Sharpen Your Analytics Saw


Stephen Covey, in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, shares the story of a frustrated lumberjack with a dull saw.

“What’s the problem?” The man asked.

“My saw’s blunt and won’t cut the tree properly.” The lumberjack responded.

“Why don’t you just sharpen it?”

“Because then I would have to stop sawing.” Said the lumberjack.

“But if you sharpened your saw, you could cut more efficiently and effectively than before.”

“But I don’t have time to stop!” The lumberjack retorted, getting more frustrated.

The man shook his head and kept on walking, leaving the lumberjack to his pointless frustration.

There is overwhelming evidence that top employees are constantly looking to develop their skills, in fact, lack of company support in keeping one’s skills sharp is often listed as a top reason for why employees quit. Yet even though this is a known and accepted fact, many companies simply fail to invest in employee growth — the consulting industry being one of the worst offenders.

In consulting, personal growth is not only low in priority, it is often discouraged. Sure, companies may give a token, “we want you to be excited about your job, it would be great if you learned about a new technology,” however the much stronger hammer of 37.5 billable hours per week and maintaining, in the mind of the consultant, a meaningless utilization rate often kills that notion.

What many consulting companies fail to realize is that everyone benefits when you allow your employees to sharpen their saw.

What happens when you allow your employees time to learn new skills?

  • THE EMPLOYEE – The employee is generally much happier as they are learning and growing. Constantly being challenged keeps them out of the ‘bored and complacent’ danger zone.
  • THE COMPANY – The company, in a paradoxical way, is getting more value from the employee as the sharpened saw is both more efficient and more effective than the saw that was allowed to blunt.
  • THE CLIENT –  The client benefits from getting the job done quicker. From their perspective, the faster a problem is solved, the more valuable the solution is to them.

At 33 Sticks, we have taken a different approach to analytics consulting. Unlike most analytics consulting agencies, we NEVER bill by the hour. We strongly believe that the billable hour consulting model is archaic and unfair to our clients’ best interests. Not only is it unfair to our clients, it is unfair to our employees.

Because we don’t have minimum weekly billable hour commitments or team based utilization rates, our employees are not only free to keep their saws sharp, they are strongly encouraged and supported in doing so.

I can hear the naysayers now, “yeah, that’s good and all but at our agency we have lots of work to do, we can’t afford to take time off from our client work. And so what if you learn some new skill, you aren’t really going to apply it to your client work anyway.” Perhaps. And perhaps you are just like the frustrated lumberjack who doesn’t have time to stop to sharpen his saw.

To serve as a good example for our employees, I recently began learning to use Python for Data Analysis. Was it absolutely required that I do so? Not likely, but my hands were becoming quite sore trying to use Excel to cut down massive trees. Within a short period of time, I was able to use my new found knowledge to solve a lingering problem for one of our clients. An analysis that was a struggle, I would argue near impossible, to complete using Excel was a pleasure to solve using Python — AND I’m not afraid to admit that it actually made me a little giddy.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: I owe a special thank you to Randy Zwitch who has been instrumental in helping me learn Python, his mentorship has been invaluable.

Python Example

Ultimately, empowering our employees to keep their saws sharp provides tremendous value to our clients and helps to maintain an enjoyable work environment for our employees.

Jason Thompson
Jason is the co-founder of 33 Sticks. In addition to being an amateur chef and bass player, he can also eat large amounts of sushi. As an analytics and optimization expert, he brings over 12 years of experience, going back to being part of the original team at Omniture.