(I struggled mightily to decide what to write about this week. In my frustration, I sat down to write about how difficult it is to choose a topic these days, and I subsequently realized, “hey, that IS the topic!” Read on and see why.)
The “School of Fish” Problem
In our team meetings behind the scenes here at PowerPivotPro, I often like to talk about the “School of Fish Problem.” In nature, it’s always fascinated me that prey fish concentrate themselves into huge, dense schools – as a defensive tactic. This has always struck me as counterintuitive. Doesn’t it seem like that would be more convenient for the predators, and therefore a bad strategy for the prey?
I mean seriously, if you were a shark, wouldn’t you PREFER your food to gather all together like this? Just swim right through with your mouth open, right?
Paradoxically, the shark can go hungry when confronted with a school,
whereas a lone fish is an easy meal.
Well, it turns out that this disrupts the shark’s ability to focus in on a single target. Charge in blindly, and the school just “flows” around the shark. Try to focus on a single fish, and the outline of said fish is constantly being blurred by the movement of the others around it. It’s kinda like jamming radar with lots of false signals.
So yeah – paradoxically, the shark can go hungry when confronted with a school, whereas a lone fish is an easy meal.
What’s the Point? (Part One)
Two points really. One, I suffer a bit from the “school of fish” problem when trying to decide what to write about. Here’s my OneNote list of potential blog topics:
When You Have a “School” of Potential Topics,
It’s Hard to Choose One to Eat… I Mean, Write About.
That my list overfloweth should not surprise us, however, because…
…Working in Data Today, There is “Too Much” Opportunity!
There’s a reason that TSOFP (The School of Fish Problem) comes up so much in our team conversations. With today’s landscape, to say “we work in Data” is really no different than saying “we work in Business.” Every organization, regardless of size, has data, and every organization is driven to improve. Data, in turn, is at the heart of improvement.
Furthermore, now that robust tools are affordable (and learnable by normal human beings), the WHOLE WORLD IS NOW IN PLAY.
Ten years ago, professional data specialists, in a way, had it easy. Since the tools and services were exorbitantly expensive, the universe of possible customers was small:
- You had to focus on large organizations only, because only they possessed the budgets required.
- Furthermore, even WITHIN those orgs, there were only 1-2 people with power to authorize the level of spending required, so you “lasered in” on those individuals specifically. You didn’t waste your time with departments, you went to the top of the Enterprise itself.
- Finally, the client generally had to be local, given the amount of communication and sweet-talking required in order to get a client to spend such massive sums, and then the intensive amount of grinding communication require to implement the project.
Put all of that together, and it was simple – a couple of dozen human beings in a given region had the ability to green light “serious” data projects. So, as a data pro (or a data pro firm), you knew where to focus your attention.
But now? That world has gone bye bye. We have another saying at PowerPivotPro: every week, we discover an opportunity that could be the basis for an entire new company. There aren’t single fish out there, it’s all schools everywhere.
Every week at PowerPivotPro, we discover an opportunity that could be the basis for an entire new company.
What to DO with all that opportunity?
By far our favorite solution to the “too much opportunity” problem is to help others with the opportunities THEY have spotted. The domain expertise, and even more importantly, the relationships required to succeed in a given industry are not something that we can replicate, nor do we really want to. We’d rather be “data IQ on loan” and help jumpstart dozens of other successful efforts – whether that be a new initiative within an existing firm or a brand-new company. I don’t see us becoming super-vertical – we are going to remain broadly horizontal.
That said, it’s still a daily challenge for us, even in the broad “horizontal” sense. So many promising avenues – too many. Should we be “all in” on riding the wave of Power BI marketing since that’s got such momentum already? How about continuing to lead the charge on the Modern Excel / Power Pivot awareness front, since that audience outnumbers the BI world 100 to 1? Accounting and finance, should we make that a focus? Sometimes the answers are all yes. File this under “good problems to have,” but it’s still a challenge. We’re enjoying it. Stay tuned.