The podcast with Sid Minassian is here. He talked with Cindy Tonkin about how to work faster, smarter and nicer.
side note: A few months after this interview in March 2019 Contexti was acquired by Versent. Sidney has now launched ImpactLadder – a global people development company.
This is a transcription of that interview.
Cindy Tonkin: 00:00 Hi there! This is Cindy Tonkin. I’m the Consultants’ Consultant. I work with data science teams, helping them work even smarter, faster and nicer. If you’re brilliant and you want to be even better. This is the podcast for you.
Cindy Tonkin: 00:20 Hi, this is Cindy Tonkin. You’re listening to smarter data people and today’s guest is Sydney Minassian. Sidney is an entrepreneur. He is constantly coming up with new ideas on how to make data work. He runs Contexti and a number of other organizations. He’s been thinking about data and analytics for a while. So listen up and here are seven ways to increase your value as a Data Scientist among other things.
Cindy Tonkin: 00:56 Ladies and gentlemen, today, I have the amazing Sydney Minassian, who was referred to me by the wonderful Aaron Artery who was episode two on this podcast. Sid’s going to be number four. Contexti is your thing, Sid. Tell me more about it.
Sid Minassian: 01:11 Contexti is my thing. Cindy, thank you for having me here. And I’ll hope the guests don’t mix up the Sydney and Cindy.
Cindy Tonkin: 01:17 Oh, no. It’d be too hard.
Sid Minassian: 01:20 Oh, good. Yes, Contexti is my thing, Contexti is a data and analytics company. I founded it back in 2012. I just returned from the U.S., having spent five years there with a previous venture. And I looked at the market and it was going to be cloud, mobility, security or data analytics as the next sort of key thing that I bet along in terms of a business opportunity. And looking at the Australian market, there was no one really, at the time, that was a focused, dedicated if you like modern data and analytics company. Modern meaning leveraging cloud and big data technologies, machine learning, AI, these kinds of approaches. And so we started the company back then and since then we know we’ve had the fortune of working with 50 plus customers. Some key ones include Several West Media. So our team was behind the design building management of their data operations and their analytics environments for the Rio Olympic Games, that Wimbledon, the Commonwealth Games, the Rugby World Cup and so on. We’ve got other customers like Caltex, SAI Global and it’s a lot of data. It’s a lot of companies and it’s a lot of people that we’ve have come through the ranks of the business and many have moved on and ended up in really amazing roles. So, Contexti is my thing. Yes.
Cindy Tonkin: 02:45 What makes a good data analyst in Contexti? What are you looking for?
What makes a good data analyst?
Sid Minassian: 02:50 Firstly, we recognize that there is no one magical role. I think a lot of the market when they’re thinking about data analytics are quickly jumping to let’s hire a data scientist. And that’s the amazing answer. And if I’ve even heard it at board levels, people, board members, they’ve heard of this data science thing and they’re saying to their CEOs, you go get one of those or two of those, right?
I think a lot of the market when they’re thinking about data analytics are quickly jumping to let’s hire a data scientist. And that’s the amazing answer. And if I’ve even heard it at board levels, people, board members, they’ve heard of this data science thing and they’re saying to their CEOs, you go get one of those or two of those, right?
Cindy Tonkin: 03:15 Someone was saying to me today, the chief executives at the moment, there’s a lot of them who have not have been brought up in the data world. Data didn’t exist when they were made, if you like. So now they don’t understand it. What do they need to know that they don’t know?
Data is dirty. Data is messy. Change is heavy. Change is difficult. It’s never the technology that’s the problem. It’s people and the intent and the alignment, that’s the problem.
Sid Minassian: 03:32 So I think they need to know a few things. One is that they can’t put their heads in the sand and pretend that things aren’t changing. Everything’s changing, everything’s getting disrupted. And that’s not just throwing buzzwords around. Fundamentally, businesses are getting disrupted by not their traditional competitors, but new players that are taking a completely digital and data-driven approach to fighting the fight. And the ones that are smart wake up and have the courage to take action. And it’s painful. It’s not easy. Data is dirty. Data is messy. Change is heavy. Change is difficult. It’s never the technology that’s the problem. It’s people and the intent and the alignment, that’s the problem. So if you take someone like channel seven who have, at a board level, at a C level, recognize that they know are no longer in the business where TV is just in the living room.
It’s not just about the data and the tool and the great analyst that’ll find something. It’s the entire value chain of how will an organization take advantage of data, but then execute with it to their advantage all the way to the action
Sid Minassian: 04:37 But they call it now total video. TV means total video, which means content on any device, anywhere, anytime. And they recognize that to compete in that paradigm that absolutely need a modern approach to not only the technology and analytics tools but also how they execute on the insights. It’s not just about the data and the tool and the great analyst that’ll find something. It’s the entire value chain of how will an organization take advantage of data, but then execute with it to their advantage all the way to the action to lift audience engagement, to have a better user experience, to whatever. So, C level people need to understand that. And answering the question previous to this, which was what do we look for? Well, firstly, we recognize that there is no one person that can do all those roles. Or if there is, why would they want to work for us to be frank, right?
And every leader needs to ask that honest question. If there’s a person that’s so awesome, why would they want to work for us, right? I think we firstly recognize that there’s different skills at the platform level, infrastructure level, moving up to the data, engineering level to then the data operational, analytical level to then insights and analytics, machine learning type level. So, I think firstly, recognizing those different skill sets at each level. And there’s different soft skills involved and levels of different soft skills. So, someone who potentially sits at the back end and does operational things, you always want your people to have great soft skills, but it’s way different to the person who’s in there with the customer talking about their competitive environment and their transformation and their change management problems internally.
Sid Minassian: 06:38 Right? That’s going to take a different skill set. So, firstly, we look for people that are obviously self-realized. That’s easier because if they’re self-realized, they are coachable.
firstly, we look for people that are obviously self-realized. That’s easier because if they’re self-realized, they are coachable.
Cindy Tonkin: 06:50 So, what do you mean by self-realized?
Sid Minassian: 06:53 Well, there’s people who are aware that say, I’m really good at doing these things. I’m good at communicating with these types of people, but I’m not so good at presenting or I’m not so good at getting in front of a certain customer audience. When someone recognizes that, it’s much easier to help them, coach them and guide them in developing that skill. And hopefully they have the intention of developing their skills and not just settling on their current position and saying, “I’m not good at this”. And that’s the end of that. I’m not good at this.
Cindy Tonkin: 07:25 Fixed versus growth mindsets.
Sid Minassian: 07:27 Correct. And then it’s our job as leadership to basically say, “We have your back.”
Sid Minassian: 07:37 So, one of the things that my team knows is that I’m not technical. I’m not actually a tech guy or a data-analytics guy. But I’ve founded a business and we’ve worked with over 50 customers and we’ve added value. We’ve created value. That’s the goal.
But, even still, my team know I absolutely have their back if things go wrong. So, they are safe. And I think giving them that safety going, I own it. I’m the CEO, I own it, right. It makes them feel better about tackling new things where we’re asking them to adopt the growth mindset.
And this is the benefit of, I guess, a small organization which has almost no politics. I mean, every organization naturally has its tension, but compared to some of the larger places where people are really trying to do ass-covering, if I’m allowed to say that on this podcast. It’s your podcast, you make the rules, correct. So, you understand where I’m going with that.
Cindy Tonkin: 08:56 Yes, absolutely. So, separately, you told me you’ve written seven ways to increase your value as a data scientist. Tell me about that.
Seven ways to increase your value as a data scientist
Sid Minassian: 08:56 Yeah, so what I noticed is there’s a lot of meetups that are happening around data analytics, machine learning, data science, and there’s all these special events.
And I was getting invited to go in as a guest speaker to universities doing master’s programs, doing guest lectures. And everyone’s coming in and talking to a group of people that are starry-eyed, wannabe data scientists or they’re existing data scientists looking to enhance their trade and skills and craft. And what I thought was well, firstly, I can’t add real value in their area of expertise because I don’t have that personal background. But then what I do know I can bring value is all the soft skill stuff. And so I wrote a blog post.
Sid Minassian: 09:49 Seven ways to increase your value as a data scientist. I’ve done a similar talk talking about several ways to increase your value as a data professional.
Fundamentally, I’m trying to drill home a couple of key things. So these include firstly, to understand the business that you’re in, right? A lot of people you’ll talk to and they’ll go, well, I’m just the numbers guy on this, the numbers girl, why do I need to know all those other things? But this is all about having a seat at the table, right? So to have a seat at the table, you want to understand things like these: What business are we in? How do we make money? What are our margins? Who are our best customers? Who are our best partners? Who do we worry about as a competitor?
to have a seat at the table need to understand things like What business are we in? How do we make money? What are our margins? Who are our best customers? Who are our best partners? Who do we worry about as a competitor?
Sid Minassian: 10:33 And when you then talk to your clients, the person that you’re serving as a data professional and able to have a conversation at that level, not just the numbers level, you will be seen and treated very differently.
The second point out of the seven is get to know your customer’s customer, right? Because ultimately, the people asking for your services aren’t necessarily the customer.
get to know your customer’s customer
Cindy Tonkin: 10:58 These people can say no, but not say yes.
Sid Minassian: 11:00 Yes, and this serving another audience, right? And so, if there’s an opportunity to partner with them to go on meet with the ultimate end customer. Let’s say it’s a marketing department asking the data analytics team to deliver some insight. Well, the marketing department wants to then serve that organization.
If you’re able to understand who they are, their personae, their likes and dislikes, their behaviours, you will be a far better data professional and you will again have a far more important seat at the table.
Cindy Tonkin: 11:32 In my experience with data professionals, having a “meta” position is actually quite useful because you get to see stuff you don’t see when you’re in it. However, there’s some major advantages in actually getting into and getting invested in the actual thing rather than looking at it from an outside perspective all the time. I think it’s hard to get that distance and then get back in and be with the real end customer.
Find the why
Sid Minassian: 11:54 Totally. And look, these are similar things, there’s probably 17 more things. There are other versions of it, none of this is the silver bullet.
The point is, don’t ask for permission. Don’t wait for someone to invite you. It’s up to you as a professional, as a person, to take control of your own relevance, career, and opportunities. And by doing exactly, by doing some of these things, you’re lifting up there.
don’t ask for permission. Don’t wait for someone to invite you
Number three is beyond the what and the how; ask the why.
ask the why
Often, we get into the detail of what are we doing? How should we do it? Let’s discuss that. But often, let’s understand why. Because when you understand the why, you might direct that person to ask for better. Ask a better question. Ask for a different data set. Ask for a different algorithm. And again, they’ll go, “Wow, Cindy really gets us, right? She thought about it, right?”
Three is beyond the what and the how; ask the why. Often, we get into the detail of what are we doing? How should we do it? Let’s discuss that. But often, let’s understand why. Because when you understand the why, you might direct that person to ask for better. Ask a better question. Ask for a different data set. Ask for a different algorithm. And again, they’ll go, “Wow, Cindy really gets us, right? She thought about it, right?”
Cindy Tonkin: 12:58 You can’t build relevance if you don’t know why. Don’t start with what.
Sid Minassian: 13:07 Yes, totally. Okay, so number four is step away from the data. So often, go and involve yourself and understand what the political environment looks like, and what are other forces impacting the problem that you’re trying to solve. While we argue that everything can be answered with data and I know that there’s that whole philosophy around that. Yes, but there is this other side, there is a left brain, right brain, a combination of the way organizations work, right? So, stepping away from the data works.
step away from the data
Number five is really important, which is seek the action. Often, we get asked to do things, go and find this insight and we go off and we find the insight, we deliver it and it’s an amazing insight but no one takes action on that insight. And we then sort of go, data science, what value does it bring us?
What are we going to do with it? And then what? And then what, and then what and how will that deliver the end result that we’re after. Have the courage to ask this.
Sid Minassian: 14:01 Analytics, what value does it give us? But the point is, it’s above your pay grade. It’s above my pay grade even as an external service provider to do some of these things. But in the early stage, you have an opportunity being part of the team, being inquisitive, to say, so I’m going to give you this insight.
What are we going to do with it? And then what? And then what, and then what and how will that deliver the end result that we’re after. Have the courage to ask this. A lot of people think, “It’s not my place.” Absolutely, it is your place. You’re a professional. You need to know what the big picture looks like. You’re not just going to work to keep yourself busy from the hours that you work, from the start to the end of the hours that you work.
Sid Minassian: 14:42 You want to be impactful. You want to make a change. You want to make a difference. You want a success story to be able to tell either for your promotion or the next job that you’ve interviewed for. So, I think it’s extremely important to know what the action is that you’re after.
Number six is build bridges with people. So, it’s all about relationships and it’s all about you being able to pull favors down the track.
over-communicate… don’t be scared of giving away some of your thinking too early
And finally, number seven is, no surprise, over-communicate. Tell them what you’re working on. Tell them what your challenges are. Tell them where you’re going. Tell them what you’ve learned. And don’t be scared of giving away some of your thinking too early. People are helpful, right? And people generally want to help you and direct you and give you feedback.
So, I think these are several ways that I find good little tidbits to give people to think about all the other soft skills and being impactful in their workplace.
Habits and routines
Cindy Tonkin: 15:36 And I think it’s a growing thing that within data and analytics that people are excited to understand the data. Analysts and people who hire them start to understand the importance of this. It’s not just about the numbers. It’s let’s do this thing together. Make sense of the numbers for me. Give me context. All those things that you say are essential. This is wonderful.
It’s not just about the numbers. It’s let’s do this thing together. Make sense of the numbers for me. Give me context
So, talk to me about your habits and routines because you’re obviously a learner, and an entrepreneur, and an undertaker of things. What’s your life? What are your routines?
Sid Minassian: 16:25 Okay. So to give it a bit more context, I’m a father of three. So, I think as a person and as a professional, no one’s one dimensional, there’s multiple dimensions that make us up.
And so to me, to be successful isn’t just to make money. It’s also being impactful to my family, my wife, my kids, and the people that are in my sphere. Plus, then do the things that I do in context as well as the other businesses that I have.
A few things come to mind and I’ve become better at this as time has gone on obviously. No one magically does this. So firstly, I’m going to actually start with health because I didn’t give it that much priority and attention before.
Sid Minassian: 17:18 I thank God I’m healthy and I haven’t had any illnesses. I used to sort of give excuses. I thought I don’t have time for exercise or I don’t whatever.
I read Tim Ferris’ four-hour body and that really inspired me to go look simple hacks and changes in your routine can make a big difference. So, I’m very disciplined with morning routine, like wake up at a certain time, out of the house, breakfast, basically a no-carb, high protein, high fat breakfast, no milk, no sugar midweek type of thing. And then exercises, seven to eight-minute workout squats, crunches, and push-ups, that’s it. Almost every day, and if not, maybe three times a week. And then more recently, from time to time I’ll do something with the kids.
Sid Minassian: 18:16 So just two weeks ago, we ran a fun ran 5 Ks. And of course, they both beat me. So, and they are an 11-year-old and an 8-year-old. The 11-year-old smashed it. He had an amazing time. And the eight-year-old did, they’re both actually very fast runners and they play soccer.
So health-wise, being conscious.
I’m very lucky because my wife also is very health conscious. And so we, as a family, when you make it a priority to talk about what we’re eating, what we’re exercising, everyone, the kids understand about low sugar intake and things like that makes a big difference and helps. So, sort of making it a theme and people might be thinking, “Well, I’m carrying on about this.” But it makes an absolute difference to the way that you can perform as a person moving into the professional life.
Sid Minassian: 19:06 I’m a podcast listener as well. So, not only do I produce podcasts and turn up and do self-promotional like this one, I listened to a number of podcasts.
Given I’m an entrepreneur, I’ve been listening to Mixergy for a long time, that’s interviewing a lot of entrepreneurs from all over the world. And the Tim Ferris’ one, I don’t mind, but it’s way long, right? Sometimes, I can’t listen unless they’ve got something really interesting talking about. And then what I do while I’m listening to all that stuff, I’m usually on Evernote and I’m always taking notes on how I can incorporate what I’ve just learned into Contexti or any of my other businesses or what I can communicate back to my kids, and the young business and entrepreneurial people in training at the moment.
Sid Minassian: 20:00 And then in terms of operational things, we have standups at Contexti. So recently, we’ve brought in a Managing Director, so I’m not involved in the day-to-day operational things. So, that’s a good thing. But typically, the operational things include customer sales, R&D related matters, quick updates so people know what’s going on, and then leveraging a number of collaboration tools, whether it’s slack, whether it’s using Google hangouts, things like that. So, we’re good adopters of those things.
And then other sorts of productivity hacks, if you like, is I’m a stickler for time. So, if I have to be somewhere, I’m usually 10 minutes early. So you would have seen me text you this morning.
I’m a stickler for time. So, if I have to be somewhere, I’m usually 10 minutes early
Sid Minassian: 20:56 I’m in the foyer and I gave you two minutes before I texted that by the way. So, I love things to start on time and to end on time. I’m very strict. Also in meetings, with customers, partners, teams, in a very loving way I’m able to say, “let’s park that or revisit that. That’s not relevant for what we’ve agreed. We’re trying to get out of this meeting today, right now”.
in meetings, with customers, partners, teams, in a very loving way I’m able to say, “let’s park that or revisit that. That’s not relevant for what we’ve agreed. We’re trying to get out of this meeting today, right now”.
Cindy Tonkin: 21:26 Running effective meetings is one of the hugest skills I believe, in the modern world, because everybody sitting in what now has been called a “meeting-rich environment” Are there other hacks you use in meetings?
Sid Minassian: 21:39 Well, I’m constantly learning from people. So there’s the whole Amazon web services one, where they talk about if you can’t feed all the people that you’re meeting with two pizzas, you’ve got too many people there. So, that’s a good little example of not having too many people at a particular meeting. And it depends if you’re there to communicate and get things by consensus or it’s a brainstorming session. So, depends on the context. I don’t think there’s a universal rule.
if you can’t feed all the people that you’re meeting with two pizzas, you’ve got too many people there
Cindy Tonkin: 22:12 How does that set the purpose of the meeting?
Setting purpose and expectations in a meeting
Sid Minassian: 22:13 I get edgy if I’ve invited people and they’re not participating. I’m not here to entertain you. We’re here to have a clash of energy, and the energy is made up of mind, and spirit, and your passion at the time. Give it to me. Let’s not sit here passive. That doesn’t work.
Cindy Tonkin: 22:42 Does that happen very often?
Sid Minassian: 22:42 It happens. Because I think that partly, you’re responsible for it. Back to taking on that leadership role, you set the tone, you set the expectation and you agitate, in a loving way, with a smile.
Cindy Tonkin: 22:56 I was listening to a Podcasts from Shane Parrish
, Farnam Street, the knowledge project. He was interviewing a guy from Shopify, who said he’s written something called the “Toby blueprint”. It is on their intranet. When you start working at Shopify, if you get to deal with Toby, here’s Toby’s operating manual essentially. It is the things that people would find out about me if they work for me for a year. You give it to them so they don’t have to wait a year to know.
Is there stuff like that that you all guys know about you? Do you have a documented operating plan or something?
Sid Minassian: 23:27 Not a documented operating plan, but I actually write from day one. I set the foundations and those are the values for Contexti. And we made it a thing that not only do I talk about it with incoming employees but actually when we go to pitch to a client, it’s literally the second slide. And so, that way, not only am I communicating to the customer, the prospect, the partner, but also my team members, that what we say isn’t just something that we put up on a wall, it’s something that we believe and live by. And I’ve gone to as far as saying, if you can’t communicate this and represent it and believe in it, you shouldn’t be here. To me, it’s that simple. So, other than that, it’s some other things around.
I have no problem with failure as long as it’s done with good character, transparency, innovation, and velocity
Sid Minassian: 24:21 Failure is a big thing that I talk about because I’ve had some big failures, big wipeouts, come back from the dead, and whatever. And so, I have no problem with failure as long as it’s done with good character, transparency, innovation, and velocity. So, failure is our fifth value.
I say as long as these things are done in conjunction, we’re good. The other interesting thing is I say on day one I also expect nothing’s forever. So, while we think we want to be here and work together forever, there will come a point in time that naturally, something will happen that either you will say, “Sid, this no longer is right for me,” or I’ll say, “Hey Cindy, it’s no longer as right for me.” And let’s make sure that just like on day one, we’re excited to work with on the nth day. We have a loving departure and all is good because that’s just life.
Sid Minassian: 25:16 So let’s just assume that that’s going to happen, and let’s just work as long as we can and give out a thousand percent while we’re here. But when it does come to an end, let’s just know that it’s going to come to an end, then let’s make sure it’s not a messy end. And that’s it. That’s a conversation I’ve had early because I’ve had things in the past that I could’ve managed better but I didn’t do that. So that’s again, from my own failures.
Cindy Tonkin: 25:40 Yes, absolutely. We’re all learning stuff. Always. It’s just a question whether we’re doing it on purpose or not. So, we talked about hiring, we talked about firing, we talked about things. Talk to me about the best lesson you’ve ever learned in terms of business, aside from “let’s finish it nicely.”
Have the fight early
Sid Minassian: 26:00 The best lesson that I’ve learned is to have the fight early. I’m a smiley, happy-go-lucky type of guy. I’m passionate about what I do. I think I take on a lot of things and sometimes you think I’m accommodating and I’ve got a very flexible personality and all that seems nice, right? Except for when things are not right. And the question constantly is, when do I bring this up? And I recall my dad telling me when I was younger to have the fight early and I didn’t get it. I thought there was an element of impatience on his behalf and a short temper – that’s what was resulting… Whether it’s not about that.
Sid Minassian: 26:55 So, now I reflect on one of my biggest failures with one of my tech ventures in the U.S. and so on. And I talk about having the fight early when there’s misunderstandings or when there’s disharmony, especially in the leadership team in the founding team or whatever. It’s up to me to bring it up. Now, when I explain this to people, I say, “Have the fight early because you might end up with a bloody nose, but you’re not leaving it until it becomes brain hemorrhage.” What you don’t want to do is leave things where they’re so late that when you try to bring it up, it’s just too much water under the bridge, it’s catastrophic, and you think you’re doing the right thing by being accommodating and putting it up.
Have the fight early because you might end up with a bloody nose, but you’re not leaving it until it becomes brain hemorrhage
Sid Minassian: 27:45 But for the other side, it just becomes the norm. So then, when later you do try to talk or bring it up. And look, that’s a universal lesson, right? It’s not just in business. It’s not just in partnerships. It’s with employees and employers. It’s between employees. It’s between partners. Even relationships, right? Where if things don’t get talked about, there’s a resentment that gets built.
Cindy Tonkin: 28:10 Discomfort begins when you call it rather than waiting for it to become real pain.
Sid Minassian: 28:15 Correct. So, my biggest lesson is have the fight early.
Cindy Tonkin: 28:18 That’s valuable. Thank you. Is there something you have to say no to? And how did you couch that in terms of making it acceptable for people?
Saying “no” and becoming a narrow niche ninja
Sid Minassian: 28:35 Actually, saying no has become a really important thing. So, I’m going to switch to a business context now. So it’s going to be a little bit of business strategy.
One of the things that I do is I coach other business CEOs, especially around sales, go to market, and building their businesses. Like my “7 ways to increase your value as a data professional“, I’ve got another talk called the “10 sales essentials” for first-time tech founders. And one of those essentials is that you need to become a narrow niche ninja. So, the whole idea of that is when you try to do too many things and be all things to all people, you are nothing for nobody.
Sid Minassian: 29:30 So, I think there’s an element of that when you think about in your professional development and your career to be known for something. Often, that means you need to say no to things that seem shiny at the time, seem important, seem like the best opportunity. But actually, it’s taking you off your game plan. The question is, for how long do you do that? And I’m very excitable naturally. I’m the high-energy excitable or want to work with their role, and I help everyone, want to do everything. So, part of it was to even contain myself. And then I sort of came up with this concept with the early days of Contexti. Because data or analytics, big data, Hadoop machine learning, AI, that could go anywhere. You could be anything.
Sid Minassian: 30:17 You could build any type of business. So, one of the things I want to do, I want for us at that early stage to be known for something specific. So today, we’re really well known for our data operations and our insights. But in the early days we were known for big data and Hadoop, let’s say, specialty. So, part of being known for that was to be that narrow niche ninja and to say no to things. But the way I consult myself on why I was saying no, I kept saying to everyone around me, “This is what we’re currently doing. Everything else right now is a no for the next five deals and the next 90 days.” So, I contained it and I said in five deals, if I can close five more deals doing what I already do, or 90 days’ time, I will come up for air and then look at what else matters at the time.
Sid Minassian: 31:09 So, it’s not forever. Those that are familiar with agile and scrum, it’s a bit like that. Like you’ve got a sprint, you’re doing something specific. You’re not trying to change the game plan, but you’re being flexible. You’re not in the traditional waterfall model where you’re saying, “For the next three years, we’re going to do it this way.” You’re saying is, “For a period of time, I’m going to be focused and committed to ensure that this thing either works or doesn’t, but I know for sure and I’ve given it a real go.”
Cindy Tonkin: 31:36 You’re saying no to everything else in order to be focused on that one thing,
that’s the important strategic thing.
Sid Minassian: 31:44 So then that gives you the chance to, in a polite way, to say to others. “This is not no, this is a no for the next five deals and 90 days and then I’m happy to revisit” so that way, you know that if it’s real, it’ll float back. It will come back to you or you’ll go back to it. But if it’s not, you’ve let them down very gently because you’ve also come up with this, let’s call it a mantra or mindset, around how to say no. Firstly, for yourself, then for others.
Cindy Tonkin: 32:13 I did a whole program called “Make No Sound like a Yes“. And part of it is that you don’t have to say yes right now. Delay! 90 days: “In 90 days talk to me ’cause right now I’m focused on this thing” sounds way better than “Sorry, it’s not my priority.” It’s finding the way to say that. That’s tricky.
Sid Minassian: 32:32 Even with those CEO’s that I’m coaching, then the back to the sales thing is, the sales methodology that I’ve created is called the “Five 90 Sales Model”, and that’s where it came from.
Sid Minassian: 32:45 Well, it’s a number. Five deals in 90 days. And I’m counting on becoming that Narrow Niche Ninja and I’m saying no to things. I think there’s some relevance for people just at a professional level. Projects that they’re taking, whatever they’re doing, it doesn’t matter, it’s not rocket science. It’s not the silver bullet, it’s just a method that I found works for me.
Cindy Tonkin: 33:07 Exactly. And look at prioritizing your number one, what happens to you when you’ve got too many things to do? I bet that’s a familiar feeling.
Sid Minassian: 33:15 It is a familiar feeling. You know what? You start with a blank sheet when you got too many things to do. Let’s say I have one single long list of to do’s. I almost reset. I’m a big, again, user of Evernote and I’m on the bus, I’m at home, it’s late at night I’m watching Netflix, whatever.
You start with a blank sheet when you got too many things to do.
Sid Minassian: 33:35 I will rethink what are my priorities are right now and what will I do. That’s just the way I work.
I’m never overwhelmed. I’ve got this happy-go-lucky thing. I’m okay with delegating. I’m okay with calling people and go, you know what, I’ve got too much on right now. But emotionally and psychologically it doesn’t impact me. So potentially I’m missing some brain cells as well. That could happen because that’s in line with my risk-taking. But that bit doesn’t overwhelm me.
Cindy Tonkin: 34:13 And partly because you had that policy of have the fight early, so you don’t get to overwhelm because you haven’t said yes to too many things.
Sid Minassian: 34:19 And I’m also good at calling up on people and I trust human, the goodness of human spirit, right? So, if I have to call up someone and go, “We wanted to do this and it’s not going to happen or something’s changed, I need you to come in and help me.” For people that I’m asking help from, or people that I’ve promised something and wanting to deliver to. I’m always making sure that I’m reasonable and it’s thought about and it’s common.
Sid Minassian: 34:43 I feel like there’s always a trade-off, and it’s always fair, right? So, not really overwhelmed, but back to what others could do or whatever. Start with a fresh page. Don’t carry your to-do lists forever. Cause sometimes it doesn’t matter. It’s almost like when people declare email, bankruptcy, right? They go, I’m not going to look at anything else. It doesn’t matter. If it’s important, it’ll come back to my inbox, then I’ll reset it.
Cindy Tonkin: 35:09 Have you ever declared email bankruptcy?
Sid Minassian: 35:09 No.
Cindy Tonkin: 35:09 You’re running four different companies, yes?
Sid Minassian: 35:12 Almost four, yes. The fourth one is about to get released. Yes.
Cindy Tonkin: 35:23 How big is your email?
I’ve got 56,474 emails unread. It doesn’t matter, the important ones float to the top. I see the things that are important, haven’t dropped the ball on anything.
Sid Minassian: 35:26 My kids freak out when they see this and you’re going to freak out. So, I’ve got 56,474 emails unread. It doesn’t matter, the important ones float to the top. I see the things that are important, haven’t dropped the ball on anything. It works for me.
Now, I subscribe to things this summer – rubbish and alerts that I don’t want to unsubscribe from because I’m always learning from other people’s tactics: how they communicate, how they mark it out, how they sell to me. For me, that’s all interesting. I like browsing through it and just leaving it there. And, you know, God bless Google, they allow you to have a lot of things, right? And do no evil, they’re not going to do evil with it. So, it’s all good.
Cindy Tonkin: 36:18 You have fifty-six thousand emails, but you’ve actually read the subject lines usually?
Sid Minassian: 36:24 Sure. And Google does this whole thing, this one seems like it’s important to be any tags that, because you’ve been communicating with this person, or it looks like it’s from a client or there’s some very simple ways to set up some views and tags. So, things that have got to do with, you know, implant. The one I love best is when I see billings and invoices going out or confirmation of customers buying. I notice those ones. I’m a business guy, naturally.
Cindy Tonkin: 36:59 So that’s your inbox
. I’ve got those emails that are just in my bring it back next week when I’ve got to think about it. For me, there’s nothing in my inbox that I’m not working on right now. For me, it’s horrific.
Sid Minassian: 37:13 It’s very funny because the business before Contexti, we were doing an email productivity product effectively, right? So, it was a natural language product inside of email that automatically detected action items and issues in your email communication.
The whole idea is we sort of recognize all these other to-do lists, task management, project management tools don’t get used because they get overdone by people just communicating via email.
So as part of my validation in the early days, one of my existing clients with my previous business was Deloitte. We had a really good relationship with the leadership team of Deloitte. At the time, the chief strategy officer was Gerard Foster. I had a close enough relationship with him to be able to use him as part of my customer validation.
Sid Minassian: 38:04 I was trying to understand how these executives use email and what’s their email habits.
Productivity happens, right?
what do you do when you get an email? And he goes, “I ignore it.” What do you mean you ignore it? He goes, “Well, I ignore it.” And then I go, what happens? And then he says, “Cause usually they send me a follow-up.” Oh, right. So, that’s when you respond. He goes, “No, I ignore it.” … he goes, “If it’s important enough, these people step into my office.”
So, I was asking similar questions to you. I booked a meeting with him. I sat down with him, so I’m like, So, Herard, what do you do when you get an email? And he goes, “I ignore it.” What do you mean you ignore it? He goes, “Well, I ignore it.” And then I go, what happens? And then he says, “Cause usually they send me a follow-up.” Oh, right. So, that’s when you respond. He gets, “No, I ignore it.” Anyway, this went on and then what I figured out, he goes, “If it’s important enough, these people step into my office.” When you’re that senior and you’ve got a PA who’s also going through email. My point is, there’s no one again answer, everyone’s got their own little model of figuring it out.
Sid Minassian: 38:57 But it was hilarious that here I was trying to automate or build an automated function of his behavior, and his behavior was just tough. If it’s important, people will walk into the office and talk. That’s what they should be doing. If it’s that urgent, they can pick up the phone. It was awesome.
Cindy Tonkin: 39:30 So, what’s your favorite charity?
Sid’s favorite charity
Sid Minassian: 39:32 You know, a few years back, I got the chance to get involved in a two-day design thinking /strategy session with the Brain Cancer Foundation. So, at the time, it was Professor Charlie Teo. He’s now moved on and I think created another one, but somehow I ended up contributing to it. Not just money, but I got involved. I met people that were the children or the spouse of people that had lost their lives to brain cancer. I ended up getting involved with them both from a time commitment, money, and things like that.
Cindy Tonkin: 40:19 Interesting. So, if there’s nothing else you want to tell me? I mean, we could talk for days, but given that you’ve already told me that success for you is finishing on time. We’re going to stop unless there’s something else you want to say?
Sid Minassian: 40:30 No. Awesome. Thank you for having me. Congratulations with what you’re doing and it’s very important what you’re doing around the professional development and helping teams become more awesome.
Cindy Tonkin: 40:41 Fabulous. Smarter, faster, and nicer. Is that us?
Sid Minassian: 40:44 Love it. Thank you.
Cindy Tonkin: 40:53 This is Cindy Tonkin. I’m the Consultants’ Consultant and you’ve been listening to smarter data people. This is part of what I do to understand how it is that data scientists can be more effective in the workplace. Smarter, faster, and nicer. And if you have a team and you’re finding them harder to manage than they could be, if you’re constantly trying to squeeze more out of your budget and out of their time, and if you’ve got stakeholders or they’ve got stakeholders who are less than happy, sometimes, maybe a lot more than sometimes, it can be really annoying, and it can make you feel incompetent. I can help you help them get to the important problems faster, target the wasted time and save you time and money, and ultimately delight stakeholders so that you can feel competent again. It’s such a good feeling. Talk to me.