Make An Impact: Why “I Didn’t Have Time” is Always a Lie

I got yelled at this month. Well, sternly-worded texts, anyway – it’s the 2020 version of being yelled at.

As the pandemic raged on, and my day job got ever busier, my focus was on other areas and I completely missed my deadline. It was entirely my fault, even if the Pavlovian reminder I was used to getting didn’t come this time. I’d like to say it was the only goal I’ve missed lately, but that would be about as accurate as saying the new workout program has gone great during lockdown.

When Bob Seiner “gently” reminded me that I was overdue, I could have resorted to the cherished excuse, “I didn’t have time!” But the truth was that I had completely forgotten and was so overwhelmed at that moment that I probably still would have neglected to meet the deadline, even if I had been better organized. I admitted I was behind, wrote this article, and realized that I am now in a situation with systemic excess demand amidst a limited supply of available effort.

Because of this, I have decided that, for now, this post will be my last in my quarterly column for TDAN.com. I’ve been doing the column since 2016, and I’ve written about a lot of topics I care most about. I’m finding it harder to find interesting topics, and I usually struggle to get it done. Plus, I now have a podcast where I can talk about these things, and that is more my style, anyway. Put it all together and it was clear that the time has come to say goodbye…for now.

I would like to thank Bob Seiner, who has become a great friend over the last several years and helped me find my voice in the data management community. He has graciously offered to publish my work as guest columns when the inspiration strikes, and I expect to take him up on this regularly. You all won’t get rid of me that easily! I also want to thank anybody who regularly reads this column and is committed to becoming the best data leader they can be.

Okay, now that we are done with all that, let’s go out in style!

First, if you read my last article about how data catalogs are underperforming compared to what they should be, you should know that the following month, there was a “rebuttal” that effectively used four times more words to restate my key arguments and whine about how “data catalog companies are tryyyy-ing to do all these things.” Call me when you make an actual difference in business outcomes. That’s the whole point. Though the publisher may choose to, and I support their decision, I’m not personally adding a link to that article here because frankly I think it would be a waste of time for you to read it if you already read mine.

Second, we need to stop pretending that data-anything actually matters by itself. It doesn’t. Only through changing decisions and activities that drive differentials in business outcomes do we matter at all. Again, that’s the whole point. Sure, get better at the mechanics of doing data stuff better, but stop looking for your gold star. There’s a reason nobody cares about so much of this stuff – it’s because most of it makes no real difference at all. Instead of whining about it, let’s focus more energy on becoming relevant.

Third, part of this falls back to the reluctance of some data management professionals to do anything to help our organizations with data so long as technology development is not involved. That’s like saying we want to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic without using masks or needles. Sorry, data is not about what you prefer it to be – it is about making a business better, whatever it takes. Technology is an intrinsic part of this equation, so stop trying to remove it because programming is scary. Fix your broken relationship with IT and work together to make a real difference.

Finally, let’s get back to what this article was supposed to be about, before I decided to celebrate Data Festivus in my own airing of various grievances. This is one of my biggest pet-peeves of all (next to people who say “on-premise” when they mean “on-premises”). It is about behavioral dishonesty.

“I didn’t have time.”

People say it constantly when they neglect to meet their commitments, but the statement is always a lie. We all have time – in fact, provided we aren’t dead at the start or end, we all have an identical amount of time over any given span of it. What differs is our priorities and our willingness to make deliberate tradeoffs in pursuit of our objectives.

What we mean by, “I didn’t have time” is: “I allocated my time in a way that deprioritized the effort towards this in favor of other things.”

“I had other things to do that were more important to me.”

This is an honest statement, despite being more assertive. It also respects truth, and therefore respects the recipient by taking responsibility for one’s actions. Pretending that some outside force kept us away from meeting our stated objectives is disrespectful to the recipient – we owe it to anyone relying upon us to explain why we have let them down.

I hope you see that this article is not as disjointed and random as it may have first appeared. The common theme here is integrity. Meaning well is a necessary, but insufficient step to making a positive change. Whenever we fail, however we fail, why ever we fail, we should own it. Change our behaviors. Make it better next time. That is how we as individuals, and we as a data community, will realize our potential.

Thank you for reading for all these years! Please support DATAVERSITY during these tough times by picking up a copy of my data leadership book (dataleadershipbook.com) and checking out their many online training courses. Please subscribe to my podcast at dataleadershiplessons.com 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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