Consciousness 2016 – A different customer summit experience

:Mu Sigma
Published On: 08 August 2016
Views: 10287

This year, our annual customer event took place downtown Chicago, at the University of Chicago’s Gleacher Center, and included a dinner and art reception at the renowned Art Institute of Chicago.  A key ingredient in the Mu Sigma ecosystem is the cross-industry client base that our company facilitates. We owe it to our clients to help them engage with, and learn from, each other. Our annual customer gathering is one of the best ways to do that.

In line with our experimentation mindset, this year we designed an experience that was very different from past customer summits. That’s why the 2016 event didn’t even use the label, Customer Summit, but rather simply, Consciousness 2016.

Rather than “death by PowerPoint,” we facilitated multiple board room-based Dialogue Sessions: longer format, facilitated discussions designed to help our clients roll up their sleeves and tackle difficult problems that we knew were of interest to them.

To support this format, we also made the event more exclusive. Rather than the normal 225+ attendees who joined us in Seattle in 2015, we capped attendance this year at 100. Fifty-seven different organizations were represented at the event.

During the registration process, attendees identified from a list of eight different Dialogues, the five that they would like to attend over the two days, drawing from a mixture of both pragmatic and intellectual topics. And of course, we also mixed in a few plenary sessions as well.

What happened over the two days?

We were thrilled to be joined by the founder of the ISHA foundation, Sadhguru, as our opening keynote on organizational consciousness. For all of the strides we have made in science and technology, with standards of living unimaginable a century ago, most human beings, and the organizations to which they belong, still remain in search of purpose. Sadhguru shared with us his fundamental vision: To offer the science of inner wellbeing to every human being and to raise human beings and their organizations to the peak of their potential, be exuberant, all-inclusive, in harmony within themselves and the world. The consensus among attendees was that this 90-minute opening was very unique for a business conference, but at the same time, uplifting and relevant.

From that opening, we then transitioned into the Dialogue Sessions, with each session arrayed against one of the following topics:

Organizational Consciousness and Culture. Mu Sigma founder, Dhiraj Rajaram, led this particular dialogue, exploring the differences between organizational consciousness and business intelligence. The session explored how we can make organizations more situationally aware, and how culture and consciousness are intertwined.

Turning Insights into Actual Change. Analytics leaders are always creating more – more data, more dashboards, more insights. But how do we drive more consumption of insights in a way that leads to actual actions? How do we embed insights into operational processes and applications?

Coping with Ambiguity in Decision Science. Gray areas abound in decision making, and dealing with them often requires the use of intuition and gut feel. But are our organizations losing their femininity?  Is subjectivity a nuance that we can afford to lose, in favor of data and logic? How do we harmonize the two?

Bringing Order to the Analytics Wild West. With new C#O roles appearing every day, who doesn’t have a hand in decision sciences at your company these days? In analytics, there are many models for organizational design, governance and capability-building to consider. What determines the right model for you? And how do you make those models work?

Is Data Democratization a Good Thing? In this session, we facilitated a spirited debate: Many will point to more empowered business users as a goal for their decision sciences journey. Others would argue that the “citizen data scientist” is wishful thinking, and perhaps even a bad idea in the first place. We discussed how to manage the pros and cons of data democratization.

Man-Machine: To Balance or Harmonize? With data engineering commoditized, and some would argue, data science following suit, how will the roles of human and machine change, along with how they interact with each other? And what does that mean for roles of artificial and augmented intelligence?

Closing the Capabilities Gap. Here we discussed how significant the shortage of analytical resources is in reality. And do you build or buy your way toward closing the gap? Set up a shared services or outsource? There is no easy answer, and the best answer is usually somewhere in between. In this session, we discussed factors to consider when making the decision.

Creating the Learning Organization. Often we seek experts who are taught to find answers to specific problems. But that expertise depreciates in value like a new car. Better companies compete on an ability to learn. And the best companies will compete on the speed and adaptability of their learning. But how do instill more of a learning mindset in our organizations?

On Monday evening we visited the world-renowned Art Institute of Chicago. We began with an evening reception on the Grand Staircase, which also included a tour the Impressionism / Post-Impressionism galleries. Then we moved into the Chicago Stock Exchange Trading Room for a seated dinner. 

On day 2, we continued with our Dialogue Session format, but topped and tailed the day with two Learning Sessions. Appropriate for a Consciousness theme, one session was designed for the left brain, and the other for the right.

Left Brain: Business Simulation and Machine Learning. Zubin Dowlaty, Mu Sigma’s head of innovation and development, discussed two important, but often misunderstood, emerging capabilities: The usage of simulation in business contexts, allowing clients to go way beyond data, including competitor feedback and emergent methods; and the role of machine learning – at once pervasive today yet dangerous if applied in the wrong context. Using multiple presentation screens and audience polling devices, attendees were able to compete against each other in a retail strategy example, applying simulation techniques in the process.

Right Brain: Communicating for Action and Impact. So much of the success (or failure) of decision science efforts comes down to an ability to convey ideas and insights in a compelling way. In fact, in a recent study run by Mu Sigma, we found that the top desired skills in the area of analytics are not as much related to math and modeling, but more around communication.  So we brought in a guest lecturer – Laura Wall Klieves, VP of the Training Academy at Duarte – to discuss ways to visualize, present and distill complexity down into “a-ha” moments that make a lasting impact.

So that’s the summary.  Thanks to all of you who attended and participated in the engaging dialogue. And for those who couldn’t make it, please be sure to join next year in Austin!

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