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Jan 13

Dust Myself Off and Start All Over Again

The top ten lists for being a successful entrepreneur don’t usually include the explicit direction to not get sick. Perhaps it’s assumed that if an entrepreneur is going to be the CEO and the CMO and the VP of Sales and more, they’d better have health reserves to carry them through. For me, when I jumped into the world of entrepreneurs, instead of health reserves I found I had a lurking auto-immune disease just waiting to be set free.

I started CODEI, LLC in the fall of 2013 with a head full of steam and a belief that I saw something many others hadn’t yet realized (or at least weren’t acknowledging.) I was sure that the convergence of so many trends including shifts in demographics and preferences, digital as the center of everything, the explosion of data (and expectations for putting it to use), the exponential nature of technology, the globalization of everything and the new understandings into how we all actually make decisions was about to have a profound impact on the way we all work. Existing organizational structures as well as the people within them could not keep pace with the continuous stream of new demands being placed on them. Being data-driven, building around the customer and meeting the anywhere/anytime demands of digital was going to need far more than acquiring some new technology or deploying a “big data” initiative or adding a digital department. I thought the path to the future for everyone was to begin the hard work of creating new ways to plan, do, engage, measure and value.

I had just come from the then $900M Hoosier Lottery where we had worked through our own transformation to becoming data-driven and customer-centric (a precursor to what is referred to now as “digital transformation.”) After facing troubling results in 2009, a turnaround was undertaken to create new competencies across the organization. Leveraging data, embracing technology and building around the customer took the Lottery from last in the industry to a consistently top performer. Without spending incrementally, the Lottery was able to align its revenue and income growth, hold its return on sales rate steady, grow participation numbers and deliver industry leading customer satisfaction scores. And while doing so also deliver award-winning retailer work, award-winning, industry-first digital work and industry-leading work bringing multi-variate predictive forecasting as well as reporting and analytics into the business. Could what we learned about what to do (and not do) help others?

CODEI, LLC was born in hopes of doing just that. While many seemed to be screaming about data, chasing the promises of the latest digital technology and deploying multiple customer initiatives, few were talking about the scale and scope of the change that was actually necessary. And fewer still seemed to recognize that it was far less about data, the customer or technology and far more about the people, across the organization. The people who were being asked to consume overwhelming amounts of data, transform their understanding of the customer and create the systems, decisions and actions that turn potential into repeatable and growing value. The people who were now being tasked to be creative, critical thinkers, collaborate in all new ways, be willing to take risks and be unafraid to fail. The problem? Schools haven’t been teaching it and organizations aren’t structured for and haven’t, up until now, been rewarding it.

I didn’t see it then, but there was actually a bigger problem. At least for me.

From the beginning I found myself more fatigued than I thought I should be. I didn’t have the stamina to both deliver existing paying client work while also nurture and incubate the philosophies, thinking and processes for helping organizations to and through a digital transformation. Instead of active networking, writing and participating in the market, I had to concentrate my dwindling energy resources on existing work. Work that while valued and touched on the needs of the future was less about transformation and more about the care and keeping of today’s business.

As my health continued to decline, I visited doctors in hopes of finding a diagnosis. Because I am a fifty year old woman, most of the visits were met less with interest and compassion and more with assumptions about who I was and what I was suffering from. Instead of assistance with my diagnosis, I learned that I needed to handle stress better and sleep more. I also learned that I needed to eat better and exercise more. I was made aware that I am getting older and with that comes aches and pains. With all that not so helpful (or original) advice, I also learned that data is as overwhelming to doctors as it is to all of us. There is a lot they do not know and there is far too much focus by most on treating symptoms vs. finding and fixing the cause. I learned that for all the excitement and chatter about patient-driven care and the value of health data, I couldn’t find anyone interested in my iWatch data and very few interested in patient-driven anything. Because I found too many who were quick to make assumptions and stop listening, I learned that I have to check their work (which they don’t appreciate) and be my own advocate. Ultimately, I learned that healthcare, like every industry, is in need of its own digital transformation.

In October 2015, I was left with no choice but to take a step completely back. Something was terribly wrong and I needed to take all my remaining energy to figure it out before it was too late. I finished an existing project and turned my attention to solving my health crisis. After too many “specialists”, too many irrelevant and possibly dangerous medications (most of which I didn’t take) and even a suggestion for unnecessary heart surgery, I finally found my way to a rheumatologist and a diagnosis. While it took way too long and I encountered way too many barriers along the way, I am one of the lucky ones. Lucky because there is effective medicine, I am recovering and getting myself and my life back. Lucky because I had access and was not willing to be dismissed. Lucky because I have great health insurance. And lucky because I had (and have) incredibly supportive friends and family who were there with me every step of the way.

So where does that leave me and CODEI? While I haven’t been able to nurture and develop the business, I was able to keep in touch with what has been happening. The conversation has
People At Center ColorSmallercertainly gotten louder and the individuals participating have multiplied, but the market hasn’t seemed to move too much.Perhaps that’s because the effort is so comprehensive, fraught with challenges and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all easy to follow to-do list. While it is true that it isn’t simple, easy or quick, it is do-able (and really, there isn’t a choice.) I still believe that driving iterative and continuous change across six practice areas starts with people. That while the customer must serve as inspiration, an advanced data competency is critical, the right technologies are key, new processes and procedures will be required and organizational structures and rewards must change, when you walk what has to be different all the way back it always gets to the people. It is with the people that most change efforts fail and it is with them that this effort must succeed. Regardless of what the future holds, I hope that resonates and organizations of all sizes in all industries recognize that changing the way they do business starts with and depends upon their people (all of them.)

As for me, as I begin to re-enter everyday life, all I know is that, just as Ginger Rogers told Fred Astaire to do, I will pick myself up, dust myself off and start all over again (which I’m pretty sure is on those top ten lists for entrepreneurs.)

edited 1/27/17


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