How Do You Eat a Whale?

I could easily be described as a stout individual. I’m 6′ 4 (and a quarter)” tall and usually hover around 300 pounds so food analogies usually stick with me. My buddy Jerry Smyth (Sales guy and former professional skateboarder) used to ask me “How do you eat a whale?” To which I would respond, “That’s way too much food, how fat do you think I am?” (editor’s note: don’t tell them the real answer until the end, it will keep them interested in the story)

This sales analogy make a ton of sense not only when you are trying to land giant customers, but when making culture changes.

In 2016 we were able to do a few really cool things around how we look at our data and approach problems because of tools like Alteryx and Power BI. The conversation has really shifted from “can we do this?” to “how do we do this?” Which really is an exciting change in any company. However, no matter where I have been in this process it seems like we are so far from where we want to be. I need more licenses, a bigger server, more employees, more feedback, more involvement, more interest, etc.

Ambition is a hell of a drug.

Since I can’t have everything I want at one time, I have to learn to be patient and make little changes as we go. This has been the hardest thing to learn in the past year.

When we started down the path of Alteryx, the first thing we looked at was the price tag. Knight is an industry leader in profitability and part of that success is the ability to run a slim shop. So immediately the answer was that there was no way this is going to happen. We got a trial license anyway because we wanted to try it out and see if it really could do everything we asked it to. It did, and then we bought one license.

This was the first small step. We went from nothing to something.

With one license in hand, we were able plow through some huge business problems that were not being faced, because the development team did not have the bandwidth to get to everything that they were handed. So we were starting to gain momentum and a few started to ask about how they got into the tool. There is a really cool video (here) about the importance of a “first follower”. This person is just as important as whoever has the first idea. If you are trying to create a culture change, find your first follower and foster that relationship.

This was the second small step. We gained some momentum.

Now that more and more people were wanting to try it out, it only made sense to get the pilot. So with the pilot in hand, we started to enable people to not be intimidated by their data because of the ease of use. We started to see a shift here. We were very much a shop where IT had total control of the data and everything has to go through them. This of course was because no one else was smart enough to figure out how to really pull information from the data. (sarcasm)

This was the third small step. We began to tear down the perception of how things had to be.

Of course this is terrifying for anyone with total power so while we were gaining momentum, we were also gaining opposition. But we would not go quietly into the night.


This was/is BY FAR the hardest part of the change. Especially when it gets down to the politics of an organization, which I promise it will. But we kept pushing and we saw a shift where they too were seeing how they could reap the benefits of such a tool. There were people that joined and people that simply stepped out of the way.

This was our fourth small step. If they couldn’t beat us they, for the most part, joined us.

We made our deal with Alteryx in October 2016 and started to develop our team. Since we had both this powerful new tool and no previously existing entity to build around, we were able to create a team around the excitement and drive of individuals, rather than pre-existing skill sets. We have found success in this model for two reasons:

  1. Analytics jobs are super sexy. These individuals have seen an opportunity to get into a position that would otherwise require a tremendous amount of faith or schooling. They had the strength to make their desire know and were able to walk through the door.
  2. Now with my super motivated group, I am able to push them in the direction that they need to go in order to find answers for themselves and they are motivated to do it.

This was our 5th small step. At Knight, we are creating a data hit squad.

Which brings us to the now. Currently we are working on the next steps that will help this team develop into a group where we know how to get the work done and the consumers have faith in the product we push out. We know that this will take time and wins, but we have energy and drive that will continue to push us forward.

At Knight our whale is this idea that we want to create an analytics driven culture and to provide tools in order to empower the decision makers and drive/measure performance. A more informed organization is a stronger organization. There are of course other groups outside of the Alteryx team that are taking steps in this same direction, but we are all having to eat this whale at the same pace. One bite at a time.

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