Forget degrees from Harvard or MIT, forget NoSQL, Hadoop or OBIEE. These are all powerful tools but they will not win you the face-off. It starts with who you are (or are not), who or what you are going up against and what has happened in the past. Why should martial arts be a job requirement for Chief Data Officers? I boiled it down to three simple reasons to help you understand.
I started practicing Kendo three years ago and it surprises me every single practice how inadequate I still am, how much I can glean from my opponent to determine future behavior and how unimportant “background noise” really is. Even if I have a good day, some strike from a teenager or a retiree, who has been practicing for a decade or more, will remind me that I got only 1% better compared to last month and I have a long way to go. At our last practice, one of my Senseis told me that the higher ranks get their Ki-Ken-Tai-Ichi (alignment of spirit, sword, body) right maybe half the time. It’s a life lesson every time.
These three facts are probably also true for many one-on-one sports where adversaries study each other for more than just a couple of seconds before their next swing or shot. If you ask me, most western sports are about endurance, strength, mindset and strategy with a heavy focus on the physical aspects. Kendo is 90% strategy and mindset. That is why six and sixty-year olds alike can excel in it. It is more akin to chess with baseball bats.
You study your opponent from the second he walks up to the chair in the middle of the podium for a gentleman-like exchange of cerebral willpower but in the end you will smack him relentlessly with a bat. Everything you do is directly driven from how you feel, what you think, how your opponent moves, what your opponent feels and thinks. The goal is not to react to a hand being raised but to anticipate your opponent’s next move based on their most recent actions. By the time your eyes (and, a tenth of a second later, your brain) capture the right hand going up to strike towards you – you’ve already lost, as it is too late to react.
You are effectively analyzing core data domains and key attributes, like posture. Business data requires the same rigor and focus on the essential. There is also a tremendous amount of process (formalities like repeated bowing) and deeper meaning in everything you do; call it “Governance”.
A Chief Data Officer (CDO) needs to mind the same aspects in his or her existence.
- You are not the professional you think you are (humility)
- Someone else always knows something you don’t, so every additional bit helps to predict future actions (willingness to learn)
- How to eliminate all the noise detracting from the ultimate goal (focus)
In reality, the data problem has not been solved long ago. Something new can be learned to combat this age-old problem. The learning piece comes into play when we are willing to listen to people who have done or seen similar problems being fixed in another environment, not necessarily the same industry or department. The third is that political and technical detractors like procurement processes, M&A, new leadership or transactional volume spikes from more applications will continue to pop up. However, it is on you, the CDO, to uncover, isolate and preach that fixing a process may not always be the root cause of a business issue and as such needs to be put in perspective. As I always say “throwing bad data at a better process” just saved you a step but still renders errors, rework and bad decisions.
So what does this mean in “real” terms:
- Seek and accept opinions frequently, even if they don’t match your issue perfectly. Often a customer is a customer is a customer….admit it. Your business model may not be that special after all.
- Watch what the others do on a fundamental level, i.e. becoming data-driven organizations. These could be competitors, partners, organizations you (should) admire.
- Internalize and socialize what the core asset, goal of the organization is, which will move the needle the most. Often it will be your intelligence (speak for information or data).
I will leave you with these thoughts and invite you to sit down, cross your legs, close your eyes and get all esoteric on me, young grasshopper, but please envision what you organization should look like and how it should make its money in five years from now. Throwing more resources at new problems, ignoring core data issues and reacting when things bubble up at greater numbers will likely not cut it.
And here is where I will bow out. Take a moment and think about it; how does your take on life influence your assessment of what you encounter in your workplace?