Ever notice how the personalities and dispositions of carnival performers often resemble coworkers in an organization? They come in all shapes and sizes. An organization’s pursuit of adopting business analytics and analytics-based enterprise performance management methodologies also involves personalities of all types.

How are they like people in a circus? Here are analogous types of employees that you might recognize in the “big top” and sideshows where you work.

Clowns – These performers are not only fun, but they also play an important role. They distract everyone’s attention while project implementation and analysis is taking place. This is useful because some interruptions impede progress. Who is your Emmett Kelly?

Barkers – “Step right up and enjoy the show. Come one, come all.” Barkers are the promoters who get people excited about what is coming. They educate other employees or at least provide them with a vision about the uses of analytics and EPM. “See the bearded lady and the snake with two heads!”

Tightrope walkers – These performers make everyone nervous. Will they miraculously finish their act and get to the other side of the tightrope? If they fail, it’s a disaster. They are like analysts with a deadline, doing lots of tricks during their project or in pursuit of insights from analytics. They typically act alone.

Trapeze artists – These performers are like tightrope walkers. Everyone is nervous when they are performing, and they also do lots of tricks. In contrast to tightrope walkers, trapeze artists perform as a team. Their lives depend on perfect collaboration with each other. Managers, employees, analysts and the IT function are no different

Fortune tellers and tarot card readers – These performers are a special type of analysts who do forecasting and predictive modeling. Everyone would like to know the future with certainty. For example, when demand forecasts become reliable as an independent variable, then all the other variables (e.g., resource requirements, inventories, budgets and schedules) can be planned for. Of course, fortune tellers are making informed guesses based on clues without any technology than a crystal ball. Without powerful software, forecasters, like fortune tellers, have questionable accuracy. 

Lion tamers – Lion tamers are project managers and facilitators. They must deal with all sorts of uninvolved line managers, executives, bankers and government regulators, many of whom like to roar. They never know if someone might unpredictably attack with deep claws. Lion tamers do carry a whip and a gun, but that may not be enough to tame the lions. Similarly, project managers and facilitators may not have enough power and influence to control detractors.

Elephant tamers – These performers are similar to lion tamers, but they have an easier job. Elephants are more docile and predictable than lions. Elephants are like managers and employee team members who are easy to control but don’t cross them; elephants never forget.

Jugglers – These performers are project schedulers. Their expertise is the ability to focus, despite distractions. When things go wrong, like dropping a juggling pin, they are good at quickly recovering by reprioritizing schedules with little harm.

Magicians – Be wary of this type of performer. They are experts with illusions and sleight-of-hand. Some executives love this type of employees. Such executives have a confirmation bias, relying on their gut feel and intuition to make decisions. They then seek the magicians to manipulate and alter the facts to support their preconceived notions on what to do. Can you pull a rabbit out of the hat?

The strongman – This is the performer with big muscles and a huge barbell. He can bend steel rods. Strongmen are like the analysts with skills to access big data and apply high-performance analytics. Everyone marvels at their power. 

Acrobats – These performers jump and fly through the air, but they eventually land on their feet without mishap. They are like the most skilled analysts. You might not know what they will do next, but they always finish their tricks by gleaning insights out of an organization’s growing mountains of data.

Snack vendors – Vendors such as those selling cotton candy are similar to accountants and low-level staff who report data. They offer managers, users and decision-makers junk food – useless information that looks pretty but serves little purpose and is without nutritional value. Fortunately, accountants are shifting to serving healthier food, with meaningful and relevant performance metrics and customer profitability information for analysis.

Stilt walkers – These performers are like employees who show up at the beginning of a project, never to be seen again. They like to meet and greet. Some enjoy looking down on everyone.

Janitors – Many users feel like janitors with brooms and shovels, following the elephant and horse acts and cleaning up the mess left behind. No project ever goes perfectly; there is always some “waste.”

The circus parade – In the original days of the circus, there was a big parade with all the performers on the day it came to town. This is like the kick-off meeting for a project or annual sales meeting, with lots of hype, flash and dash. But the audience (users) cannot really judge if the eventual performances (the project, analysis or sales target) will be “the greatest show on earth” or a dud.

The circus tents – This is where the IT staff fits in. The circus tent is the infrastructure for the show. IT provides the hardware, software and data for analysts and users to access, manipulate, explore and investigate. If the tightropes, cages and props are not set up right, the performers are at risk. Similarly, if IT behaves more like obstructionists, tightly owning the data, then the analysts and users can’t perform their jobs.

Ringmaster – The ringmaster is the CEO, dressed in the fanciest clothes – top hat and a tuxedo with coattails. These people are great communicators with deep and loud voices. They love being the center of attention. They don’t do much of the real work, but they are great organizers, setting the strategic direction for an organization and keeping everyone inspired.

So, what circus and carnival employees do you work with? Probably all of the types mentioned above. A circus and carnival is team with a common purpose – to entertain and, as a result, earn a living. An organization is not much different. People simply wear different clothes – and there are no animals.

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