Decision Vision Episode 132: Should I Experiment with My Business? – An Interview with Marti Konstant, Konstant Change
For many business owners, the pandemic raised fresh questions about diversifying revenue and pivoting into new business lines. Workplace agility authority Marti Konstant joined host Mike Blake to discuss how and when a business should experiment, how experimentation keeps a company agile and responsive, and much more. Decision Vision is presented by Brady Ware & Company.
Konstant Change provides a simple yet powerful agility model, training, and tools to help individuals and organizations adapt to change and build powerful and relevant futures. The company also offers a career decoder framework for mid-career job seekers so they can uncover right fit roles in the next stage of their careers.
Marti Konstant, Workplace Futurist, Konstant Change
Marti Konstant is a workplace futurist with an agile mindset. She is a career growth analyst, author, speaker, and founder of the Happy Profitable Employee Project™.
An early adopter of workplace trends and technology change, her career path includes artist, designer, entrepreneur, technology marketing executive, business advisor, and investor. Starting her profession in the tech sector launched a style of deliberate career growth, guided by personal preferences.
As a marketing professional, Marti managed marketing programs for companies like Samsung Mobile, Apple, Tellabs, Platinum Technology, Clear Communications, and Open Kernel Labs (OK Labs). As a chief marketer in the mobile security space, her digital demand generation and market awareness strategies resulted in the acquisition of OK Labs by General Dynamics
What started out as a quest to fine-tune her evolving career sparked a research project, workshops, and book, where future of work and career agility are central themes. Her story-driven book, Activate Your Agile Career: How Responding to Change Will Inspire Your Life’s work, is the result of 120 interviews and custom research.
She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design from the University of Illinois and holds a Master of Business Administration from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. A persistent optimist and prolific photographer, she lives in Chicago with her husband.
Mike Blake, Brady Ware & Company
Michael Blake is the host of the Decision Vision podcast series and a Director of Brady Ware & Company. Mike specializes in the valuation of intellectual property-driven firms, such as software firms, aerospace firms, and professional services firms, most frequently in the capacity as a transaction advisor, helping clients obtain great outcomes from complex transaction opportunities. He is also a specialist in the appraisal of intellectual properties as stand-alone assets, such as software, trade secrets, and patents.
Mike has been a full-time business appraiser for 13 years with public accounting firms, boutique business appraisal firms, and an owner of his own firm. Prior to that, he spent 8 years in venture capital and investment banking, including transactions in the U.S., Israel, Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.
Brady Ware & Company
Brady Ware & Company is a regional full-service accounting and advisory firm which helps businesses and entrepreneurs make visions a reality. Brady Ware services clients nationally from its offices in Alpharetta, GA; Columbus and Dayton, OH; and Richmond, IN. The firm is growth-minded, committed to the regions in which they operate, and most importantly, they make significant investments in their people and service offerings to meet the changing financial needs of those they are privileged to serve. The firm is dedicated to providing results that make a difference for its clients.
Decision Vision Podcast Series
Decision Vision is a podcast covering topics and issues facing small business owners and connecting them with solutions from leading experts. This series is presented by Brady Ware & Company. If you are a decision-maker for a small business, we’d love to hear from you. Contact us at email@example.com and make sure to listen to every Thursday to the Decision Vision podcast.
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Intro: [00:00:01] Welcome to Decision Vision, a podcast series focusing on critical business decisions. Brought to you by Brady Ware & Company. Brady Ware is a regional full-service accounting and advisory firm that helps businesses and entrepreneurs make visions a reality.
Mike Blake: [00:00:21] Welcome to Decision Vision, a podcast giving you, the listener, clear vision to make great decisions. In each episode, we discuss the process of decision making on a different topic from the business owners’ or executives’ perspective. We aren’t necessarily telling you what to do, but we can put you in a position to make an informed decision on your own and understand when you might need help along the way.
Mike Blake: [00:00:42] My name is Mike Blake, and I’m your host for today’s program. I’m a director at Brady Ware & Company, a full-service accounting firm based in Dayton, Ohio, with offices in Dayton; Columbus, Ohio; Richmond, Indiana; and Alpharetta, Georgia. Brady Ware is sponsoring this podcast, which is being recorded in Atlanta per social distancing protocols. If you’d like to engage with me on social media with my Chart of the Day and other content, I’m on LinkedIn as myself and @unblakeable on Facebook, Twitter, Clubhouse, and Instagram. If you like this podcast, please subscribe on your favorite podcast aggregator, and please consider leaving a review of the podcast as well.
Mike Blake: [00:01:18] So, today’s topic is, Should I experiment with my business? And, frankly, I think we’re in a period right now where there’s a lot of experimentation with businesses going on, much of it shoved down our throat. As we record this now on August 30th, and, now, I’m calling this the inter-pandemic period. No longer trans-pandemic because I’m not sure we’re emerging from anything. We’re just going from one pandemic into another, unfortunately.
Mike Blake: [00:01:47] You know, those of us who remember the before time remember that we had businesses that were operating kind of the same way that they had for the last few years. And things are going however they were going but we didn’t have massive social and economic upheaval changing our environment around us radically overnight. And as a consequence, I think many companies have been forced to, whether they want to or not, to experiment with their businesses in order to survive.
Mike Blake: [00:02:18] We’ve had one guest, David Audrain, who came on and talked about how adding new revenue streams, although he didn’t do it necessarily in reaction to the pandemic, most likely saved his business. And Lauren Fernandez, who’s been on the show a couple of times now, I know that she’s very big into advising her restaurant clients in how they can diversify their revenue streams. Because it’s hard to make it in a restaurant if people either aren’t allowed to be in it or don’t want to be in it because they’re concerned about, you know, contracting a potentially deadly virus. And that’s just sort of the tip of the iceberg.
Mike Blake: [00:02:58] So, what I would like to do and what I’m going to do, whether you like it or not, it’s happening, what we’re going to do in today’s show is we’re going to talk about the process of experimenting with the business or should I experiment with my business? Because even though coronavirus, in effect, has forced many of us to experiment with our business, I imagine our guest is going to come on and tell us that experimenting with a business has always been under the right circumstances, a pretty good idea to consider. Again, we’re just now forced to think of things differently. Because if we think of things the same, for most of us, it’s just not going to work out.
Mike Blake: [00:03:41] So, joining us to help us talk about this and think about this issue is Marti Konstant, who is a workplace futurist and the bestselling author of Activate Your Agile Career. She holds an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and is a former technology executive that has worked in Silicon Valley. As a top career influencer, she has been featured in media outlets such as NBC, Forbes, the Muse. And has worked in companies like Samsung, Dow Jones, and Apple – you might have heard of them.
Mike Blake: [00:04:10] Konstant Change provides a simple yet powerful agility model, training, and tools to help individuals and organizations adapt to change and build powerful and relevant futures. The company also offers a career decoder framework for mid-career job seekers that they can uncover right fit roles in the next stage of their careers. Marti Konstant, welcome to the program.
Marti Konstant: [00:04:31] I’m so happy to be here, Mike. Thanks for the intro.
Mike Blake: [00:04:36] So, Marti, as we often do with the podcast, I want to make sure that everybody understands kind of where we’re coming from here. When we say experiment with a business, in your mind, what does that mean?
Marti Konstant: [00:04:51] Well, just to provide context to my answers, all of my answers, Mike, is I am two things. I am a futurist and I am an optimist. So, you are going to hear optimistic points of view. So, what does it mean to experiment? It’s actually testing out an idea or a concept that enables you to make your business better. That is mainly what it is. And why does someone experiment? They experiment because something isn’t working or there’s a massive amount of change going on in the world. And it begs the question, “Oh, my goodness. I have to do something to keep up with this, to fix this, to change this.”
Mike Blake: [00:05:46] So, certainly, when I think of the term experiment, and I suspect many of our listeners do as well, they think of science experiments. The old vinegar and the baking soda things, you make your playdough volcano erupt, that sort of thing, we think of those kinds of experiments. What, if any, are the similarities between a scientific experiment or a scientific experiment process and a business experiment?
Marti Konstant: [00:06:13] Well, there’s lots of different types of scientific experiments. You can look at scientific experiments that collect a lot of data over a period of time that looks backward as well as forward. And you could look at, you know, the difference between a scientific experiment and maybe one that we might do in our business would be something where you don’t worry so much about legions of data. And you worry more about doing something in an incremental fashion, doing a modest A/B test versus worrying about statistically significant.
Marti Konstant: [00:06:55] If we all waited for statistically significant situations – and I’m so proud that I could say that without stuttering here – is we wouldn’t be able to do any experimentation or pivoting at all. There is a bit of educated guessing and lean product testing. If any one of your listeners is in sync with doing lean product test, those could be done with smaller groups of people.
Mike Blake: [00:07:28] So, let me go back, you said one thing I want to make sure that I understand. What exactly is an A/B test?
Marti Konstant: [00:07:36] A/B test is a term that’s used in statistics. I first learned about it in marketing, when I was trying to test what was going to work to make a change. I also learned about it in business school. So, in doing regression analysis and doing like, does this test work better or does this test work better? So, in marketing, the simplest example is, I’m doing an email marketing campaign. And I’ve got five different headlines. And I’ve got a lot resting on the open rate. So, what you do is you conduct a smaller test.
Marti Konstant: [00:08:17] So, say, your big test, your big email campaign is tens of thousands. You conduct a smaller test. You’re doing A test with this headline, a B test with this headline, a C test with another headline. And then, you take the highest open rate as a result of that smaller sample and then run it on your big, large program. Because sometimes a tenth or two-tenths of an amount is going to make a difference on your rate of return.
Mike Blake: [00:08:47] You know, you bring up some really interesting points there, and I want to go back to your prior comment first before I ask about the A/B test, because I think that’s really important. And that is this notion of statistical significance. Statistical significance is important for some areas, because if you don’t do that, it’s literally a life or death discussion. There are statistical significance for FDA testing. There are statistical significance for engineering, such as airworthiness and seaworthiness of aircraft and seacraft. You kind of want to do that, right?
Marti Konstant: [00:09:27] But, you know, dealing with 95 percent confidence intervals and significance test – now, we get to really geek out here, which is awesome. That’s fine – you know, for a lot of small businesses, even maybe larger ones, it just isn’t realistic. And then, it goes back to the adage that done is better than perfect, I guess. Right?
Marti Konstant: [00:09:51] That’s correct. And it’s all about the size of the company, too. Like, you were talking about, you know, I would want my airplane parts to be really be tested very well. Whereas, you know, something that I’m going to make an adjustment in my business, it’s not as critical.
Marti Konstant: [00:10:11] Now, let’s get to the point of big companies versus little companies. The big companies, the consumer packaged goods companies, those that make the food that we have on our shelves in the grocery store, they can do really large tests and they could be significant about testing. “Well, is this packaging going to work or is this packaging going to work?” Or the tasting of a food product. They can afford to do that. You know, we all want our chocolate to taste good, right? So, they have the luxury to do that.
Marti Konstant: [00:10:47] Whereas, a smaller business, a lot of the businesses that I’ve worked in were smaller and they might only have the budget to work with a market research firm. Even if they’re going to do some market research, they might research the entire sample size of 200 versus 25,000 or 50,000. Is it statistically significant? No. But it is important and it does tell you something.
Marti Konstant: [00:11:16] And you can do the same thing. I do it when I’m doing a speech or a presentation. I’ll say, by a show of hands in this room of 200 people or 300 people, I ask them a question and I see the show of hands. I can guess whether it’s roughly 30 or 40 or 50 percent that have raised their hand to a particular question. It’s important to know that because it’s going to make my content more relevant knowing what their answer to that question was.
Mike Blake: [00:11:47] And, you know, I guess one thing that occurs to me as you were explaining that is, I think experimentation has become much more popularized now, not just because of coronavirus, but because of the way technology has evolved in the last 20 years. Not just communication, but fundamental business models, that the entry cost of experimentation now is so much lower than it once was. That it’s no longer, for example, the purview of Coca-Cola, who I might argue ran one of the most disastrous experiments of all time, new Coke, basically. And with all their resources, they still didn’t get that right.
Mike Blake: [00:12:35] But, now, because of what people are buying and selling virtual product software as a service, the virtually no marginal cost of email, social media, and so forth, you know, almost anybody can run an experiment of some kind. Whereas, that would have been unthinkable a generation ago.
Marti Konstant: [00:12:54] It’s the experiment itself, but it’s also the size of the experiment. So, let’s go back to when Netflix first changed their model and then they changed their model again and again. It was incremental to now we have it streaming. There was a point when it wasn’t streaming. It was a lot of different things prior to being streaming. And then, you would go to their website over a certain time period of how they would serve up choices for you and give you the things that you wanted that you didn’t even know that you wanted. How great is that?
Marti Konstant: [00:13:29] So, those were tests and incremental changes that weren’t really risky. They were small tests. And then, they would change their website, not the entire revamp of their business model all at once, but it was incremental over time. So, there’s an incrementalism piece of it, too. And let’s not get this confused with making mistakes. This isn’t the same as, like, let’s fail fast and all that. We can have a totally different discussion about the value of an experiment and the value of giving people the opportunity to really take big bets on risks and fail.
Mike Blake: [00:14:15] So, you touched on something, too, and we’ve completely gone off script. Our listeners know we probably seen a script longer than we normally do, but that’s all right. You know, that incrementalism is so important, I think. And I love your reaction to this, hopefully, it’s favorable. Otherwise, my whole business thesis goes out the window, but no pressure.
Mike Blake: [00:14:39] But, you know, I’m in the business of helping my clients become better decision makers over time. And I tell them, I believe, that even if you just become a one percent better decision maker over time, that, over that period of time, has a massive impact. So, even if an experiment gives you information that makes your decision even just slightly better than a coin flip or, even better, you create a culture of experimentation that habitually makes all your decisions slightly better than a coin flip, yeah, you’re still going to lose your share of bets. But because of those one percent additional bets that you win that you ordinarily would not have, there’s massive value isn’t there? Sort of deceptively high value on that.
Marti Konstant: [00:15:28] Right. Right. And, to me, it’s a much lower risk to make a small tweak in your offering or to make a small price adjustment in your offering. It’s a bigger risk when you do things.
Marti Konstant: [00:15:44] I was in a company that we were a mobile security company before mobile security was even needed, before the iPhone was invented. Like, nobody wanted it. And we were trying to figure out our footing back before 2007, before the iPhone was invented. And then, when the iPhone was invented, we were still struggling with the market. And it wasn’t until we narrowed and we went to the government entities to market this secure solution. Because we realized that it was the governmental bodies that were going to invest in this first.
Marti Konstant: [00:16:26] So, it was kind of a big risk in a way for us to totally abandon our enterprise strategy. We didn’t do, you know, small-medium businesses. It was enterprise and then it was government, and it eventually became both. So, it’s a little bit more of a risk for a company to put all of its resources into government only. We had a totally different sales strategy. So, that’s a big deal. Whereas, saying, you know, I’m going to charge 20 percent more, or I’m going to do an introductory discounted fee for buy it to try it for my services. That’s much less of a risk.
Mike Blake: [00:17:10] So, let me change gears here, because I’m curious about something. Does every company has the capacity to competently conduct these business experiments? Or are there certain skill sets and maybe even mindsets and culture that a company must have in order to realistically undertake these kinds of experiments and do so meaningfully?
Marti Konstant: [00:17:42] It’s a loaded question. I think the more critical the information that’s the result of this experiment, you’re probably going to want to work with a professional. Similar to how when I was customizing my salesforce database, when I was working at Samsung, I worked with a professional to help me design the customized version of the software. So, it depends on what it is that you’re trying to accomplish.
Marti Konstant: [00:18:14] I think everyone can conduct an experiment. And I think I’m going to back off and say put forth the soft skills that are necessary. I’m going to say it takes a lot of curiosity that’s involved. And it takes some patience and some impatience for setting it up, what is the length of time to run these tests and to figure out if it works or doesn’t work.
Marti Konstant: [00:18:41] I think as a small business person, I think that’s probably the biggest problem is when to jump ship on the test and to say, “You know, this isn’t achieving. Do I need to do it, like, two months longer to really run this test? Or do I need to cut bait and go forward?”
Marti Konstant: [00:19:03] I’ve answered a lot of different aspects of your question. But, again, it all has to do with size. I was running smaller experiments when I was working at the world’s largest electronics company in the world. So, I was running small experiences because – guess what? – every big company has smaller divisions. We were working in the business security division of Samsung versus the big electronics consumer products division, which would be their devices themselves and equipment themselves.
Mike Blake: [00:19:37] So, if somebody listening to this podcast says, “You know, this makes sense. We got to do some experiment to kind of help us establish some kind of direction in some fashion.” But they look sort of internally in their own companies. I don’t know that we necessarily checked those boxes so we can do it ourselves. Are there people out there? Is this what you do? I mean, frankly, I’m not sure. But are there people out there on the outside that can be brought in to help companies design, and run, and interpret the results of these business experiments?
Marti Konstant: [00:20:16] I think the answer is yes to all the above. I mean, I worked in the space of technology most of my career, and we would hire the analyst in the space to help us understand our market so that we could reasonably decide what we were going to go after. That’s a pretty steep investment. You know, if you’re hiring Gartner, for instance, just to go to their conference, you’re paying $3,000 a head just for people to attend. And then, for you to have an analyst that would come in and take a look at your business and ask you 20 questions and to help you strategize. So, that’s really in the form of a strategy session.
Marti Konstant: [00:21:05] So, I think it just depends on how you want to do it. I don’t know, it could be, you know, if you wanted to set up – I’ve worked with people that set up regression analysis. That’s not my business. But I know people that do that so that you can help companies make a decision that they’re a little bit more comfortable with because they have more data, that they have bigger data sets, and they’re running the regression analysis. You’re dependent variable, your independent variable, all those kinds of things. So, you can just have somebody that’s a geek that can help set up. Someone that’s a geek that also understands setting up a business strategy.
Mike Blake: [00:21:51] Well, let me take a drawback here and tackle a more fundamental issue. It seems to me that businesses are undertaking a risk somewhat in experimenting with their business. And not necessarily betting the company, but, I say, they’re taking on risk because they are making a commitment of some resources in order to produce an unknown result. And so, my question is, to your mind, how do you make the argument that it’s worth taking that risk to get into the business of undertaking business experiments?
Marti Konstant: [00:22:40] So, the opportunity cost of not keeping your business fresh and current is huge. It’s death. You know, we’ve seen it in Kodak. We’ve seen it in BlackBerry. We’ve seen it in companies that didn’t make those decisions. Those are big companies. But let’s come back to the smaller company size. And I’ve studied branding a lot, you know, personal branding, business branding. And one of the huge risks in not keeping yourself current from a branding perspective is you get stale.
Marti Konstant: [00:23:22] So, let’s not talk about the product. Let’s just talk about how you market the product. So, if you’re not keeping it fresh and current and people don’t feel that you’re responding to market needs – just like we responded to market needs with the restaurant, you know, takeout and stuff like that – if those companies weren’t adapting to what was going on in the market, they were going to get left behind.
Marti Konstant: [00:23:47] But I think what you’re talking about is, you know, maybe it’s not a pandemic. Maybe it’s just, you know, garden variety change and maybe it’s just technology change. Well, I would suggest and really argue the point that we’re going to have more change in the next ten years than we’ve had in the last 100. So, really, take a look at what is it that you are doing to keep your business current.
Marti Konstant: [00:24:12] It’s like the beauty of a river that keeps flowing. That’s a beautiful thing. The stagnant pond doesn’t smell so great and it’s not as interesting. It’s like the clarity of the river and the brook that’s going forward is much more interesting.
Marti Konstant: [00:24:34] And as I said earlier, I’m a fairly optimistic person. I’m inclined toward agility and flexibility, and test and experimentation is just a part of that. And I think if you looked at the successes of companies that did experiment like Amazon, as it evolved and eventually took over what Sears had in a catalog business, their ability to experiment and take the buying process to the desktop is just a beautiful example of what it took to create something new, part disruption, part what the customer needs.
Marti Konstant: [00:25:22] It’s like, what did we need during COVID? We needed really good takeout food. We suggested to ourselves, “Well, we’re just helping the restaurants out.” But guess what? Everyone is now doing more takeout than they ever did before. Do they really need it? I think they found that they really liked it. So, it’s been a very good thing for the restaurant takeout business.
Mike Blake: [00:25:47] So, this may be a dumb question, but I’m going to put it out there anyway. And that dumb question is, is it always obvious if an experiment succeeds or fails? And if it’s not obvious, how do you make sure you even interpret the results of the experiment correctly?
Marti Konstant: [00:26:11] It depends on the experiment. Let’s just say, for the sake of our example, that we wanted to accomplish something, we wanted to grow, or we wanted to change consumer buying behavior, or something like that. And the result is going to be, what are we trying to do? Was the goal met? You know, I deal with job seekers. That’s just a one-on-one, like a job seeker is a business of one. And when they achieve not just any job, but they achieve a target company with reasonable compensation, they’ve achieved that goal. It, of course, is a success. And these are people that are employed maybe somewhere else, but take the risk to get employed in a new opportunity.
Marti Konstant: [00:27:06] I find it’s always easier to look at, like, a simple example and then work upwards. And so, if growth is what you’re looking for, then you’re measuring revenues at the beginning of the year and the end of the year or revenues per employee. That’s one way of doing it.
Marti Konstant: [00:27:25] A lot of things that’s happening right now on businesses, we have this great resignation going on, we have the employee experience. So, people are leaving companies, certain companies, and going to other companies. Their experiment might be like, “Well, what is it that we can do?” And they might be spending some investment on their employee experience, a better onboarding process, a better recruitment process. They get back to the people that they didn’t choose to hire and they communicate to them. And so, they don’t get bad reviews on Glassdoor.
Marti Konstant: [00:28:05] There’s all kinds of things you could do that you could measure was this a successful initiative. You could do it with training. You know, you could have soft skills training or technical training. You invest for a certain segment of time and then figure out if that impacted your revenues or your retention rate. Whatever you choose to decide to measure what’s important to you.
Mike Blake: [00:28:37] Are there any kinds of businesses that lend themselves well or better to experimentation than others?
Marti Konstant: [00:28:48] That’s a really good question. I find sometimes, like, really big banks will choose where they want to experiment. They might not be as risky with some of their offerings, yet they are going to have to be because of block chain and because of all of the alternative currency that’s happening in getting rid of the middle person, the middleman. So, even the institutions that maybe don’t want to experiment are going to have to experiment. So, yes, I think some people are more risk averse in what they don’t want to change.
Marti Konstant: [00:29:39] But I think it’s just a matter – I don’t think that any business is necessarily immune. I haven’t studied all businesses. I don’t know as much about the energy business, and the oil business, and businesses that I haven’t spent much time in. So, it will be hard for me to respond. I can just tell you, I’ve spent most of my career in technology and now in the career development and agility research space. So, I’m more biased towards the flexible businesses that I’ve worked in and I’ve studied. And I’ve worked in businesses that have failed. So, I had bad experience as well.
Mike Blake: [00:30:24] That may be a separate podcast. So, you know, it occurs to me, as you talked through this one common thread, I think – and, you know, please tell me if I’m wrong – is that, in order for a business to be a successful experimenter, the one thing they must have, they must have a willingness and a capacity to measure. They must have a willingness to actually collect data and a willingness to kind of look at it and measure performance. Because I think if they don’t have that, how do you experiment if you don’t measure things?
Marti Konstant: [00:31:04] Yeah. It’s the measurement piece and it’s also the quest for innovation. We know that if you don’t innovate it becomes stale. So, it’s a combination of this willingness to measure and really set up the test of some sort to determine if this is going to be successful. But I think it has more to do with the requirement for you to innovate and become relevant and viable over the long haul. If you’re not in some state of invention/reinvention, all data will tell you the companies that we thought would never fail have failed. They eventually go.
Marti Konstant: [00:31:59] Someone told me ten years ago, “You know, eventually, Apple’s going to fail, Marti.” They will. IBM was a certain way back in the 60s and the 70s, and they’re different now. They’re associated more with, you know, services, and they’re not doing the same thing they were before. So, some companies become maybe different.
Marti Konstant: [00:32:27] Some companies become less than – uh, Nokia, you know, owned the feature phone market before smartphones came out. And they decided not to get into smartphones. I mean, we could go down the line of companies that were dominant in their space. Does Nokia exist right now? Yeah. They’re into network management and they do a lot of telecom network stuff and they do exist, but they don’t exist in the same space that they existed. So, in a way, they were forced into adjacent industries. It’s not necessarily that they said, “Oh, we’re going to do this to expand.” They were forced to either isolate and make make themselves smaller and not enter into the hype. They were the largest, fastest-growing handset market in the world at one time.
Mike Blake: [00:33:20] Hard to believe how much that landscape has changed. Do companies tend to gravitate towards experimentation in one particular discipline or another? For example, marketing or product development or manufacturing finance. Are there some kind of business functions where experimentation seems to either be more prevalent or seems to work better than others?
Marti Konstant: [00:33:50] Well, I can speak to marketing because I spent so much time. I think there’s been a willingness all along to experiment and become, you know, the digitization of the universe. To be able to work with the digital market has really been, I guess, a big reason why marketers have been willing to experiment. I will say there was a batch of marketers, that I knew back in business school, that went into consumer packaged goods, and they didn’t see themselves as marketing technologists and digital. And their careers were harmed somewhat, so they thought, “Well, I have people for that.” And I said, “No. I know you’re not pressing the button, but I always felt that you should know all this stuff.”
Marti Konstant: [00:34:45] And some of these big companies, they said, “Digital marketers after the dot com thing need not apply.” Well, they were totally missing the mark where innovation hit. So, there’s a segment with every, you know, assumption that you make about a profession, so that’s marketing.
Marti Konstant: [00:35:02] I will say that if you look at medtech, fintech, everything that has the tech on the end of it now, which has been on the end of it for quite some time, they have had an appetite for getting themselves into a digital arena. And the next arena is going to be in the VR/AR arena. I mean, we don’t yet have a clue what that’s going to feel like and look like in the third dimension. How we’re going to experience the work around us? Right now, we’re sitting in front of computers, what is it going to look like in the future? So, I think fintech, medtech, marketing tech, all the items, scientific technology, anything that we had a tech to it, which is pretty much across the board.
Marti Konstant: [00:35:55] So, the minute you add tech on it, it becomes experimental. It becomes the future. In finance when they start to add the block chain and all of the Bitcoin to this, there’s going to be more experimentation.
Mike Blake: [00:36:19] Are there any ethical boundaries around business experimentation that you’re aware of? Is that a conversation that’s being had at all?
Marti Konstant: [00:36:37] That’s not one that I’ve been exposed to personally. But I got to think it’s out there. I mean, there’s lots of ethics going around everywhere. I mean, look at the ethical dilemmas we’ve been going through in the past year-and-a-half since the pandemic and unrest across the country. So, there’s lots of ethical dilemmas that are in existence today that have bubbled to the surface more dramatically than ever before.
Marti Konstant: [00:37:07] So, yeah, I mean just anything to do with technology, I think of implantable devices. There’s doctors across the country that are implanting devices inside themselves because they can’t do FDA experiments. So, that’s happening. I mean, this is a thing. I don’t know how I’d feel about implanting chips inside of my body, but it is going to be a thing. Is that an ethical dilemma? I think if you read anything about Harari, who wrote Sapiens and the book about the future, he talks about a lot of these types of dilemmas in his book about the future. So, anyone that’s writing about the future right now is talking about dilemmas.
Marti Konstant: [00:38:01] We’re across the line. You know, like have we injured our children? Have we rewired their brains to the point that there’s just no attention span left? You know, do we long for a simpler time because of these ethical dilemmas that we’ve crossed the line with humanity?
Mike Blake: [00:38:23] Yeah. You know, by the time you factor in privacy, and social media is teaching us now some really important lessons that, I think as a society, we kind of already knew, but had forgotten about manipulation and influence. That there probably are some ethical walls now that that are being addressed at least implicitly.
Mike Blake: [00:38:47] For example, I’m a company. I gather customer data. I told the customers that it’s going to be used for this. Now, I want to go back and kind of mine that data for other information. Is that unethical? Do I just try to be compensating the providers of that data for that use? I don’t know. Is it unethical to – I don’t know – run a lottery saying, you know, if you participate in the survey, you’ll get $100 Amazon gift card, but nobody’s going to win it. That’s clearly kind of unethical.
Mike Blake: [00:39:22] And, you know, it’s just opening up this whole new vista just as there are ethics in terms in terms of scientific experiments. I think there must be and will be conversations around what constitutes ethical behavior when it comes to a business experiment. There has to be, right?
Marti Konstant: [00:39:37] Yeah. I mean, there has to be. You’ve just, you know, remarked on a lot of problems we have with big tech today, is, the data is being collected and it’s really not with our permission. It really isn’t. It might be buried somewhere in there, but who knows what they’re going to do with it? Who knows how elections will happen in our future? Things that are manipulated by data, who knows what countries are going to have the influence in the way that we live and the way that we want to live? So, there are a lot of concerns.
Marti Konstant: [00:40:19] So, I think it’s not so much experimenting as much as that it’s data manipulation, which is the word that you used, the phrase that you used. So, the experiment is one thing, but data manipulation is an insidious type of thing. Like, we do the research because we want the result. And then, we tell the people what we want them to hear. We used to think like, “Other countries did this. Not our country.” But, you know, what do you think? What do you think, Mike? Do you think we’re not so different than any other country that we thought, you know, manipulated?
Mike Blake: [00:41:07] We’re absolutely not. I mean, the case in point, I spent the early part of my career in the Former Soviet Union. So, I lived in Minsk for two years and I lived in Kiev for two years in the early 90s. And I had a shortwave radio, and so one of the things that I would do – because I’d studied Russian in school, but it’s different to being dropped in the country having to use it every day and survive and work and stuff. So, at the end of the day, I was exhausted – I needed to listen to some of the English language for my brain to recover. And, you know, you listen to Voice of America.
Mike Blake: [00:41:42] And we didn’t beam Voice of America into the Middle East and to the USSR because we’re nice guys. We did that because that’s a propaganda arm. There is a specific agenda. I’m not even saying it’s a wrong thing to do. But the idea that we did, just because we’re such nice guys and we were just going to spend all those tax dollars to do that, it’s just not realistic. Now, the information may be more true than, say, what Radio Moscow was. But at the same time, they are trying to achieve the same end.
Mike Blake: [00:42:22] What’s interesting now is that the line now between propaganda and business experimentation is really blurred, because the technology has allowed it to be blurred. Whereas, radio is a one way medium. Now, you can have conversations with millions of people. And there may be bots on the other side. And probably in some comical kind of circular piece of technology, there are probably bots trying to manipulate bots. And the bots don’t know each other are bots, basically. I’m sure that’s happening.
Mike Blake: [00:43:00] And so, unfortunately, the rewards are too great to not at least be tempted to manipulate. And experiments can take on a manipulative effect. And, although, the value of the experiment itself is diminished significantly, if not obviated, if on the other hand you’re manipulating behavior in your favor, who needs the experiment? Just make them do what you want them to do.
Marti Konstant: [00:43:28] I mentioned something earlier at the beginning of the episode, and that is that I’m just an optimistic person. And I tend to look at all that and think, “Okay. This is true. There’s lots of manipulation.” But experimentation, and data, and the future of technology is just utterly exciting and fantastic. We are living in an incredible time to do a lot of great things.
Marti Konstant: [00:44:02] So, I always end up, regardless of anything sinister, that we could look back at our history of military and politics and all that kind of stuff, I always twist it back to like, “Well, what’s the cost of focusing on that versus what we can be doing?” So, it’s always about how can we do it for good? And to assume the part that the 50 percent of human nature – that’s really good – to assume that will be better on the positive side of that and that we’ll use it wisely.
Marti Konstant: [00:44:41] I mean, even back to the 2001: Space Odyssey, which was the movie that kind of like where the computer took over. It was a scary thought that the computer could override human beings. However, you know, yes, they are getting smarter. And, yes, these things are going to happen. But we have it in ourselves to make positive use of this. And to fix things like climate change. And to do the things that are hurting right now and to say, “Okay. We went too far in this direction, let’s do something about it.”
Mike Blake: [00:45:21] We’re talking with Marti Konstant. And the topic is, Should I experiment with my business? I just have time for a few more questions before we let you go back to your day. But one question I wanted to make sure to ask is, are you familiar with any kind of widely accepted system or set of best practices for conducting these business experiments? Is there a a model out there that you’re familiar? Is it something that you like? Or is there somebody who’s a really good author on this? If I want to really start digging into the how and adopt best practices, how would I go about doing that?
Marti Konstant: [00:45:54] Well, I mean, you work with organizations with helping them make better decisions. So, certainly, you know, that would be where I would look to it. Are there large organizations or big organizations that have used entities that have helped them? Absolutely. There’s consultants. There’s, I guess, very smart people that have figured out how to do things and use the technology in the proper way.
Marti Konstant: [00:46:25] But I don’t have any insights into that, Mike, except that I know in my work, both work as a corporate person and as an individual business person now, I’ve always used consultants. I’ve always used specialist. Even when I was working in a compact team of the company that we built and we sold to a Fortune 100 company, even then, I had at least seven to ten consultants that I was working with at any given time. Yet we were a small company of, like, 100 people. And I was working with seven discrete consultants. It was a lot of work to manage them, but I knew that we couldn’t do it on our own. So, this is available.
Marti Konstant: [00:47:14] Just like I hired a market research firm when I wrote my book. I had a smaller sample size, but I wasn’t going to write a book that was an opinion book. I was going to write a book that actually looked at some data. And then, I also interviewed 120 people as well. So, absolutely, I know they’re out there. I know people like you are out there that understand the power of profitable decision making and wanting to mitigate risk and all that.
Marti Konstant: [00:47:46] I have to tell you, Mike, I keep looking at you. You know, people can’t see what I see. But that Packman piece of equipment that’s behind you just brings up just absolutely wonderful, wonderful images of just pure fun. I know this is a deviation from your decision, but I just had to say it.
Mike Blake: [00:48:07] Thank you. Maybe that’ll be another title of a podcast, Should I have a fun background? Well, since we’re already off ramping here, I’ll follow up on it. Our former marketing director was very nervous that I would have this in the background, because he said that nobody wants to buy serious professional services from a child. And I told them, “You know what? In a time of global pandemic, social upheaval, and murder hornets, I think everybody wants to buy professional services from a child. Maybe a smart child who knows how to take out the trash every once in a while, but still a child.”
Mike Blake: [00:48:55] And when everybody – including today, I got a call with somebody from out of the country – when they see these for the first time, their eyes light up, their faces light up. And these are never going away. I did not expect that positive reaction. Everybody loves them.
Marti Konstant: [00:49:15] Well, I hope they don’t go away. I mean, what’s hard not to like about Star Wars? This is our history, right? This is our history. This is our history of innovation. That’s our history of play. It’s our history of fun. It’s the systemic way that we were able to use certain aspects of video technology and move it up to the next level, family engagement. There’s a lot of good stuff about that.
Marti Konstant: [00:49:44] I’ve worked in a lot of tech companies and there’s been a lot of toys that I’ve seen at the desk of people. And it always gave me pure joy to be working with tech people that had all of these little elements and stickers and everything sitting on their computers. It was delightful to do that rather than walking through a sterile environment. This, to me, it’s pure creativity.
Mike Blake: [00:50:15] Well, once this whole thing is over, when and if it’s over, we’ll have to have you over. And then, you can get the full tour. You’re seeing a fraction of what’s actually here. Marti, we’ve covered a lot of ground today, and there are other questions we can ask, but I’m sure there are questions that either we didn’t get to or questions that our listeners would have liked us to have gone in more deeply, but we didn’t. If somebody wants to contact you to, like, explore this topic more, can they do so? And if so, what’s the best way to do that?
Marti Konstant: [00:50:47] Two places, martikonstant.com, M-A-R-T-I-K-O-N-S-T-A-N-T, Konstant with a K, dot com. Lots of information there. And then, I have an AgilityThink newsletter on LinkedIn that has 30,000 subscribers. There’s a lot of information. I write about agility. I write about the future. I write about some of the content that we’ve been talking about today. I write about creativity. So, those are two areas that I do most of my content. And the content engine is through my website.
Mike Blake: [00:51:29] Well, very good. Thank you so much. And that’s going to wrap it up for today’s program. I’d like to thank Marti Konstant so much for sharing her expertise with us.
Mike Blake: [00:51:39] We’ll be exploring a new topic each week, so please tune in so that when you’re faced with your next business decision, you have clear vision when making it. If you enjoy these podcasts, please consider leaving a review with your favorite podcast aggregator. It helps people find us that we can help them. If you would like to engage with me on social media with my Chart of the Day and other content, I’m on LinkedIn as myself and @unblakeable on Facebook, Twitter, Clubhouse, and Instagram. Once again, this is Mike Blake. Our sponsor is Brady Ware & Company. And this has been the Decision Vision podcast.