Although you’re now a grown up adult, you probably remember what your life was like when you were a child. I am referring to elementary school ages. We all can look back on what we were like then –somewhat naïve children. Imagine if you could go back in time and speak to yourself when you were that kid. What would you say to yourself? What advice would you give yourself knowing what you know now?

More specifically, what counsel or warnings would offer that would better prepare yourself to leverage analytics, big data and quantitative methods to help organizations improve their performance? More importantly, what would you say to yourself that would lead to a more fulfilling career and job prospects than you have now?

Childhood Fun and Curiosity

This article will not be a sermon such as about ethics and morality. I simply intend to stimulate your thinking. To start, let’s each reflect on our childhood.

Growing up in the 1950s, my childhood friends and I did not have PlayStations, Nintendos, or Xboxes – no video games at all. We did not have 150 channels on cable or satellite TV or video or DVD movies. We had no surround sound, MP3 players or CDs, no cell phones, no personal computers and no Internet. But we did have our imaginations, and we made up games. In our games, sometimes something would happen that we had no previously defined rule for. We learned how to negotiate. We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on. No one was able to reach us all day long. We had fun. We were curious.

Today you might consider those times dangerous. There were no car booster seats or air bags. We fell out of trees. We rode our bikes without helmets. We drank water from the garden hose and not from a bottle. We shared our soft drinks with friends from a single bottle. But for the most part, we were fine. 

What Advice Would I Give to Myself as a Kid?

Yes, childhood is long gone, and I am now all that remains. If I had the chance, how would I talk sense to my younger self? And what would you say to your childhood self to prepare you for the future?
 
Here are four tips that I would recommend:

Never stop dreaming of possibilities. Chase your favorite dreams. Many of my dreams and aspirations involve making things operate more smoothly and efficiently with less stress on people. (That may be an explanation why I chose my college degree to be in operations research and industrial engineering. I like scheduling things and conserving resources to get more with less.)

Always be curious. As a child I was relentless in asking my parents those “why?” questions. Questions are good things. They not only lead to understanding how things work with cause-and-effect relationships, but the answers also lead to solving problems and pursuing opportunities. The best leaders today don’t have the best answers. They ask the best questions. Today there is too much volatility and uncertainty for leaders to draw on their past experiences and intuition. Leaders need to empower their followers – their work force – to be investigative.

Learn how to live with disappointment. Things will not always go your way. You will lose some of the games you play. It is trite to say, but learn from your errors and mistakes. When others who have more power than you reject your idea or findings, understand why. There will always be a next time.

Balance solitude with playing (i.e., working) with others. When I was young I was reasonably social. I was my high school class president all four years. But I enjoyed solitude and being alone to have time to ponder and think. There is great value in solitude. It allows the opportunity for one to dig deeper and explore root causes and drivers of outcomes. Solitude provides time to think about solving a problem from different angles. Working in teams is also important; just have some time for yourself.

Is It Ever Too Late to Change?

Compared to the past, we all now work in much more fast-paced organizations that operate in a sped-up world.  Those increases in volatility and uncertainty that I earlier mentioned are here to stay. Thanks to information technology, we now all have ways to adapt, adjust, react and pro-act. When it comes to pro-action, think “predictive analytics,” which is the future view of analytics.

We still have that child in us. It is human nature. Because of how we learned during our youth, some of us are now exceptional risk takers, problem solvers and inventors. We are still curious about why things are the way they are. We wonder if things have to continue to operate as they have been or if they can be done differently and better. Most of us are disturbed and irritated when we observe poor processes, dysfunctional organizational behavior, inequitable policies and weak leadership.

Can you change your ways? Can you effect change in your co-workers, partners, and management team? You can obviously personally change; change is continually happening to us, including aging. To effect change in others, is aid them by providing facts, insights and foresight. Always remember that in the absence of facts, anyone’s opinion is a good one – and usually the biggest opinion wins, which is that of the senior ranking person involved. You can now change that. Analytics, big data, the Internet, in-memory computing, and the cloud have miraculously arrived in our lifetime for us to “play” with – to leverage for benefits to all.

Let’s have fun! That young kid is still you.