The rapid pace of innovation and the constantly exploding collection of possibilities is a major contributor to the fun we all have in digital jobs. There is never a boring moment, there is never time when you can’t do something faster or smarter.
The tiny downside of this is that our parents likely never had to invest as much in constant education, experimentation and self-driven investment in core skills. They never had to worry that they have to be in a persistent forward motion… sometimes just to stay current.
This reality powers my impostor syndrome, and (yet?) it is the reason that I love working in every dimension of digital. We are at an inflection point in humanity’s evolution where in small and big ways, we can actually change the world.
With that context, this post is all about career management in the digital space. Like this blog, it will be particularly relevant for those who are in digital analytics and digital marketing. I would offer that the higher-order-bits in each of the three sections will provide valuable food-for-thought for anyone in a digital role.
The post has three clusters of advice. The first two are from editions of my newsletter, The Marketing – Analytics Intersect (it goes out weekly, and is now my primary publishing channel, sign up!). The third section was sparked by a question a friend who works at a digital agency asked: Will I lose my job to automation soon? (The answer was, yes.)
The Now section provides advice on how investing in growing your Analytical Thinking will contribute to greater success in the role you are in. The Next section provides advice on what you should be doing to invest in yourself to get ready for the depth and breadth change Artificial Intelligence is going to bestow upon us (regardless of your business role). The Long section shares a thought experiment I want you to undertake to figure out your career three years from now.
One more change reflective of the times we live in… Your employer used to be responsible for your career, this is for the most part no longer true. Your employer would send you to trainings to help push your career forward, this is for the most part no longer true. Your employer/manager would help you figure out the skills you can develop, this is for the most part no longer true. It is now all on you. Hence… Take control.
Check the requirements listed in any digital analytics job and you'll notice a long laundry list looking for analytics experience.
Years of having used tool x. Years and years of practice with R or "Big Data." Years of proficiency in analyzing m campaigns for n channels resulting in production of z reports.
When you go to the interview, the hiring company will proceed to ask questions that test your competency in the listed job requirements.
This is normal.
Reflecting on my experience, it is not sufficient.
Test for analytics experience AND explore the level of analytical thinking the job candidate possesses.
Analytical thinking is 6,451 times more crucial in the long-term success of the candidate and the value they'll add to your company.
Analytical Thinking: Skills, Interviewing, Value.
Analytical thinking is a collection of skills.
It is creative problem solving. It is working systematically and logically when dealing with complex tasks. It is exploring alternatives from multiple angles to find a solution. It is a brilliant evaluation of pros and cons, and achieving the balance that is right for that specific moment. It is always knowing that the answer to what's two plus two is always in what context? It is being able to recognize patterns. It is knowing that every worthy life decision is a multivariate regression equation (hence the quest to identify all the variables in that equation and their weights). It is the possession of critical thinking abilities. And, most of all it is being able to seek and see the higher order bits.
If I have the immense privilege of interviewing you, expect us to spend a lot of time on the elements mentioned above.
One sample strategy: Expect that I'll ask open-ended questions (If a company has 90% Reach on TV, why the heck do they need digital?). Then, regardless of what you say I'll politely but forcefully push back, to explore the depth and breadth of analytical thinking you bring to the table.
If you hire strong analytical thinkers, of any background, you are hiring people who will be adaptable, who'll grow and flex with your organization and needs. They'll have the mental agility to think smart and move fast. They'll ask child-like simple questions that'll lay bare your complex strategic challenges. Hire them. And, if they don't know tool x… You can teach them which buttons to press.
Caring and Feeding Your Analytical Thinking.
If you are an analytical thinker, there are many ways in which you can keep feeding and stretching the synapses in your brain. There is always more you can learn.
In a business context, request an hour to talk to people three levels above you in the organization. Ask them what they worry about, ask them what they are solving for, ask them how they measure success, ask them what are two things on the horizon that they are excited about. So on and so forth. You'll see things very differently, and you'll think very differently when you go back to work.
I'd mentioned being able to look at every situation from multiple angles. (Think of the famous bullet time scene in the Matrix.) Hence, a personal strategy of mine is to look well outside my area of expertise to help me improve my analytical thinking capabilities.
I'm love reading decisions of the US Supreme Court. SCOTUSblog FTW!
The Supreme Court deals with situations that are insanely complex – even when they appear to be stunningly simple on the surface. There are so many lessons to be learned.
My favorites are the ones I massively disagree with. Citizens United is one such example. I could not possibly disagree with it more. Yet reading through the deep details helped me see the multiple facets being explored, the reasoning used by the other side. I learned a lot.
I go in open-minded, and at times have my mind changed. A good example of this Justice Scalia's opinion in Gonzales v. Raich and the use of the Commerce Clause. And, he was not a man with whom I have overlapping views on anything. I appreciate him stretching my mind in this case.
Optimal Starting SCOTUS Starting Points.
If you would like to pursue my personal strategy, here are a collection of cases to use as starting points.
Some cases are very dear to me, I truly love them, there is a lot to learn from them as you explore the back and forth of the debate, the majority opinion and the dissenting one (or ones).
Loving v. Virginia is close to my heart, it is the reason I can legally marry my wife. It was just 50 years go!
Obergefell v. Hodges brought immense to our family as we celebrated the right of all Americans to marry. Justice Kennedy's opinion is a thing of beauty. And, it is also useful to read Justices Scalia and Thomas' strong and powerful dissents.
Texas v. Johnson said that prohibition on desecration of the American flag was a violation of the right to free speech. Of the many wonderful things about America, the First Amendment is at the top and distinctly unique. The court looked beyond the jingoistic distractions the flag always attracts, and protected what's critical.
As I'd mentioned above, there is much to learn from cases that are heartbreaking
Dred Scott v. Sandford held that African Americans, free or slaves, could not be considered American citizens and undid the Missouri Compromise. It contained the infamous quote "[black men] had no rights which the white man was bound to respect."
Buck v. Bell is perhaps the one that is a deep, deep source of pain for me, it a decision that still stands. The court upheld forced sterilizations for those with "intellectual disabilities" and contained the despicable phrase "three generations of imbeciles are enough."
Korematsu v. United States, legalized the shameful internment of American citizens with any Japanese ancestry. It is still on the books, and places extraordinary power in the President of the US to do what they want to people who might not look like "Americans." People like me.
Each case, regardless of if I agree with the opinion or disagree, helps push my thinking. It makes me a better analyst, a better employee, a better start-up founder.
I've added a differentiated collection of links above to take you to sources, I hope they'll help feed your analytical thinking.
For the Busy Human On The Go, An Alternative.
Given everything above, I absolutely LOVE the More Perfect podcast.
Jad Abumrad and his team are magnificent storytellers. For each episode, they take one case and explore it from multiple directions. They are entertaining, engaging and deeply informative.
Season one covered seven scintillating cases. I found the episodes that shared how SCOTUS was formed and got its power amazing.
Season two kicked of with… Korematsu! I thought I knew all angles of this case. Yet, towards the end you'll hear two loud silences in a conversation with Judge Richard Posner. Make sure you hear what he says. I have profound respect for Judge Posner, he is brilliant. And, in those two moments, he both made me deeply uncomfortable and appreciate complexity.
Bringing It All Back To Analytics.
The latest episode (as of Oct 11th) is "Who's Gerry and Why Is He So Bad At Drawing Maps."
The problem is simple. In Wisconsin Republicans in power massively gerrymandered voting districts (something the Democrats also do when in power). Unlike the past where little sophistication was applied, this time sophisticated algorithms and computers were brought into play. Resulting in more effective gerrymandering.
End result: Democrats won 53% of the votes but only 39% of the seats.
You might think: OMG! CRAZY BEANS! What happened to one person one vote!
Well, the case was heard by the Supreme Court last week. And, everything's quite complicated (analytical thinking!). Listen to the episode for that.
What's even more material for us is that Justice Kennedy wants to know how can he figure out that a district has been "too" gerrymandered. There is no real standard, nothing the Justices can use.
Math to the rescue!
Nicholas Stephanopoulos and Eric McGhee created an Efficiency Gap formula to assess how bad the gerrymandering was. (More here, PDF.)
I won't spoil it for you, let Professor Moon Duchin explain it to in the podcast. It is a thing of beauty.
You'll learn how to create smarter formulas in your job, how to solve complicated and ambiguous challenges with simple assumptions, and how to not to grow too close to your formulas – rather evolve them over time to be smarter.
In 23 mins, it will make you a better Analyst.
If you follow the overall guidance in this section, you’ll continue to invest and grow the one skill you’ll need in every digital career: Sophisticated analytical thinking.
Even with all the hype related to all things Artificial Intelligence, I feel people are not taking the topic seriously enough. That the big, broad implications for the very near future are not causing us to sit up, take notice, and change our strategies (personal and professional).
Or, maybe I'm just too deep into this stuff. 🙂
I had two big ah-ha moments that have changed my view if humans can be competitive in any field compared to what technology will spring forth. I call the two elementsl Collective Continuous Learning and Complete Day One Knowledge, they are harbingers of exciting possibilities for what we can do with AI (and it to us).
For more detail on that, and if humans are doomed (yes, no, yes totally) please read: The Artificial Intelligence Opportunity: A Camel to Cars Moment
The topic of AI is vast, and I’m not even including all the layers and flavors. The more I learn, the more I realize how little I know. My heartfelt recommendation is that every professional should be curious about AI and try to stay abreast with as many new dimensions as they can. After the first few months, you’ll find your own sweetspot that’ll catch your fancy.
Here are the collection of books, videos, people and learning opportunities from my sweetspot…
I want to recommend three books. None focusses on digital marketing or analytics. Each tackles humans and the possibilities for humans. Hence they’ve had a profound impact on my thinking about humanity’s future (and via that route, my career plans).
1. Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari.
The span of Mr. Harari's thinking is truly grand, and he's a great storyteller. I am less pessimistic than Mr. Harari about the 300 year outcome (as you'll read in my post above on AI), but he's influenced my thinking deeply.
2. Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies by Nick Bostrom.
AI will birth numerous incredible solutions for humanity, but the most magical bits will come from Artificial General Intelligence. Some people think of it as Superintelligence. Mr. Bostrom does a fantastic job of exploring the possibilities. Let me know if you get scared or excited by the end. 🙂
3. Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence by Max Tegmark
I love the way Mr. Tegmark writes, and there is something magical about his ability to distill all living things, you, me, watermelons, to up quarks, down quarks and nand gates! I was so inspired by his writing that I wrote to him my personal prediction for humanity looking 300 years out.
Current development of Intelligence is in silos, I'm glad when someone pulls all the experts from around the world in an attempt to guide humanity's efforts.
The Future of Life Institute hosted a conference in Asilomar in Jan 2017 with just such a purpose. The entire list of videos is well worth watching, prioritize the individual ones: Beneficial AI 2017
If you can only watch one…
The content is great and it is pretty amazing to see these crazy brilliant group on one stage.
There is one other video I want you to watch, from the 2015 edition.
There is mostly a negative vibe about the combination of robotics and AI. The brilliant Jeffrey Sachs systematically presents context you'll be glad you've heard.
There is a ton of video content on YouTube. A go to source for me is whoever is curating the Artificial Intelligence AI channel.
In any space that is having the kind of exponential growth like AI, your best bet is to find people who trust and listen to what they are saying/doing.
We are blessed with a ton of experts, practitioners and futurists. I encourage you to curate your own list.
Here are the ones I follow as closely as I can: Sebastian Thrun, Jürgen Schmidhuber, Demis Hassabis, and Andrew Ng.
I watch videos of all their talks on YouTube or tune in to livestreams of their presentations. I read articles they write. I have alerts for them. Luckily they are so darn busy, they pace their public speaking/writing. 🙂
You can follow their work using strategies you currently use for others you stay in touch with.
If you are slightly technically oriented and would like to start your journey of acquiring technical knowledge in the space, Udacity is a great place to go.
All three of these courses are free:
If you are deeply technically oriented, you already know where to go and don’t need my pointers!
I’m sure you’ll notice I’ve not given you specific advice for your next career move. One reason: We are in a moment where each of us has to know all the changes coming, all the possibilities arising, and then figure out that answer for ourselves.
The above books, videos, people and lessons will help you discover the right answer for yourself.
People are scared of automation.
It is logical. The AI revolution will bring a ton of automation that will eliminate current white-collar jobs in large numbers.
Yet, by the end of this thought experiment, you might see that looking out over the nest 25-30 years, we can deal with automation (/elimination of our current jobs).
This thought experiment is for both Marketers and Analysts.
Get in front of a whiteboard. Draw a decent size square box on it.
Today, almost all the work you do is inside that box.
For Digital Marketers, it is finding keywords or websites, setting targeting parameters, building ads, setting bids, adding rules, building landing pages etc. etc.
For Digital Analysts, it is creating data collection mechanisms, writing queries, creating reports, doing segmentation, creating rules, identifying business focus areas based on data etc. etc.
Here's the thought: If tomorrow everything you currently do, inside that box, is completely automated… What's your value?
Think about it carefully in terms of personal implications.
For the bravest among you, think of what's the value of your Agency/Company.
If you are anything like me, you are super-scared. Some of you are likely super-excited as well.
Don't be scared. Take action.
It is not as crazy as you think to envision that you could be completely automated out. In small pieces this has already happened.
Media example: Campaigns to create, target and deliver results for driving app downloads is now almost entirely automated.
Analytics example: There are already buttons in your tools that automate finding of anomalies in your data that your leaders most need to pay attention to. Eliminating the need for the known knowns and automatically providing the known unknowns and unknown unknowns.
An example that combines the both for even more effective automation: With smart creative, smart bidding, and smart targeting there is no need for any human to touch AdWords or soon a whole lot of your Display campaigns. The results of Data Driven Attribution modeling, which use data from *all* digital campaigns, can now be directly plugged into AdWords which means without any reporting/analysis the platform will automatically optimize for the highest profit for your business – with no human involvement. This is not the future, it is Nov 2017.
Back to the whiteboard.
On top of the box with the stuff you do, write the word Automated.
Ponder now what's your value.
You'll see there are two areas where you can add value. The area before the box, the area after the box.
If you are a Marketer…
You can shift to taking more ownership of the inputs that go into your current job (which remember is now automated). Shift to a responsibility that requires a deeper understanding of your Prospects and Customers at a human level. Now, because of that beautiful knowledge, take ownership of the entire process of identifying the optimal creative assets required for any great Marketing campaign. Then, step up and move to the other side of the box… Own the use and deployment of large scale machine learning services to understand every human, which results in creating the simplest most meaningful experience across all digital touch-points. And then… I'm taking you so far away from your current box… expand the outcomes you own from just the transactional to building deeper years-long beyond-pimpy relationships with your customers.
You hate the freaking box you are in as a Marketer today. You want to expand your responsibility to own these deeply meaningful things that Machine Learning and our Deep Neural Networks won't touch for a while. You want to feel the true joy that comes from doing meaningful things like figuring out how to build relationships or unleash the full and beautiful power of amazing creative (in ads, in apps, on sites, in products), and so many more exciting things that you were born to do.
Now, you are not scared about automated. You can't wait for your current job to be automated away.
I have the above scenario and the wonderful possibilities for Analysts as well. It is also very exciting, as you’ll discover when you do the whiteboarding exercise for yourself.
Now. I totally get that your entire job is not getting automated tomorrow. But, I suspect you'll be surprised though how fast that is coming. For Nurses. For Truck drivers. For Baristas. For… Everyone. Collect a handful of the smartest people you know, draw a box on a whiteboard, have a discussion.
This thought experiment is just one way to think through the implications of what’s ahead of us. In my blog post on the artificial intelligence opportunity, you’ll see another way I framed how to think this through…
The above framing is a bit more in the higher-order-bit spirit.
I recommend the thought experiment. When you’re done: Step one, have a plan. Step two, execute. Step three, joy. Step four, follow the advice in section one (Now) and section two (Next) of this blog post and start investing in the personal growth you’ll need to move to these new more joy-inducing meaningful jobs.
Your career is in your hands, and I deeply believe it is going to be bright. Seize the moment!
As always, it is your turn now.
Considering the Now moment, is there something unique you do to invest in growing your analytical thinking capabilities? How are you preparing for the Next moment, who are you reading, who are you listening to? Considering the next 25 years in our space, how far do you think automation will go? How are you approaching your personal evolution with the Long moment horizon in mind? How about your company’s?
Please share your unique perspective, challenges, and solutions via comments below.