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'Never Stop Experimenting,' Implores Rising Stars Foundation CDO Larry Shiller



COVID-19 has been a stark reminder of why data leaders must embrace creativity and experimentation, Rising Stars Foundation CDO Larry Shiller argues in this week’s podcast

It’s been a tough year for Rising Stars Foundation. Roughly 70% of home schooling curricula sales come from in-person conferences between March and July. So, COVID-19 forced the charity to rethink its whole plan for 2020.

However, the foundation’s CDO, Larry Shiller, seems to have taken this unprecedented disruption in his stride. In this week’s episode of the Business of Data podcast, he shares how he helped the organization swiftly pivot its strategy to avert disaster.

“The pandemic [has] just accelerated existing trends toward better data leverage,” he argues. “It’s prompting more creative thinking or more lateral thinking.”

Faced with a potentially catastrophic loss of revenue, Rising Stars Foundation rolled out a new strategy built around promoting its digital curricula, creating YouTube tutorials and driving social media engagement.

“Data analysis of all that stuff was obviously critical to determining its success,” Shiller says. “We used data and analytics to grow revenue and reduce risk and expense.”

“So far, our sales have been down 10% year over year,” he adds. “But that could easily have gone down 70% if we didn’t take these proactive steps early on in the pandemic.”

This is not the first time the charity has had to turn on a dime. Shiller says he initially thought the first iteration of his algorithm for measuring a person’s ‘grit’ was a failure. The project started life as a study program that was too tough for most kids to complete. When universities told Shiller they wanted to know about the determined few who got all the way through, he realized the value of what he’d created.

He says: “I like to tell people, ‘I have a new idea. I’m excited about it. But be forewarned, 99% of my ideas suck.'”

“That’s OK, because eventually we’re going to find the one that really does work,” he concludes. “So, let’s keep making those mistakes, so we can find the next transformative analysis or breakthrough.”

Key Takeaways

  • Update your data strategy regularly. This year has proven that data leaders must sometimes totally rethink their plans in light of new business priorities
  • Create a safe space for innovation. Not all experiments result in immediate success. But trying new things is essential for driving company innovation
  • Look for the good in bad outcomes. Negative results are still results, and they provide insights that point the way to the breakthroughs you’re looking for