Make An Impact: The Time is Now to Become a Data Leader

This is a quarterly column, and since the last one, the world has fundamentally changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As much as we would like, we cannot change this truth.

As we find our way forward in business, we will likely do more of our work from distributed physical locations. We will communicate with one another virtually, through video chats and the myriad other available techniques. The future success of our organizations will depend on the effectiveness of our virtual collaboration, not unlike how our prior successes depended upon collaboration within common walls.

Data was not easy before, and it is going to be tougher to be well versed now.

When times were good, as they arguably were throughout the 2010s, businesses could get away with being bad at data. Times are most certainly no longer good, and we are going to need every advantage we can find.

If we thought it was hard to get people to participate in things like data governance before, see how it goes when we can’t stake out their office waiting for their return. The time for “nice to have” is over. It’s time to survive. Data is essential to understanding our businesses, so we can improve our businesses.

Data management professionals are now tasked with one task above all else: providing the organization with data-driven insights to help the business get better at what it does. This has always been the case, but we seemingly had the luxury to focus on our activities instead of the outcomes. In our evolving new normal, outcomes are going to be all that matter.

This is what we’re all up against—it’s not pleasant, but it is the truth. If we want our organizations to survive, and hopefully thrive, they need our help. And it is not just our business pursuits—it is our own happiness and fulfillment on the line, too!

“Happiness is not a function of what you consume, but what you create.”

The origins of the above quote are lost, but its lesson holds true. If we waste our quarantine days on consumption, especially shallow entertainment and junk food, we will undoubtedly feel worse than if we use this time to refocus and build our hope for a better tomorrow. Not only will this give us some sense of control of our own destiny, which is much needed right now, but the time and relative quiet of the moment may help us find ourselves in ways no other time could.

So, what do we do?

We get to work.

First, we need to build our knowledge. While the world is in quarantine mode, we can either sit on our couches and wait, or we can sharpen our swords and prepare our minds for the tasks ahead. As tempting as the couch may seem in the moment, we will not be happy with ourselves if we waste this time.

Whether books, podcasts, videos, formal training classes, informal training, discussion boards, webinars, recorded, live, online, offline, etc.—there are no shortages of ways to learn. We should all be learning every day. Always, but especially now.

Next, we need to practice. Put the learnings to use. We all have projects on the to-do list. Can we find a way to combine efforts and apply some new data techniques? Over-engineering a hobby can be fun! Does your fantasy football team need that machine learning model? No. But it doesn’t not need it, either. Maybe create a NoSQL database to store your recipes or build a predictive model to help determine activities to perform in the garden. Tying “work” functions to “life” topics can make the learning more relevant and stick in your mind better for when it is time to apply it in a business setting.

Finally, we should plan our future. Learning helps us identify the option set, and practicing helps us validate what we like most. Take notes on what is most enjoyable to you, and what feels too much like work. Build baseline skills in everything you can, but dive deeper in the areas that make the time fly by. While it may not be reasonable to make immediate changes to align our careers perfectly with what we love, in the longer-term we will find opportunities to do them more. Knowing what they are is a big step in the right direction.

This whole pandemic world feels like somebody swept up the cards and is reshuffling the deck. The thing is, unlike most card games, we have some role in what we are dealt next. This moment in time is so important to our future in countless ways, and as individuals we cannot control much of what happens from here. But we can influence it, and that’s exactly what we should be doing, every day.

And until next time, go make an impact!

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Anthony Algmin

Anthony Algmin

Anthony J. Algmin is the Founder and CEO of Algmin Data Leadership, a company helping business and technology leaders transform their future with data. His book, “Data Leadership: Stop Talking About Data and Start Making an Impact!” is available now at DataLeadershipBook.com.

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