Written by Peter Armaly
I love math. I’m not saying I’m good at it. I’m just saying I love it.
And the reasons are:
- Numbers don’t lie. People lie. But on their own, numbers just stare you in the face and what you see is what is meant.
- Without math, nothing in the physical world would make sense. Every structure you see, live in, work in, fly in, ride in, and drive in only exists because someone figured out the math.
- Math’s beauty ranges from being able to explain the behavior of sub-atomic particles, to the arc of a basketball as it leaves Steph Curry’s hand, all the way to how objects in galaxies move in some sort of cosmic dance across the universe.
I love the business of improving the customer experience too and it’s partly because it has none of the precision and nowhere near the same level of predictability of math. Trying to understand and improve the customer experience is not quite as challenging as graphing exponential and logarithmic functions but it does present a wider margin of error. And just when you think you’ve solved a problem in the customer’s experience, you can quickly learn that the resolution has a short half-life and you’re forced to reexamine the situation. Why is that? Why is improving the customer experience, in some ways, more challenging than doing math?
- As a unit, humans are imprecise which explains why the world can be so chaotic and hard to control.
- As vastly unknown is the universe, so too is the human brain.
- Psychology is a study applicable to sentient beings. Math isn’t. Humans are. Convincing someone that: A) they should buy something is easier than B) trying to convince them they surrender it after they bought it. The future of business depends on the ability to have your product be the one people need to be talked into surrendering.
Leadership gets harder every single day
The world of business is going through some sort of weirdness at the moment and a lot of it can be explained by the intersection of the precision of math and the imprecision of humans. The wealth of data and information (math) is creating a constellation of opportunities for people willing and able to distill those things into value. But there is an equal amount of distraction, tension, and opportunities for misinterpretation (humans) and these create opportunities for people to be tripped up and to fail. It’s up to leaders to understand that a big part of their job today is helping people assimilate mathematical outputs (customer info, corporate results, economic data, etc.) into the regular refinement of their execution models. There’s a large imperative for people – not just leaders – to keep an eye on the macro environment so that collectively, a team can uplevel itself into a more nimble organism.
The imprecision of humans
High interest rates caused a giant sucking sound as credit disappeared. Political polarization arose from frustration with governments and political systems and their perceived inability to adequately understand and respond to the grievances of large groups of people. Globally interwoven, human-generated, events like war and climate change inject massive uncertainty into government and corporate planning processes, and into the day-to-day personal choices that need to be made by billions of people.
The precision of math
As I talk to prospects, clients, and industry groups about why the Customer Success business function matters, I try to communicate the linkage between macro and micro forces. You as a CS leader need to understand that while you cannot control the macro forces, you can control how they affect the micro forces (the level at which your team operates). There’s a symbiosis between those macro forces and the resultant drying up of sales revenue, for example. That missing revenue means more than a salesperson missing their number. It means an engineering team can’t build out planned product enhancements or continue with its annual internship program. It means a marketing team cannot host the company’s regional user group meetings or it has to forego the purchase of a tool it needs for measuring the effectiveness of ads. The linkage between macro and micro is a straight line but it doesn’t need to mean the intersection point cannot be controlled.
How to control the intersection
Macro and micro intersect at the level of individuals. And in business, the best manifestation of that is the team because that’s where energy has the opportunity to be harnessed and directed in the most positive way. Here are some tactics you can attempt in order to harness that energy.
- Be realistic and honest with your team – Don’t sugarcoat the decisions that have to be made. Explain what’s influenced them but don’t use the macro forces as a crutch. People are intelligent and plugged in to what’s happening. It’s hard these days to escape the noise. Your job isn’t to educate them about the why of macro events. Your job is to help prepare them for how to become better at anticipation and in being able to respond in the most constructive way as individuals and as a team.
- Train the team – Preparing to be successful in modern business is so much more than acquiring the necessary product or service skills. It’s more than being a great coder or a great analyst. So much of success today is built on demonstrating curiosity, sound logic, respect for others, and a genuine spirit of collaboration. These can be trained, and these are the grounding skills that prepare people and teams for the kind of nimble motions they will need to execute in an environment buffeted by macro forces.
- Utilize your leadership tools – communications, emotional intelligence, coaching, change management, and a strategic mindset. You will need all of these tools if you’re serious about preparing a team that can thrive in this next phase of the 21st century. The macro forces will not abate any time soon. We will not be going back to a golden time in some people’s imagination when life was predictable and calm. That never really existed but it is not imaginary to say that today, the forces are stronger, and they are converging. The convergence is what amplifies the downstream effects and it’s those effects that a leader has to build a strong team to respond to.
- Communicate up – Don’t just lead the people reporting to you. Step up and be a company leader. Think bi-directionally. Business today isn’t like business yesterday. Executives know they don’t know everything. They don’t expect people beneath them to “know their place” and to “speak only when spoken to”. Smart executives will welcome information from many angles.
Angles, straight lines, logic, convergence… these are mathematical terms that offer clarity and glimpses into potential answers. Everyday words like curiosity, change, communications, energy, and mindset… these are uplifting words and to math lovers like me, the uplift is where there is overlap.
I love math for its precision and for its ability to describe so much of life. I love the business of improving the customer experience because it depends so much on understanding the imprecise nature of humans and their typical indirect pathways to resolution and growth. Both are fascinating. Both are us and we should recognize that one isn’t superior to the other. In fact, they might just help explain each other.