5 Rules for Waging War

The February 2010 issue of the American History magazine had a great article on “George Washington’s Five Rules for Waging War With Honor”. As is often the case these days I could not help but think about how these rules apply to analytics. Not to say that working in analytics is like fighting a war, but there are many “battles” that each of us face in our daily tasks.

Washington’s Rules were:

  1. Don’t Assume You Are Welcome
  2. Cultivate Your Local Support
  3. Respect Local Religious Practices
  4. Don’t Abuse Prisoners
  5. Withdraw if Your Objectives Are Unobtainable

Washington provided these rules along with some instructions to his officers on how they should conduct themselves in war and in conflict.  If you examine the instructions, you can see how these rules can be applied to most projects or new ventures.  Here is my take on how these rules can be applied to working with analytics in a corporation.

Rule 1: Don’t Assume You Are Welcome
“You are by every means in your Power to endeavor to discover the real Sentiments of the Canadians towards our Cause, and particularly as to this Expedition, ever bearing in Mind, that if they are averse to it and will not cooperate, it must fail of success.”

Analytics can show you where you biggest success are, but look at the bottom of the report and see where the biggest failures are.  Even though you might be able to provide some insight to help those responsible for the items at the bottom of the chart they might not be receptive to your assistance at first.   Start with showing them techniques used on some of the better performing sections and see how and if they can be applied to their content.

Rule 2: Cultivate Local Support
“Conciliate the affections of those People and such Indians as you may meet with by every Means in your Power, convincing them that we come, at the Request of many of their Principal People, not as Robbers or to make War upon them; but as the Friends and Supporters of their Liberties, as well as ours. And to give Efficacy to these Sentiments, you must carefully inculcate upon the Officers and Soldiers under your Command that not only the Good of their Country and their Honour, but their Safety depends upon the Treatment of these People.”

Local Support, Executive Sponsor, Vote of the Hippo.   Without the support of your management, and the support of the other departments in your organization, there is little hope of continued success.  To gain or grow this support, you may need to start small.  Get the basic tracking / analysis in place, then pick one page or section or content group and work to optimize that.  Then take the improved numbers to your team, your boss, other in the company and show them what is possible.   Having proof in hand of a singular demonstrated success is more powerful than any sales demo or prospective filled with potential success.

Rule 3: Respect Local Religious Practices
“As the Contempt of the Religion of a Country by ridiculing any of its Ceremonies or affronting its Ministers or Votaries has ever been deeply resented, you are to be particularly careful to restrain every Officer and Soldier from such Imprudence and Folly and to punish every Instance of it. On the other Hand, as far as lays in your power, you are to protect and support the free Exercise of the Religion of the Country and the undisturbed Enjoyment of the rights of Conscience in religious Matters, with your utmost Influence and Authority.”

You might feel that you have the knowledge or skill in your area of expertise that can improve your organizations website.  But if you do not respect the people and the process that are in place, you will find it hard to make any progress.  You need to take the time to talk with all the groups that have a vested interest in the data you can provide, to see what their goals are and then develop a plan with them to meet those goals.

Rule 4: Don’t Abuse Prisoners
“Any Prisoners who may fall into your Hands, you will treat with as much Humanity and kindness, as may be consistent with your own Safety and the publick Interest. Be very particular in restraining not only your own Troops, but the Indians from all Acts of Cruelty and Insult, which will disgrace the American Arms, and irritate our Fellow Subjects against us.”

This one is not as clear as the others.  I see “prisoners” as the groups in your company or organization that for whatever reason might not be the easiest to work with.  Like it or not, they are dependent on you to deliver the data and analysis to help them succeed as much as the groups that are easy to work with.  If you do not treat them with the same respect and with the same level of data and analysis as other groups you are not doing your job or assignment to the best of your ability.  Then you are not only hurting them, but your company and yourself as well.

Rule 5: Withdraw if Your Objectives Are Unobtainable
“If unforseen Difficulties should arise or if the Weather shou’d become so severe as to render it hazardous to proceed in your own Judgment and that of your principal Officers (whom you are to consult), in that Case you are to return, giving me as early Notice as possible, that I may give you such Assistance as may be necessary.”

Face it, there are some projects or goals that just can not be met.  There are some things that can not be tracked reliably enough to gain any sort of meaningful insight.  You have to know when it is time to stop waiting time and energy on that task and move on.  Also, with this data, you might be able to help your company see that a campaign or product offering is just not working or meeting it’s goals, and it may be time for the company to focus it’s resources on a different more successful campaign.

These “rules” provide at a minimum some great points to think about and consider as you go about your interactions with your clients or colleagues.  Just as you need to optimize your site to provide the best experience for the visitors to a web site, you should optimize your approach to working with others to bring analytics to a point where the data can be used to make intelligent business decisions.

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