built around “X Ways That Y Leaders Achieve Z Things.” We can get bots for that.

A good place to start is a content analytics project that brings in a small team of linguists, psychologists and analysts. Their brief is to build up a profile of the written content created by the organization as a whole. This material is the evidence of how the organization thinks and what it thinks is important. It will help show dominant streams of thought. It helps strategic CxOs find people who are applying themselves to an alternative idea of mission. Because that’s where transformation is happening.

The challenge for strategic CxOs is to carve time out of their schedules and get out of the building. Or put another way, to break their own filter bubbles. An important part of content analytics is identifying how information gets shaped. Much of the great evidence of thinking won’t make it this far, because it doesn’t fit the picture and creates a dissonant view.

Encourage dissonance

But it’s the dissonant view that strategic CxOs need. Because it’s in dissonant views that they will find mission transformation. The writing that emerges from dissonant areas of the enterprise points to a different set of possibilities. They see a different world and with it a different way of working. It used to be that the push for consistency would result in these pockets of dissent being permanently smoothed out.

But it’s the outliers that are interesting, and content analytics should be looking for these pockets of dissonance. Thomas Kuhn writes about the relationship between scientific discovery and invention. It’s this creative application of thought and energy to deeper problems that the strategic CxO is looking for. After all, the business world is going through a complex series of shifts, and every business needs to find an alternative theory of success.

Promote alternative explanations

The new won’t emerge easily. It won’t be trumpeted in with everyone clapping. Because not everyone will welcome it and few will even recognize it for what it is. In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn wrote about that in relation to new paradigms emerging in science:

“Because it demands large-scale paradigm destruction and major shifts in the problems and techniques of normal science, the emergence of new theories is generally preceded by a period of pronounced professional insecurity. As one might expect, that insecurity is generated by the persistent failure of the puzzles of normal science to come out as they should. Failure of existing rules is the prelude to a search for new ones.”

Digital transformation means mission transformation. Mission transformation will be found in the writing of pockets of dissonance buried somewhere in the enterprise. Content analytics and the right team will help find these people. And then the real task of leadership occurs. Because CxOs will need to question their own beliefs to discover what this alternative vision of success looks like and whether they need to promote it wider.


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