Simon Everett, Ltd.

Simon Everett is an analytic design firm. We structure and implement analytic engagements to help government agencies, businesses, and non-profits solve problems, large and small. Whether our clients seek to create capabilities, improve processes, or inform decisions, we offer the proven ability to address their needs. Our consultative approach blends analytic agility with interdisciplinary expertise to produce functionally and aesthetically impactful results. We are successful when our clients tell us they can achieve better outcomes.

Filtering by Category: Commentary

Net effect

Several weeks ago, I had the pleasure of participating in a panel discussion at the University of Maryland’s first annual Executive Cybersecurity Summit. There, I was able to share some insights our team has gained through supporting several statewide and regional efforts focused on advancing cybersecurity industry ecosystems. Notably, many of these insights run contrary to what we’re used to seeing in the DMV (for our non-Washingtonian friends, that refers to the DC, Maryland, and Virginia nexus). For example:

  • Cyber industry growth across the US isn’t always sparked by cybersecurity concerns. In our beltway backyard, cyber industry growth is mostly responsive to technical needs, particularly to fulfill network security requirements for federal agencies. But outside of the DC area, many cyber ecosystems have flourished in response to concentrated economic and workforce development initiatives. Cybersecurity professionals earn more than double the average salary in many parts of the country, indicating the industry’s effectiveness as a targeted lever for advancing a community’s workforce and economy. Accordingly, the Commonwealth of Kentucky commissioned us to conduct a statewide cybersecurity industry analysis as a means of assessing the career field’s viability for targeted workforce diversification. Similarly, California’s cyber initiative is as focused on education, innovation, and workforce development as it is on technical implementation.   

  • Cybersecurity initiatives aren’t always driven from the top. Just as federal government requirements play an outsized role in shaping the direction of the DC-area cyber industry, governors’ offices often drive successful statewide initiatives such as those seen in Virginia and Indiana. But in other areas, more localized efforts — often with the leadership and support of academic institutions — are making a splash. The Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Corporation, in partnership with Pikes Peak Community College, engaged us to map out the area’s cyber ecosystem and develop a strategic plan aimed at attracting cyber executives, investors, and workers to the region. And South Carolina’s statewide cyber initiative was born out of organic efforts within the University of South Carolina.

  • Just “doing cyber” won’t put you on the map — but specialization will. We’ve all heard about executives who decide they need to “get some of that social media” without having a plan for why — and the same goes for locales that plan to “get into the cyber game.” But areas that carve out a niche cyber application, a targeted industry angle, or a differentiating value proposition can more effectively coordinate resources and stakeholders according to a coherent strategic plan. Once again, DC’s federal (and security clearance-heavy) market serves as its own differentiator. But absent such an inbuilt distinction, Michigan has become known for its Cyber Civilian Corps and Cyber Range; San Antonio has built a strong cyber education system to complement its defense assets; and Augusta (Georgia) and Colorado Springs both advertise quality-of-life as a differentiating factor for cybersecurity professionals seeking a new home.

It’s worth pointing out that there is no single correct pathway for building a cybersecurity ecosystem. At one end of the spectrum are jurisdictions that test the waters by commissioning exploratory studies to assess the industry’s economic impact before determining whether a next step is even prudent. Moving along that spectrum, we find highly sequenced initiatives such as California’s CASCADE program, which began with supply chain mapping; then moved to strengthen the provider network through diversification efforts; and now leverages that improved network to offer more robust cybersecurity services, workshops, and assessments to wider industry across California. And at the other end of the spectrum, New York’s cyber thrust comprises an interconnected series of initiatives that marshal the unparalleled wealth and diversity of its economic resources. 

If there has been a consistent factor for success, it might be the assistance of the Department of Defense’s Office of Economic Adjustment (OEA). Through one of several types of grant programs it offers communities, OEA has funded efforts in many states aimed at enhancing the resilience of the defense supply chain — in which cybersecurity companies play an important role. Whether seeking to help separating military personnel find a second career in the cybersecurity industry, or to help the cybersecurity industry itself decrease its reliance upon defense spending, OEA has enabled many cyber economy initiatives across the country to initiate and grow towards self-sustainability. And no matter your personal thoughts on the right amount of US defense spending, decreasing our national workforce’s reliance upon it — while also improving cybersecurity capacity and capability in dozens of states — is a good thing.   

Taking a dose of our own medicine

Barbers with bad haircuts... graphic designers with hideous business cards... circus clowns who cry themselves to sleep. Business consultants who haven’t written a blog post in nine months and whose Twitter account looks a few birds short. 

Over the past year we’ve worked with our outstanding partners at kglobal to help defense companies diversify into the commercial sector. A key component of our value proposition is that of offering external, objective expertise and facilitation to help clients who find themselves amidst the swirling stress of change. The precise nature of each engagement depends upon each company’s specific needs, but tends to involve issues related to strategic planning, business processes, and sales & marketing activities. Inevitably, the latter category touches upon the importance of messaging and branding, to include social media activity. 

When companies appear to have initiated social media accounts or blogs without levying an adequate level of upkeep, one (or more) of several usual suspects tends to apply: the company lacks a clear purpose or strategy for its social media activity; the company’s social media “champion" has left the organization; or social media activity as a task loses a daily competition with other business priorities.

We’ll plead guilty to door number three. And throw in a side order of “analysis paralysis,” in which the desire to get something juuuuuust right can prevent you from getting something accomplished at all. So what would we tell one of our clients who made such an admission?

  1. It’s OK. Unless you expect your social media activity to serve as a direct source of business leads, you likely haven’t caused any damage that can’t be undone. At worst, this aspect of your business might appear a bit rudderless to external audiences, and/or you’re telegraphing that you have some bandwidth challenges.
  2. Fix it. Pick your metaphor: Jump in the pool; get back on the horse; start posting again. (OK, that last one was literal.)
  3. Stick to your strategy. In our case, this means worrying less about the particulars of any one post. We didn’t intend to reserve this space solely for mind-blowing, critical insights about international affairs, intelligence community challenges, or analytic methodologies. We simply want to share what we’re thinking. What we’re doing. What we read or heard and found interesting. So we’re going to analyze our thoughts a bit less, and shoot from the hip a bit more.

In addition to providing expertise and guidance, our diversification assistance serves as a forcing function for our clients. Everyone is a little more motivated to get something accomplished when they know someone is watching — hence this post. This is our internal client self telling our external consultant self that we get it and we’re ready to fix it.

But the barbers and the clowns are on their own.

Foxes, Hedgehogs, and Beatles

Where we left off: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

Taken literally, this ancient line calls to mind the differing techniques that each animal uses to evade capture. The fox, as many fables from various cultures point out, uses multiple forms of trickery and cunning – most of them involving quickness and agility.  By comparison, the hedgehog has one well-honed defensive skill: to steadfastly curl up into a ball and be shielded by its quills. Although it is easy to view the two as polar opposites in terms of strategy and style, I’ve been surprised by the volume of references that fiercely favor either of the two sides (in the context of cognitive thinking approaches) and attempt to turn the comparison into a lesson of good vs. bad.

As mentioned in my last post on the topic, Isaiah Berlin’s treatment of the comparison has influenced the majority of today’s academic and professional use of the imagery. His 1953 essay attempted to place leading writers and thinkers into one of two groups according to their worldviews. (If I have to tell you what the two groups were called, you’ve not been paying attention.) Simply put, he described the hedgehog as viewing everything through a single lens or organizing principle; an operative keyword here may be specialization. Think about it: videogame hero Sonic the Hedgehog had multiple attacks, but all with a consistent theme – spinning into a spiked ball, over and over and over again. Conversely, the fox draws upon diverse experiences and shifts lenses accordingly; an operative keyword here may be improvisation. Sounds exciting, right? I mean, Hollywood slickster George Clooney never provided the voice-over for the lead character in “The Fantastic Mr. Hedgehog,” did he?

Much has been made of the fact that Berlin never intended to make an overly serious splash with the comparison – he envisioned this “binning” of luminaries into categories as a fun exercise (perhaps as a precursor to the modern game of “marry, date, or dump”). Nevertheless, a quick online search reveals that the model has been co-opted to explain why different types of thinkers are considered more or less ideal for everything from product development to geopolitical prognostication. I prefer to focus on the optimal combination of the two – or, the value of recognizing your own tendencies and knowing when to bring in the other animal as a counter-balance. We’ll get into that a bit more next time. Until then, check out the fox/hedgehog assessment of John Lennon and Paul McCartney at the bottom of this page, which contrasts not only the two artists, but also their personal and professional lives. Of all the examples I’ve seen that may help cement an understanding of the two archetypes, this one really nails it.

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