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Automation is a powerful tool for personalization. Yet, it can easily end up doing the opposite for a business. Have you ever canceled an appointment with a service provider only to later get an automated text message asking you how the visit (that didn't happen) went? The same goes for marketing automation. While there are plenty of great use cases for automation, it can easily turn into an efficient way to lay bare a company's lack of personal interest in its customers. This is especially true when automation is implemented by an outsourced marketing partner with little to no understanding of, or experience with, your customers. Automation alone can’t fix poor customer service.

I was fascinated to learn that trees store more information than I previously realized. Tree rings tell at least two stories. The first, which we probably all learned in school, is the age of the tree, represented by the tree rings. The second, that I was unaware of, is a look at the environment that surrounded the tree during its lifetime. Each year a tree adds a new layer of growth in the form of bark. These layers of the tree appear as rings. A narrow tree ring represents a year of bad weather and a wide ring a year of good weather. Good weather = good tree growth = a wider tree ring.

The tree tells you a story about itself, but that same story tells you something about its surroundings. In the United States modern record-keeping for the weather began in 1891. Yet, Mike Baillie, a dendrochronologist, devised a computer program that matches the patterns of tree rings from around the world providing a measure of weather data going back some 7,400 years. Of course, tree ring analysis provides far less detail than modern weather data record keeping. Nevertheless, with his tree ring insights, he extended the available data pool by over 7,000 years.

Fascinating to think that there are potentially decades or more of weather data sitting in our yards and thousands of years of it in forests around the world. It makes me wonder what other metaphorical tree rings are around us in our organizations, environment, and lives.

What other things are inconspicuously storing information that can be analyzed and turned into insights?

Regarding survey/feedback data collection: Have you ever encountered a survey or feedback form where you're only given two options but neither fits your true response? While a binary choice of positive or negative can lead to the appearance of efficiency for the organization deploying the survey, the efficiency may be solely tied to the survey itself. Not necessarily an efficient path to product or service innovation. In fact, this appearance of efficiency may actually be hiding opportunities for innovation. Allowing for, better yet asking for, open-ended answers can lead to insights that cannot be uncovered by a binary choice alone. It could reveal a problem that you weren't even inquiring about. Create a means for unexpected insights to reveal themselves.

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