Leadership, Culture, and John Wayne in a Post COVID World?

Original article was published by Amanda Brownfield on Artificial Intelligence on Medium

Leadership, Culture, and John Wayne in a Post COVID World?

Otto Biederman, known as Otto “Abbadabba” Berman, was an accountant for American organized crime. He is known for having coined the phrase “Nothing personal, it’s just business.” I subscribe to the opposite — I take everything I do in business very personally. And I always have a story. My father was a 30-year Special Operations veteran with an obsession with John Wayne movies. I was taught from a very early age that Rangers Lead the Way, and I instinctively knew what that meant by watching my father and trying to model his behavior. The last line of the Ranger Creed says simply, “Readily will I display the intestinal fortitude required to fight on to the Ranger objective and complete the mission though I be the lone survivor.” Pretty powerful stuff. One of my father’s absolute favorite John Wayne movies was True Grit. As a young girl, I could have cared less for western movies, and it was only after my father passed away that I truly took stock of what that particular movie meant to him, and why he would have wanted to watch it with me. True Grit goes something like this. The murder of her father sends a teenage girl, Mattie Ross, on a mission to avenge his death. She recruits a tough old marshal,

Rooster Cogburn, to help her seek her vengeance because he has a reputation for getting the job done.Their journey takes them on horseback from Arkansas, deep into Indian Territory. It’s a ridiculous odyssey for a 14-year-old girl to take, but Mattie is the definition of moxie. Moxie describes someone, or something, with energy, a fighting spirit, and a fierce determination and grit. Those who imbue that moxie, that grit, simply never give up. They march tens of miles a day, every day to the Ranger objective no matter the odds. I like to think that Geospark Analytics has the same pluck as Mattie Ross, and we are at our absolute best when the world is uncertain and risky.

Large companies of which I have admittedly worked for some of the best are good at routine tasks that require many resources, but frequently have a hard time maintaining teamwork and unity of purpose. Small disruptive companies like ours made up of highly trained, committed and talented teams like those Seals, Delta Force, or Rangers that my father led, or worked with over the years, rely on agility, focus, inventiveness, and esprit de corps to get the job done. And before anyone out there tries to suggest that I am inappropriately comparing our young company to the world’s most elite Special Operations fighting forces, I’m not. I’m simply trying to capture that essence — in fact, I’d like to bottle it up and give it away! What makes Geospark Analytics fierce and innovative, like those special operators is our passion for making great products that help our clients make sense of inhuman amounts of information. Our killer developers, data scientists and mad mathematicians built our Hyperion platform to combine multi-variant data from social media, news reporting, economic indicators, natural disasters together with machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), and natural language generation to deliver insight needed to make informed decisions about the future, now. In just one day we ingest 50,000+ relevant social media posts, analyze 100,000 news articles, translate 100 different languages, generate nearly 1,500,000 AI-driven calculations of activity and stability, all based on 6,800,000 different sources of curated content gathered in the last year alone. I’m breathless just thinking about it!

Case in point. We are among the many companies that execute a global monitoring mission who can claim they first alerted users to the disease outbreak in Wuhan, China before there were any official announcements coming from in country, the World Health Organization, or even the U.S. government. From that point on, most every technology, research and analytics company in the world then turned its attention to how to help stem the tide of COVID-19. There were countless providers out there with tens, even hundreds, of millions of dollars in operating cash and/or investment alerting on the news, producing yet another slick graphic that did nothing more than plot positive tests and/or sadly deaths on a map — certainly interesting, even necessary data collection, but not sufficient. And so it was an easy decision for us to pivot, in a way that only an agile company can, to tune our existing Hyperion AI-health event engine to proactively get in front of the COVID-19 disease. With a team of only five beautiful minds to come up with the concept we set our sites on providing actionable open source intelligence that helped executives at both the Federal and State level, Department of Defense, Agency heads, logisticians, and first responders, to include our beleaguered health care workers, forecast the news, not simply report it.

Our team knew it wasn’t good enough to understand where the virus was — it wasn’t even good enough to predict where the virus would be. Remember early on, when every night on the evening news for months Americans were inundated with stories of governors, hospital administrators, doctors and nurses literally begging for a better understanding of when their locale would become the next hotspot and how the nation could more efficiently and effectively deploy our scarce resources? These were lifesaving decisions that leaders had to make, so we designed, tested and fielded several new components of our existing Hyperion platform to better arm those decision makers with the information they needed to do their jobs. At the request of the federal agencies who are still leading the U.S. response to the pandemic today we fielded, in just 48 hours, our first county-level models, forecasting disease spread and assigning our revolutionary Hyperion Pulse stability and risk scores based on a myriad of data. Armed with this information users were then able to assess the ability of counties to actually absorb the spread in their hospital systems before it came. We released the results of our Health Event model for free. The data still tracks global reporting about the virus and has been accessed more than 3.6 million times since launch.

If we were a different kind of company we might rest on our laurels. After all we recognize that we’ve gotten a lot of attention for the work we’ve done on COVID-19, but this news is so yesterday — customers, whether they’re the U.S. government or global titans of industry, deserve to know what we’ve done for them lately. Tracking, and fighting against, the disease outbreak and assisting with reopening strategies is just the tip of the iceberg. COVID-19 will continue to affect everything from health, to travel, to supply chain resiliency, to the economy for the forseeable future. At Geospark Analytics we are never satisfied, and in fact, we believe it’s our job to tell you what you need to know to make decisions today, about tomorrow. To us the world has been painted in stark relief. There is only Before and After COVID. And honestly does anyone really believe there will ever be an actual After COVID? So whether that means helping leaders stay ahead of supply chain interruptions, so they can execute preprogrammed responses like relocating inventory or shifting to alternate manufacturing sites and assembly nodes — Geospark Analytics will be there. Or if it means that we offer our clients data that allows them to choose alternate routes based on transportation disruptions, so they can move their goods as efficiently and securely as possible given a potential future hazard — Geospark Analytics will be there. Or maybe we offer an assessment of stability and risk for a set of given locations, so our clients can assess the security of their critical physical, and personnel, assets in a given country and as their travelers move around the globe — Geospark Analytics will be there too.

I’ve thought a lot about leadership and culture in the age of COVID-19, particularly since taking on the awesome responsibility of becoming the Geospark Analytics CEO. As the world continues to become ever more complicated and challenging do we retreat or double down? What’s our obligation to our stakeholders — investors, customers, and especially our employees — when we are all facing an overwhelming opposing force? How do we maintain

teamwork and unity of purpose, so we can deliver those breakthrough results with a fierce determination and grit? It all begins with having a clear understanding of who we are. At Geospark Analytics our vision is to make the world safer, healthier, more efficient. Our core values demand that we lead with radical candor, consistently communicate, and celebrate the importance of teamwork. My father taught me that leadership is about being selfless and creating a culture that is team centric where everybody embraces a set of shared values, the most important of which is we never give up on each other or stop marching towards our objective. Dad, I get it. At Geospark Analytics we are the company with all of the moxie of little Mattie Ross and, of course, we’re doubling down.