Zen and the Art of Data Maintenance: Situational Fluency in Data Management

COL02x - feature image silverstonHow to Act Wisely in
Difficult Circumstances
that We Often Face

Our job in data management can certainly be challenging. And an infinite number of situations could arise from any task in any context.

In this column, the capability to eloquently, effortlessly, and wisely handle whatever may arise, is what we are calling ‘situational fluency.’

I came across this term from a wonderful client of mine, Jesse Crowe, who owns and runs a company called Emerios and conducts his business with amazing situational fluency!

Consider the following fictitious scenario:

Peter was in charge of data management and integrating data at his company, Cataclysmic Computers, Inc. (CI) They had many “silos” throughout various application systems in the company. Joanne was one of the top sales representatives. Although there was a corporate contact management system for the company, Joanne maintained most of her contact management information and notes on her own contact management program, which was stored on her own laptop. John, a data scientist, gathered CCI customer social media data and prepared this data for use in predictive analytics algorithms to help CCI better understand their customer’s behavior.

Peter became aware that many of the people at CCI were maintaining their own information on customers. His belief was that customer information was a corporate asset and resource that belonged to CCI and therefore should be shared. He approached Joanne to ask her about sharing her customer information. Joanne put him off since this was not important to her and she was focused on making sales. Peter approached John, and he put Peter off too. John was thinking, ‘Come on! Get out of your old paradigm and let’s not get tied up in outdated ways of thinking and bureaucracy.’ How can one skillfully handle this situation, or in other words, apply situational fluency to this scenario?

Well, it turns out that there is an infinite number of things that could go wrong, making this challenging to carry out in an effective manner. For instance, what if Joanne, the sales representative, plain out refuses to share her customer contact information that she has worked so hard on and for so long? What if John, our data scientist, escalates this ‘nuisance’ to management so that he can proceed with his high priority work and not get bogged down in data management bureaucracy?

One way to address this question is to predict certain types of things that could happen and then prescribe what to do in each of the scenarios.  However, there are some drawbacks to this approach. For example:

  • There are an infinite number of situations that could happen!
  • Even if we know what will happen, it is still challenging to know the wisest course of action.

Another approach is to figure out the type of situations that could occur, and then for each type of situation, prescribe a response. For instance:

  • Joanne will get upset about the request to share ‘her’ data and become protective
    • Response: Assure Joanne of protection and security
  • John is in a bad mood (angry, sarcastic, rude, etc.)
    • Let John be in his bad mood and wait until it is a good time to talk
    • Find out how to help John, while facilitating sharing of data
  • Peter and John start speaking different languages (Peter talks from a data management language and John talks from a data scientist language). For instance, ‘data model’ has a completely different meaning in each of these languages
    • Slow down and clarify the conversation and terms much more

Even with these possible types of situations and prescribed answers, there is a lot of room for ambiguity. For instance, there are so many ways that motivations and perspectives can be misinterpreted.

So then let’s take another tack. What if we focus on principles? The benefit of this method is flexibility while staying grounded in what matters most, or in other words, what principles we maintain. For instance, we could set principles of:

  • Be with the truth (or as close as we can be with the truth)
  • Treat all people with respect
  • Set healthy boundaries
  • Realize everything that happens is a gift

Now, no matter what happens, we can anchor into these principles and decide the best direction depending on the different situations.

This seems like a much better strategy and yet we are still within boxes. For instance, there are times when being with the truth is not beneficial. One instance of this is if a person asks us if they look overweight and, if we perceive that the person is, it may be better to not say it out loud to that person.

One final solution for situational fluency is to just use intuition, experience, and feeling. Our bodies often know what the most appropriate things to do are in various situations. So we could just ‘go with our gut feelings’ and respond based this.

Of course, it may be wise to use all four of the above approaches:

  • Prescribing actions based on specific situations
  • Prescribing actions based on types of situations
  • Grounding in principles
  • And/or going with our intuition and feelings

Fluency comes with experience. So why not try these or other approaches and see what works?

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About Len Silverston

Len Silverston is a best-selling author, consultant, speaker and internationally acclaimed expert and thought leader in the fields of data governance, data modeling, data management, and in the human dynamics of integrating information data. He is the author of The Data Model Resource Book series (Volumes 1, 2, and 3), which describe hundreds of reusable data models. The volume 1 book was rated #12 on the Computer Literacy Best Seller List and his volume 1 and 2 books have been translated into Chinese and in 2009, he co-authored “The Data Model Resource Book, Volume 3, Universal Patterns for Data Modeling”, which has been translated into Korean. Mr. Silverston has published many articles and has been a keynote speaker at many international data conferences. He is the winner of the DAMA (Data Administration Management Association) International Professional Achievement Award and the DAMA International Community Award. He has given many keynotes and has received the highest speaker rating at several international conferences. Mr. Silverston's company, Universal Data Models, LLC, http://www.universaldatamodels.com provides consulting, training, publications, and software to enable information integration as well as people integration. - He is also a personal and corporate mindfulness coach, trainer, and teacher and has studied and taught many forms of spirituality and life development skills for over thirty years. He has attended, staffed and/or led hundreds of days of silent, intensive retreats as well as dozens of life development workshops. After intensive practice in Zen, he was ordained as a Zen Priest in 2011. ‘Kensho’ Len Silverston provides ongoing ‘Zen With Len’ (http://www.zenwithlen.com) individual and corporate coaching, seminars, meditation gatherings, and retreats.

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