Simple Management Lessons from The Batman

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Taking a break from management books, posts on linkedin, TED talks, and pep-talks from the Boss (?), I happened to pick up a comic book at the airport bookstore.

There’s no arguing that The Batman is the most iconic character among superheroes (and I sincerely hope the image stays iconic even after Bat-fleck gets out of the cave – hence this article while we still have Bat-bale fresh in our memory!)

Batman has no superpowers and no super human strength. He is subject to the limitations that apply to human physical capabilities and wit. Yes, he is super-rich and can afford such pass-time as crime-fighting for Gotham’s sake!

Over the years, he has had no career change. The Batman is consistent in his dedication and pursuit to save Gotham. And that’s quite commendable ’cause his job description had the words, “deal with nutcases like The Joker, The Penguin and Ra’s al Ghul everyday!”

How does he do it? And what’s that got to do with regular office going folk, making a living and advancing their careers … and on a much leaner bank account compared to the primary resident of Wayne Manor?

Here are some key lessons observed from The Caped Crusader’s mission over the years.

  1. Train Mind and Body. Everyday :

Batman needs to be at his optimum fitness levels everyday. His Job Description requires him to make quick (life & death) decisions, rational judgments and Holmes-like deductions to solve cases. Working out and meditating is the only way he can keep himself sane and battle ready.

Regular training can help one cope with taking the punches and still keep going. Tough days in office and long work trips take a toll on the body so much that even The Joker won’t think it funny!

In a small step towards being The Dark Knight in the office, check out this Batman workout

  1. The Utility Belt

Batman keeps The Utility Belt packed with tools for every imaginable situation. Other SuperHeroes don’t even seem to have pockets in their pants, and here Batman innovated the belt to ensure comfort and practicality!

The Utility Belt is quite the metaphor for “Being prepared”. For someone in a business or client facing role, the equivalent of a “Utility Belt” could be a “meeting kit” or a well organized folder.

The tools inside could be research, record of historic discussions, list of resolved / unresolved issues, tailored prezis, hand-outs, sample documents, and even a “backup” on cloud or thumb drive when your sidekick laptop is all tied up at security!

  1. Overcoming Fears

Being in a Bat Suit is the biggest indication of Batman’s triumph over his own fear of… Bats! Batman took time to understand his weakness and turned it into his biggest strength. He created an image which capitalized on the fear psychosis associated with Bats. The outcome of that, everyone knows, gives him that extra-second to turn any situation to his advantage.

Fear, as we know it, has a negative effect on one’s confidence and self-esteem. People have unwarranted and imagined fears that hamper personal growth and development. Students fear exams, employees fear appraisals (!), HR fears being bypassed by candidates and line managers!

Techniques such as visualization, meditation or setting of “small achievable goals” can help in easing fears and increasing positivity and motivation.

  1. Data Analysis, Research and Insight

Picture This: Bat Cave. Bat Computer. Bat Login. Bat Search. Bat Analysis!

An observation derived from reading comics – Batman seems to be the Original proponent of the “Big Data” concept! An unsung hero, yet again.

From Hi-Tech SONAR devices to trace the whereabouts of The Joker to studying behaviour patterns of every villain, Batman relies a lot on hard data.

While organizations rely regularly on data – for market or industry research, forecasting business pipelines and measuring KPIs to social media marketing campaigns – there is enough data to derive in our individual lives. Such data can provide basic analysis and insights to ensure a better living. One can track and monitor energy levels through the day (think sugary foods and that afternoon slump in energy), count reps in the gym, measure time spent on certain tasks or figure the best time of day to study or draft contracts and proposals!

Secret: To grow big you need to start going small

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We are living through an era of big: Big Data, big vision, The Big Idea, the next “big” thing. Big budgets go to big campaigns. But I want to pause a moment to make the case for “small.” It’s really important for business leaders and marketers today to think about “small” – small campaigns, small tests, and most importantly, small pockets of growth.

Growth can be hard to find but the truth is that for many business, growth is all around you. It’s just a matter of finding it. Consider this: Averages lie. By that I mean that companies need to adapt to dig more deeply into their data to uncover the rich pockets of growth that standard broad calculations often overlook.

My colleagues recently recommended developing “market maps” as a way to systematically identify where the pockets of growth actually are. This is literally about plotting out where all those growth opportunities are (read A game of inches). They cite a wonderful example of a European consumer goods company that analyzed consumer behaviors, which revealed the company had no presence in almost two-thirds of the attainable marketplace. This insight helped the company to adjust its strategy and develop new products to profitably address those gaps, moves that the company projected would grow revenues by 8 to 14 percent over three to five years.

This insight is based on developing a really clear understanding of how customers see the category and tradeoffs they make when making purchase decisions. This is about going deep into discussions with people about how they really make choices – what motivates them, what influences them, what they really care about. Data is helpful, but this level of insight is based on much more intimate and personal levels of interaction.

That more granular approach is evident in how companies think about penetrating into new countries, which is the standard approach. The truth is that companies should be looking at breaking into cities, which have different opportunity profiles from the country at large. When you look at the fashion industry, for example, Shanghai is as large a market as Poland and Portugal. And cities like Tianjin and Chongqing are among the top 20 fastest growing cities for women’s apparel.

This “small” approach even applies to how you connect with customers too. Sometimes it’s the small things you do that matter the most – like when the Soho Grand Hotel offers a guest a pet goldfish.

Yes, you need some big systems to make this work but you really have to think small. Here’s a question every business leader should ask him/herself when embarking on a project: How can I make this smaller?

Big Data is here to stay !!

 

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The amount of data in our world has been exploding, and analyzing large data sets—so-called big data—will become a key basis of competition, underpinning new waves of productivity growth, innovation, and consumer surplus, according to research by MGI and McKinsey’s Business Technology Office. Leaders in every sector will have to grapple with the implications of big data, not just a few data-oriented managers. The increasing volume and detail of information captured by enterprises, the rise of multimedia, social media, and the Internet of Things will fuel exponential growth in data for the foreseeable future.

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Deep analytical talent: Where are they now?
Deep analytical talent: Where are they now?

Research by MGI and McKinsey’s Business Technology Office examines the state of digital data and documents the significant value that can potentially be unlocked.

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MGI studied big data in five domains—healthcare in the United States, the public sector in Europe, retail in the United States, and manufacturing and personal-location data globally. Big data can generate value in each. For example, a retailer using big data to the full could increase its operating margin by more than 60 percent. Harnessing big data in the public sector has enormous potential, too. If US healthcare were to use big data creatively and effectively to drive efficiency and quality, the sector could create more than $300 billion in value every year. Two-thirds of that would be in the form of reducing US healthcare expenditure by about 8 percent. In the developed economies of Europe, government administrators could save more than €100 billion ($149 billion) in operational efficiency improvements alone by using big data, not including using big data to reduce fraud and errors and boost the collection of tax revenues. And users of services enabled by personal-location data could capture $600 billion in consumer surplus. The research offers seven key insights.

1. Data have swept into every industry and business function and are now an important factor of production, alongside labor and capital. We estimate that, by 2009, nearly all sectors in the US economy had at least an average of 200 terabytes of stored data (twice the size of US retailer Wal-Mart’s data warehouse in 1999) per company with more than 1,000 employees.

2. There are five broad ways in which using big data can create value. First, big data can unlock significant value by making information transparent and usable at much higher frequency. Second, as organizations create and store more transactional data in digital form, they can collect more accurate and detailed performance information on everything from product inventories to sick days, and therefore expose variability and boost performance. Leading companies are using data collection and analysis to conduct controlled experiments to make better management decisions; others are using data for basic low-frequency forecasting to high-frequency nowcasting to adjust their business levers just in time. Third, big data allows ever-narrower segmentation of customers and therefore much more precisely tailored products or services. Fourth, sophisticated analytics can substantially improve decision-making. Finally, big data can be used to improve the development of the next generation of products and services. For instance, manufacturers are using data obtained from sensors embedded in products to create innovative after-sales service offerings such as proactive maintenance (preventive measures that take place before a failure occurs or is even noticed).

 

3. The use of big data will become a key basis of competition and growth for individual firms. From the standpoint of competitiveness and the potential capture of value, all companies need to take big data seriously. In most industries, established competitors and new entrants alike will leverage data-driven strategies to innovate, compete, and capture value from deep and up-to-real-time information. Indeed, we found early examples of such use of data in every sector we examined.

4. The use of big data will underpin new waves of productivity growth and consumer surplus. For example, we estimate that a retailer using big data to the full has the potential to increase its operating margin by more than 60 percent. Big data offers considerable benefits to consumers as well as to companies and organizations. For instance, services enabled by personal-location data can allow consumers to capture $600 billion in economic surplus.

5. While the use of big data will matter across sectors, some sectors are set for greater gains. We compared the historical productivity of sectors in the United States with the potential of these sectors to capture value from big data (using an index that combines several quantitative metrics), and found that the opportunities and challenges vary from sector to sector. The computer and electronic products and information sectors, as well as finance and insurance, and government are poised to gain substantially from the use of big data.

6. There will be a shortage of talent necessary for organizations to take advantage of big data. By 2018, the United States alone could face a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytical skills as well as 1.5 million managers and analysts with the know-how to use the analysis of big data to make effective decisions.

7. Several issues will have to be addressed to capture the full potential of big data. Policies related to privacy, security, intellectual property, and even liability will need to be addressed in a big data world. Organizations need not only to put the right talent and technology in place but also structure workflows and incentives to optimize the use of big data. Access to data is critical—companies will increasingly need to integrate information from multiple data sources, often from third parties, and the incentives have to be in place to enable this.