Elevating Business Analysis from Zero to One

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Tshepo Matjila unpacks the thinking of Zero to One by Peter Thiel alongside Joe Newbert, considering the impacts and ideas for elevating business analysis.

Tshepo Matjila is a seasoned management consultant with deep experience in the Financial Services industry, with an unquenchable thirst for business knowledge and insight.

Within the 2015 Inter-View Report, Tshepo gave us the brief, yet sage, advice to ‘read voraciously’. This year when we decided to include a book review, we knew the perfect person to inspire us.

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future

by Peter Thiel

Zero to One is Peter Thiel’s seminal work. In the book, Peter goes to great lengths to emphasise the value of ‘creating new things’ and building monopoly organisations. He asks some very cogent questions around the process of inventions and the value of being contrarian. I like this book because it stretches your “think” paradigms and challenges you to think beyond the usual. In the book, Peter (who is part of the ‘Paypal Mafia’ alongside giants like Elon Musk), declares that those who are trying to mimic established innovations like Facebook, Google, Apple and Microsoft are not learning from their pioneering founders.

These pioneers created something new (moved from 0 to 1) and if you copy them and improve on their product, you are not doing better than taking the world from a known to an improved known (from 1 to n). As business analysts we have the profile of inventors, as we are taught how to be creative and, importantly, how to ASK the right question, like: “What kind of business is no-one building at the moment?” These types of questions are what enables entrepreneurs to build pioneering, monopoly companies of the future that will delight customers and make investors happy to back our organisations/ventures.

Stepping out of the organisational shadow into the future world of business.

[Joe] Fascinating book Tshepo, and incredibly provoking. To begin, I have to ask you, what important truth do very few people agree with you on?

[Tshepo] Business analysts are using less than 5% of their talents. We are the engine for ‘change the business’ (whether it is process or product), yet we continue to act like supplemental staff in organisations. We get ‘managed’ by everyone but ourselves, be it project managers, business or IT, and yet we are the lynchpin of introducing managed change in the business. Without us, business change would be chaotic, unstructured and more expensive. It is time for the real business analysts to rise up and claim their rightful place in the organisational hierarchy.

[Joe] Very much a springboard to the book (and something that really struck me) is an ‘inevitability’, with significant consequences for business analysis. What happens when we’ve gained everything to be had from fine-tuning the old lines of business that we’ve inherited? What are your views on this and its impact?

[Tshepo] Peter Thiel dispels the myth that continuous improvement thinking should be the holy grail of product and process thinking. Every product or process has a lifespan and continuing to milk them beyond their utility lifespan is both archaic and dangerous. A new entrant could disrupt your business and bring you to your knees.

Applying it to the analysis field, I think it is also a big tree shake-up for business analysts:

… we need to stop thinking that domain-expertise type of immersion is the holy grail to our existence and value-adding function.

We need business domain knowledge, but deeper immersion will not necessarily transcend into us being better analysts. Rather it will ultimately lead to us being anti-innovation, lacking imagination and defending ‘status-quo’ thinking.

[Joe] You state in your synopsis, ‘As business analysts, we have the profile of inventors’. Would you agree that the role has typically been more ‘horizontal’ (copying things that work) than ‘vertical’ (creating new things)? How well do you feel we fulfil this promise?

[Tshepo] There are many business analysts who have brought vertical progress to their organisation and humanity through new imaginations and building products that have delighted the customer, but increasingly worrying is the many analysts who are only too happy to do process or product improvement type of work (perhaps being too scared to upset the applecart).

We are doing our skill-sets a disservice by not getting stuck-in in the production of new thinking and novel products.

Business analysts are among the few professionals who have whole brain thinking capability, i.e. creative and logical thinking capabilities. It’s a waste.

[Joe] How does the evolution of the business analyst role – from whence it came to where we are – account for much of the ‘horizontal trap’, and how could we break the shackles?

[Tshepo] This ‘horizontal trap’ is in part due to the fact that we traditionally wait to be ‘assigned’ to projects which have already had their scope and constraints defined (budget, time, quality, etc.), rather than conceptualising new or novel products and/or services that we could develop quicker, test with customers and then deploy to greater acclaim. If we “create” the work ourselves – within the ambit of the businesses we are in – we will have more latitude to influence how the end results should look and feel. Nothing is stopping us from doing this. If you have a great idea (whose business case you could prove), business and partners will back you up.

[Joe] These new ventures are inherently riskier and require greater visionary faith from organisations, especially big organisations. Yet this is where the future lies. What can business analysts do in order for organisations to embrace a mentality of intrapreneurship?

[Tshepo] It’s only by influencing the thinking from the bottom up that we can achieve this. Many organisations are now starting to value and invest in setting up or partnering with incubation hubs. Business analysts must sensitise their organisations to the reality that protecting the status quo is no longer sufficient: we need to start the ‘disrupt’ seismic thinking in our own organisations if we are to capture the future. Delaying this will have dire consequences.

[Joe] To succeed in this business of doing new things, what skills, knowledge and behaviours will business analysts need to ride the wave of the future?

[Tshepo] We need more independent-minded analysts. The more we think for ourselves, the more we can add more value to our organisations. This, combined with the traits and resolve needed to make it happen; to influence, demonstrate and keep on doing so to change the business.

‘Embracing constraints’ is also another behaviour we need to harness. Constraints shouldn’t limit the thinking, but rather spur innovative thinking around doing more with less.

‘Elevating Business Analysis From Zero To One with Tshepo Matjila‘  was first published in the 2016 Inter-View Report, and you can chat with @MatjilaTshepo and @Newbert over on Twitter about elevating business analysis.

About Joe Newbert

Joe is a consultant, a writer, a speaker and above all a teacher, who spends most of his time at the Business Change Academy helping people to grow their skills, bring meaningful change and see their career soar.

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