Curtis Michelson is creating a context for business change with Joe Newbert, a conversational space that opens up the possibility for strategic innovation.
Curtis Michelson is the founder and principal of Minds Alert, LLC, a consultancy specialising in delightfully disruptive business architecture.
With an abiding interest in supporting rich product and organizational discovery in teams, business units and enterprises, Curtis trusts the power of crowds and the power of structured research to ignite critical conversations. If you feel your team isn’t engaging in the right conversation, or asking the right questions, Curtis might have some ideas to help you safely open new areas of inquiry, without alienating the higher-ups.
Congratulations on your recent talk at the Business Analysis Summit Southern Africa, it was well received by many. For those who weren’t fortunate to attend, could you give us a synopsis of what your presentation was about?
Thanks Joe. Well my talk at BA Summit this year was a reflection on themes that emerged in a recent client engagement, themes that I thought had relevance and alignment with BA Summit; namely, pushing the envelope on innovation and strategy.
Last year, I was very lucky to land a paying gig that gave me the opportunity to really push those edges and engage a multi-functional group of stakeholders in a 7 month discovery process, with the goal of landing on a radical new business model in the scholarly publishing ecosystem. The presentation I gave in Johannesburg provided highlights of that journey – the good, bad, and ugly of enterprise discovery work, if you will.
The topic is clearly an area that you are personally passionate about. Why do you feel this subject is relevant and important for the business analysis profession?
Could I turn the question around and ask, if you’re not passionate about these themes of innovation and being more strategic, then why are you a business analyst?
This is the future of the profession. Anything less will sooner or later either be outsourced, downsized or replaced by Artificial Intelligence (AI). That’s harsh I admit, but it’s real.
If you’re spending most your energy and effort documenting the ‘as is’ and sketching a mildly different ‘to be’, then you’re playing it too safe.
Having shared your ideas with the business analysis community. What key points would you like people to take-away, reflect and act upon?
My talk offered 10 things that I found effective in moving stakeholders out of their assumption zone and into genuinely new thought territory; things like, get a support team behind you, find other prophets or voices to sell your ideas, bring a systems thinking approach, etc. I gave examples of how I did those things, but I was also very clear that my ideas worked in my context. South African Business Analysts cannot copy/paste my tips and technique, you need to make them your own.
For example, when I talked about harnessing conflict to advantage, I shared a story of getting two stakeholders with conflicting (and important) views to roleplay their differences in a skit. I used an American TV show that my stakeholders grew up with, that they knew well, and could relate to as Baby Boomers. Likewise, I brought in music they could relate to and so forth. That might not work in S.A.
Now that you’ve had time to better absorb Inter-View Volume III, what are your thoughts on this initiative and the value it adds to the business analysis profession?
Any time we get to hear from real working pros, it’s helpful, especially when the interviewees are candid about both their successes and their failures. My project for example had both. It was well funded, but had plenty of missteps, some bruised egos, and in the end, some rich insight but a fumbled execution. I think case studies are always powerful and we need more of them in our profession.
There is such unnecessary mystery surrounding what we all do day-in and day-out. Many of us don’t talk about it because we’re shy, others perhaps embarrassed that we’re not doing what we think others are doing, and some maybe don’t share because they think they sit on some secret sauce they are going to make into their next book, or talk, or whatever.
We need to all share openly and honestly so we can learn what works, what doesn’t, what’s in demand, and what’s going away. Inter-View is great for showcasing that.
Business analysis summit spoiled in terms of the learning and networking opportunities. What was your greatest personal insight taken from the business analysis conference?
Here are a few things I observed that struck me …
BA Summit is right up there at the same or higher quality level than most any other BA-oriented conference around the world. You guys used video to great effect. I’ll never forget the inspiring opening to Mohammed Bray’s keynote, that greyhound dog running in slo-mo on the beach, and the music pulsating. That’s powerful and it hit me in the right place.
Agile philosophy seems quite undeveloped and that surprised me, but I saw high interest. Your conference also confirmed that EVERY conference inviting business analysts to attend MUST include strategy and innovation tracks. Most don’t. You guys do. Bravo.
If I’m not mistaken, this was your first experience of South African business analysis. What impressions do you leave with of the local business analyst community?
Well, I wish I had weeks or months to really get to know your country and your cultural norms better. But surface impressions were, S.A. folks are super professional, serious about their work, really aiming upwards and at the same time, like most of us around the world, struggling with our footing, our place, our standing in the workaday world and in the enterprise. You confront the same headwinds that your European and North American and Asian colleagues do.
Yet, you seem to approach those headwinds with your own flare, and might I say, wellspring of goodwill. The post-apartheid generation (people like Ryan Folster and Tshepo Matjila) seem to have a basic trust and willingness to listen and communicate across differences. Not that it’s perfect in S.A. or you’re beyond racism, etc. But the people I met and interacted with, white and black, showed me a pride in what you’ve been through and how far you’ve come. For comparison, I’m sitting in a country that thinks it’s best days are behind it, and some of my countrymen have stooped to paranoid delusions about the world taking things away from them. You all seem to have a much sunnier attitude compared to us, and that bodes well I believe.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
If folks download my slide deck, they’ll get a sense of what I was talking about, but they will miss the larger point, which is that all of us doing real profound change work are caught between Scylla and Charybdis. It’s really hard. At the start of my talk I asked the audience two questions –
What is the world asking of us right now? And, what is the world resisting?
The responses to question one were; “Innovation”, “breakthroughs”, “cost savings”, “creativity”. And the responses to the other were “don’t rock the boat”, “don’t change so fast”, “I’m dizzy”, “scared”, “afraid to change”, “doubt myself”, etc. I then asked a third question, “is THIS the space that you and I inhabit every day?” Nervous laughter ensued as I hammed it up, visibly shaking my body and undulating from side to side between these two powerful forces that pull us towards the future and at the same time strongly away from it. It’s a tough place to live. But, as they say, someone has to do it. Congratulations, you’re a business analyst! 😉
Download Curtis Michelson‘s slide-deck from Business Analysis Summit SA 2016 for deeper insight of how to Create A Context For Business Change, and you can’t go wrong connecting with Curtis via @SpecsRex and @Newbert over on Twitter.