Data Stories: Leaders at Work is a weekly podcast brought to you by Audiense. Hosted by Rahul Jerome, founder of insight-intelligence.com, the series captures personal anecdotes and career highlights from some of the most talented and brightest minds in the research and insights industry.
On this episode of the Data Stories: Leaders at Work podcast, I sit down with Gary Melling, CEO and Co-Founder of Acquired Insights, Inc. During our conversation, Gary breaks down what kind of work is being done at Acquired Insights, how he has managed a successful career in the management consulting industry, and advice he’d like to offer to young professionals chasing after success and purpose.
Gary starts off by explaining exactly what Acquired Insights (or AI, Inc) is about. He likes to think of the work he’s doing at AI as a “four-legged stool” that deals with enterprise security, data analytics, enterprise resource planning, and supply chain vendor verification. The genesis, of course, is the variety of artificial intelligence solutions that AI, Inc. provides. AI, after all, and use of artificial intelligence platforms, is likely the way of the future.
Speaking about his education, Gary tells us that technology has always been an interest, but he sort of “fell in” to his current field. As a young child, he traveled a lot and struggled trying to pick up interests. He shares a story of a steam engine toy he had as a child and how that experience really turned him onto science and mechanics. Gary believes it’s so important that people are able to understand some kind of mechanical process independent of other people. “The people factor as a whole is a wild card,” he says, but he finds that he continually goes back to the systems and understanding them first, then laying the people over top of that.
As a teen, Gary liked to people-watch at the mall, which led him into thinking about studying sociology in college. While in graduate school at Mt. St. Vincent University, he met an electrical engineer from the navy who really helped him understand that having a person supporting you is probably even more important than understanding the science itself, and he’s so thankful to have come under that professor’s tutelage.
Gary wishes that, before getting into his career, he knew how to appreciate the people around him, and really show them that he appreciated them. There’s a good chance that there are people in your circle that really put a lot of trust in you, and it’s important that those people know that you’re making progress. He remembers the days early in his career when he didn’t communicate those things, and wishes he had focused on those things faster, better, earlier.
For leaders, Gary says that those people need “intense curiosity.” Those kinds of people know how to take in and verify a lot of information all the while. Another trait of great leadership is being able to ask the right questions and set aside any pride about your achievements. Leaders know how to communicate the needs, the mission, and the value of core solutions to key stakeholders. They can use their intense curiosity to help elevate their team members and get them the information they need.
As far as tools go, Gary thinks that tools are where business, technology, and humans all converge. He likes to say that his people are all “trilingual” in that sense. It’s about “following the money,” he says, and they have to be skilled enough to know how to pull out the right tools at the right time.
We are just inundated with so much information all the time, Gary says. Social media is one tool that obviously can be abused, so what we need to be able to do is hammer down what our vision is. Namely, where we are trying to go. When you know where you’re headed, Gary says, you can much more easily cut out the noise and identify and eliminate distractions. “No one has a monopoly on the truth,” he laments, so you need to be able to gather and manipulate a lot of data despite all of that. It’s difficult to stay focused, so tools that help to keep in focus will help yourself and your organization.
It’s also important to think about the ethics of applications for artificial intelligence, and those are conversations that we must keep at the forefront. This is to protect clients and participants and to continue to build trust.
For a young professional who’d like to differentiate themselves, Gary offers the following advice. He urges the young entrepreneur to focus on the people and the problems first and the technology second. The tech will do the work of being sexy and attractive, but it won’t solve problems and build relationships on its own. In other words, use technology, yes, but don’t forget some of the old school tools that will help you to build better relationships beyond the digital side. “Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and call somebody.” Beyond this, it’s important to manage the balance between needing formal training with gaining convertible skills. Formal education is important, but it should never undermine what being in the world can teach you. “The challenge is to minimize the background noise and figure out what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it.” It becomes easy to lose sight of the mission, so stay the course and get rid of any distractors.
I am very pleased to have Gary join me on this episode, and hope you enjoy listening to the conversation.
The full version of the podcast with Gary Melling can be listened here: