Cognitive Computing Systems: Want to build a great MVP? You need the right partner

For the first time in U.S. history the nation’s high school graduation rate rose above 80 percent, according to the 2014 Building a GradNation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic (a report released April 28 by Civic Enterprises, the Everyone Graduates Center, America’s Promise Alliance and the Alliance for Excellent Education.) This is obviously great news. However, when you look deeper there are some disturbing facts hidden just below the surface.

The stated goal is to “achieve a national high school graduation rate of 90% by 2020.” Data analysis indicates that the only path to achieving that goal is by improving the graduation rates for minorities, low-income students and the handicapped. This is an enormous challenge that has global implications. It’s a complex problem that will require a complex solution.

Achieve a 90% #graduation rate by 2020? Focus on #minorities, #poverty & the #handicapped. Click To Tweet

Boys in caps and gowns holding diplomasUsing the “graduation problem” as a use case for this article, and those that follow, will showcase how a startup founder can partner with a cognitive computing system to solve problems that have the potential to evolve into a scalable, self-sustaining business enterprise. We will be borrowing heavily from the customer development methodology as put forward by Steve Blank and Bob Dorf in their seminal work, “The Startup Owner’s Manuel: The Step-by-Step Guide to Building a Great Company. We will begin with the Customer Discovery process and the first phase of that process: Building a solid Minimum Viable Product (“MVP”).

Can we solve the high school “#dropout” problem AND create a scalable, self-sustaining business? Click To Tweet

In the foreseeable future, the ability of a startup founder to bring a scalable and self-sustaining business model to market will be a general function of how well we as human beings can successfully “collaborate” with a “machine” (represented here as a fully functional cognitive computing system). As defined by the American Psychological Association (APA) a cognitive system is:

“A mental system consisting of interrelated items of assumptions, beliefs, ideas, and knowledge that an individual holds about anything concrete (person, group, object, etc.) or abstract (thoughts, theory, information, etc.). It comprises an individual’s worldview and determines how he or she abstracts, filters, and structures information received from the world around. A Cognitive Computing system is our attempt to replicate this function digitally.”

Using self-learning algorithms that use data mining, pattern recognition and natural language processing, the computer can mimic the way the human brain works.

Trying to mimic the brain? Try #MachineLearning, #DataMining & #NaturalLanguageProcessing. Click To Tweet

There are multiple phases that our fictional high tech startup founder “Keith” must move through in order to become a scalable self-sustaining business enterprise. I will walk you through each phase as I describe how Keith and his team seek to solve the “graduation” problem. We will also discuss how partnering with a cognitive computing system like “Herbie”, Keith will significantly enhance the speed to market, the product quality and the customer perception of the market-facing product.

In general each phase will involve a process that answers some very important questions such as:

  • How do I build an effective MVP?
  • How can I tell if the target market for my big idea is big enough?
  • Who do I think is going to pay money for my big idea and how much?
  • How will my distribution network get my product from here to my customer?
  • What is my chosen market and is there room for one more?
  • How do I compete in my chosen market?
  • How do I find and acquire new customers?
  • How do I keep the customers that I already have?
  • How do I get my existing customers to spend more money with me?
  • What external resources do I need to succeed?
  • What value-added partner relationships do I need to have?
  • Exactly how much money can we make?

All of these questions point to complex challenges for startup founders that will take more than a few articles to explore.

#Founders & #AI teamup to enhance #Speed-to-Market, #CustomerValue and #ProductQuality. Click To Tweet

What process or methodology do you use as a founder to develop a strong go to market strategy? What has been your experience with cognitive computing systems and can you see how they could add value to an early stage startup? Do you believe that lagging graduation rates is a big problem in America? How would you fix it?

I thank you in advance for coming on this journey with me. I expect to learn as much as you do along the way.

The 3 Biggest Reasons Why Your Business-Decisioning Program May Be Going Nowhere

Making business decisions that grow profits, reduce expenses, or increase customer satisfaction has been the goal of every successful business enterprise since CAIN agricultural products orchestrated a takeover of ABEL shepherding services. The impact of that business decision is still being felt today.

In the modern world, management usually takes a business claim or new idea most seriously when it is supported with verifiable facts. The viability of said claim is something that is generally proven to be true or false. Consider the case of an executive search firm that needs to choose between two senior executive prospects that have both made individual claims as to being the best choice for the position. In the “olden” days, management would have relied on their “gut” or “intuition” to decide whose claim was most “true,” while also considering some of the available facts. Today, with the explosion of information and instant communication, doing business this way is no longer reliably profitable. Creating a global business-decisioning program that delivers sustainable competitive advantage is today’s “race to space.” Unfortunately, there are many cultural, operational, and financial reasons why this race is more like a mine-filled marathon than a short sprint. Overcoming these barriers is the first step toward a successful deployment. Let’s take a closer look at this minefield:

You may not have a company culture that encourages critical thinking

Critical thinking is a key skill that enhances capabilities such as product innovation,  business expansion, and change management. It refers to the careful, deliberate determination of whether an individual should accept, reject, or suspend judgment about a business claim and whether the full support of the organization should be thrown behind it.

Employees must have access to training that promotes skills such as listening and reading carefully, evaluating arguments, looking for and finding hidden assumptions, and tracing the consequences of implementing a business claim or idea. This is the critical foundational step that must be executed before an effective global business-decisioning program can be put in place.


Your complex business decisioning processes are not clearly defined or automated

Once you handle the critical thinking cultural challenges, your next move is making sure that your employees have a clear and effective method of collaborating while making complex group decisions. Almost every company has gone through some type of business process (six sigma) mapping exercise with the stated goal of documenting the most effective company-wide method of completing a particular business task. This is a very useful exercise that often defines the “who, what, why, where and when” of how a standard business process should be executed.  This static approach works very well as long as “the business conditions on the ground” never change. Doing business in today’s environment requires flexible business models and the ability to change business partners on a dime. If you can seamlessly merge both your business process and your business decisioning models into one seamless process you will unlock the key to propagating a business culture of “trust but verify” throughout your entire organization. Issues related to business planning, budgeting and implementation represent the last remaining barrier to effective group decision-making.

Your business-decisioning program may be woefully underfunded

Everyone knows that undercapitalization is the biggest reason that small businesses tend to fail. They often have too much plan and too little money. Unfortunately, this is often true for many business organizations seeking to implement business-decisioning initiatives (especially during this recession). Instead of taking the first step toward developing a critical thinking decision-oriented business culture, many projects are approached as quick, isolated tasks that make a limited amount of information available to a small subset of individuals who do not work collaboratively.

It takes considerably more than investments in hardware, software, professional services, and technical classes to overcome all three barriers to complex decision-making. Organizations must also develop some type of critical thinking competency center to serve as a central driving force for workforce development. This is a long-term strategy that must have the constant and full attention of all stakeholders.

How are you navigating this minefield? What do you think needs to be done before more organizations take competitive advantage of collaborative group decision-making? What business planning, budgeting, and implementation barriers have you experienced with prospects or clients looking to move forward with their initiatives