Friday, 27 October 2017 02:48

Stewardship: When More Data Can Mean Less Certainty

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Do you have a role in your community? If you are a leader, what is your responsibility as a steward? For this short article: Yes you do; and it's not as complex as it might seem.

The Challenge:
Knowing How to Read the Future

As leaders we're positioned to help define how the future unfolds. And as a good leader, people look to you for direction to move forward. I'm going to encourage you to embrace this. It is good for you and for your business no matter what your day job might be.

You may be reading this on a plane as a steward walks past you, but for this note lets choose a wider meaning of stewardship. To be a steward is to take care of something for now and for the future. We are, in this sense, all stewards for our teams, our customers, and our next generation. We want to take care of the economy and the environment in a way that we pass on something that is as good as or even better than we have now.

When I listen to managers, executives, and parents I often hear some variation of: "How can I possibly know what the next generation of customers or family or team members will need?" One of the side effects of increasing access to data is that you and I can't know. We can't tell people what to expect. Increasingly, if you think that you know the coming details, you're going to be wrong.

I've written before about how observing something changes it. Setting quantum physics aside for a moment, there's a practical application: The more you try to read into the future, the more difficult it gets to be even remotely correct. Good stewardship means releasing any urge to predict the details of the future. In daily life, good stewardship requires starting from a different place.

Data and Being a Steward

So what do I say to leaders who want to be good stewards? I have two answers for you. One is understanding yourself and the other is to choose to teach a principle, not data.

Why data? One of the keys to our ability to create new markets and to grow our businesses is the ability to find and generate data. The good news is that our ability to do this grows exponentially almost every month. The other side of that is that as the data increases, what we know about our environment doesn't follow suit.

We can use data, or get lost in it. However managing increasing flows of data is becoming more and more key to making markets that never existed before. When you do that right, you accelerate your business. When you do it less well, you get bogged down in bytes and your business falls behind. The data is not the solution.

The Approach: Lead the Acting,
Not the Answers

This is going to be a pair of short answers. Not easy answers, but short.

Where do you start? I'm going to let Anthony Scriffignano answer this.
"As leaders in organizations today the question is understanding why you do what you do as much as what you do. If the two are out of alignment, you should take that seriously and consider not only adjusting one or the other, but also what is causing the intention to vary from reality."1

Then, after this application of self-understanding, I would add:
We're helping to change things. We're inducing uncertainty. Our role isn't to make things certain. Our key role is set principles and act from them, not to react better. The key certainty is that we can act as successful makers just as much as takers. You can and should be a great maker.

None of this is an easy prescription, but if it were easy, you wouldn't have this job would you?

Tomorrow we will change the world in which we live. However, we won't quickly understand the data and constructs that come from that change. When you accept your stewardship role your teams, customers, business and self all benefit when you align yourself first. With that, then set principles for action, not reaction, as the environment changes.

You are not adapting to the environment as that happens. You are changing it at the same time by knowing which principles should drive your action.

The best news: The certainty is not in the data, what is certain is your ability to set principles for action. And you can start that right here and now, in the aisle seat as the steward walks by.

1. Anthony J. Scriffignano, Ph.D., SVP / Chief Data Scientist, Dun & Bradstreet, from the stage at the Churchill Club on May 2, 2017.

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Peter Meyer

Owner/Founder of TMG

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