Big Data takes a back seat to Big Dreams

It’s easy to find oneself lost in the mad rush to compete and conquer in business. That is certainly the case in the fast-paced and competitive world of IT.  Particularly in the hyper-fast world of Enterprise IT consulting.

Against that backdrop we brought the management team of our big data consulting firm, Avalon Consulting, LLC, from various locations across the country to convene at St. Jude Target House, a long-term living facility for patients and families of St Jude Children’s Research Hospital ®, to sponsor an evening of dinner & games for the patients and families. Without question, that evening now lives as my most memorable and meaningful “accomplishment” in the illustrious 11+ year history of Avalon.

The Avalon team being welcomed at St. Jude

We chose to have the management team meet in Memphis primarily to discuss our most pressing commercial issues; collaborating on processes to advance our competitive market position, capitalizing on what we’ve done well, exploring how to improve everything we do. A long list of agenda items had already been covered in our first two sets of sessions on “Day One.”  And a long list still awaited us for when our meeting would reconvene the next morning on “Day Three.”  But on “Day Two,” as the families slowly filtered in to the dining area at the St. Jude Target House, gone were our (now seemingly-insignificant) issues pertaining to operating a big data implementation company – because here were families coping with challenges dwarfing ours beyond compare.  The solemn looks, and indeed in many cases, the visible scars, put in perspective the magnitude of the issues they faced in their “lives” relative to the issues our management team had lined out to address with respect to our “business.” Our agenda suddenly seemed small and was entirely cast aside from our minds; we were now there to serve, to attempt to bring smiles to these patients and their families and, if only for a moment, a respite from their struggles. Some of us were in the kitchen area, serving food & drinks.

Chad John Demian Steel serving

John, Chad, Demian, Sarah, and Trisha serve food

Mike & Brenda offer drinks

Mike & Brenda offer drinks

And others, myself included, had volunteered to engage patients in various games provided by the St. Jude Target House. Following a brief period of “shyness” by the kids, we successfully recruited them to our various tables.  Niels Nielsen, our DC Office Practice Director by day, put his immense skills and vast experience in managing and architecting large-scale web and digital asset solutions to work – in navigating his colored token across a Candy Land board. Doing so, of course, in such a way as to not pass the tokens of his young competitors. (As Niels would later confess, “It is surprisingly more difficult to intentionally lose at Candy Land than it may look.”) Tom Reidy, Avalon’s founder & CEO, applied his decision-making skills in hosting a steady stream of Connect Four challenges.

Tom thinks he has the winning play here.

Tom thinks he has the winning play here

Pritesh Patel, our Enterprise Search Practice Lead, was humbled in finding that Trouble presented him with a far greater challenge than envisioning & implementing search solutions that enable business users to find nuggets of critical information hidden within terabytes of raw data. Lamented Pritesh, “I just went 0-8 and I wasn’t even trying to lose. These kids are ringers.”

Pritesh is in Trouble ...

Pritesh is in Trouble …

As for me, I chose to set up shop with “Let’s Go Fishing,” a game I remember playing with my own kids when they were young. And one which, being listed as appropriate for age 4, fit right within my comfort zone. Perhaps the most memorable sequence for me was with a young patient I’ll call “John.” I’d seen John, with quite clear interest, watching a group of us playing for several minutes.  A number of direct invitations for John to join us following each completed game yielded a shy smile but a shaking of the head, “no.”  Then the table suddenly cleared and a quick meeting of my eyes with John this time produced an ear-to-ear smile; he seized the opportunity to step in with no other competition but me, a mano a mano duel sure to be of epic proportion. I could claim that having grown up as the second youngest of seven boys inspired a competitive spirit that overtook me in what transpired next. But it really wasn’t that; I could see in John’s eyes that he wanted a competition. He had an unmistakable look of determination about him and just as we were about to begin “game one,” this boy who had shyly stood to the side for several minutes suddenly looked me firmly in the eyes and softly, but confidently, said, “Bring it.”  John won game one handily, probably because I was still stunned by his direct challenge to me! No such luck for John in game two; I was better prepared, and when the dust settled, the series was tied 1-1.  And so we found ourselves at the precipice of game three, the tiebreaker. I asked John in as serious of a tone as I could muster, “Are you ready?” He shook his head yes, sporting an ear-to-ear smile that could melt any heart. “Are you sure,” I stated, “because I’m going to win.”  John defiantly replied, “NO YOU’RE NOT!” And then it began. I was in the zone; I was one with the motion of the fish, deftly slotting the plastic hook just in time for the fish to reach that spot during the rotation of the board where it pops up and “bites.” I had three of my four fish, and glancing over noticed that John only had two of his four.  I had him. A momentary thought crossed my mind that I should let him win but I quickly dispersed it; “John doesn’t want me to let him win, he savors the competition,” I told myself as I watched my hook settling into the mouth of my final fish.  And then out of nowhere, it happened. Wham!  John’s fishing pole knocked my hook out of position. My fish jumped and bit, but no hook was there. Stunned, I tried to gather myself, but even though I managed to catch my last fish, it was too late.  John had managed to swiftly catch his final two fish before I’d extracted my last and he proudly declared, “GOTCHA!”   The picture below captures John in that moment of glory.  He bellowed contagious laughter.

The Thrill of Victory!

The Thrill of Victory!

For our part, Avalon has committed to make our St. Jude Target House dinner & games evening a quarterly event, one in which we will cycle through groups of employees from our various offices. And I’d like to issue a challenge to anyone reading this who finds themselves wrapped up with the day-to-day grind of achieving business success: get involved. Take the skill, the leadership, the drive, the motivation that has brought you that success and do your part to help those in need achieve their Big Dreams (whether that is with St Jude Children’s Research Hospital or with any of the many other fine organizations that strive to help those in need of hope. Avalon, as an example, also donates much time & energy to a charity local to our headquarters – ManeGait Therapeutic Horsemanship). You can do that through personal involvement; e.g. donation of your time & talent to the organization.  Or you can do that in directing your employees to get involved.  Or you can do that in spearheading an effort to get your company’s management to take on sponsoring of initiatives such as the games night at the St. Jude Target House. Because in the end, this … THIS … is where we can all make the most significant difference with our various talents and energy. THIS is what truly matters most:

Hope amid life challenge

Hope amid life challenge

About Casey Green

Casey Green is EVP of Business Development and an Owner of Avalon Consulting, LLC. He has over 25 years of software industry experience and is responsible for overall management of Avalon's partner selection and relationships, marketing, sales and business development.
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