The return to work post lockdown presents us with a great opportunity to rethink how we want to work with information.
This is because we are being released from many of the conformities that have guided our working lives so far.
For example, our organisations are going to feel different – thanks to the greater freedom to work where we wish.
This release from conformity should also apply to our use of information.
We have been accustomed to using the same set pieces of information to define what matters about our organisations. They are to be found on dashboards, within management reports, and observed in presentations during meetings.
There is nothing wrong with this. Our success to date has very much depended upon it.
Nonetheless, these linear, inflexible, two dimensional views of the world induce within us a form of tunnel vision. They place a boundary around thought which means that we may fail to see changes that are hidden in plain sight – e.g. customer needs changing, staff re-evaluating what sort of organisation they want to work for.
It’s a reason why we continue to develop ‘one size fits all’ products and services that alienate an important set of Stakeholders, or ignore whole customer segments as if they are invisible, or assume staff will continue to buy into a corporate agenda that they no longer support.
These simple views of the world also encourage rapid consensus and agreement meaning that decisions can be reached too quickly with alternative views remaining unheard.
Agreement is, of course, necessary for success. Without it, stasis prevails.
But, we should take a hard look at the decisions that we are making once that agreement has been reached – why did we choose A rather than B? – were these the best options available? – what factors were never considered?
We will discover that, despite all our investment in dashboards and reports, our decisions will still be heavily influenced by human biases and inconsistency. Our dashboards can only ever give us a limited amount of information to work with.
However, if we keep questioning the reasons for making the choices that we do, we can keep its influence under control.
Our dashboards can continue to serve us well if we recognise that they give us a form of truth – but it’s a limited one, and also a relative one.
They are ideal for comparing and contrasting different pieces of information.
But the moment we ‘drill’ into them in the search for answers we are travelling along a path determined by the content of the dashboard, not necessarily the one that will answer the question.
At FiguringOutData.com we build dashboards for clients. We also teach people how to use data to discover answers to the questions about their organisation that are weighing most upon their mind.
The two should be, and often are, symbiotic in nature. Dashboards are there to prompt questions, and, if we have performed our job well, they will be the right ones to ask.
But sometimes they become mutually exclusive. The dashboard content has little bearing upon the questions that are foremost in peoples’ minds.
As we are released from lockdown, because the world has changed, I am expecting to see the latter more and more.
And when I do I will be asking whether it is an issue about dashboard content (we need to just bring them up-to-date) or that we should step beyond the dashboard, start walking the floor, and asking the right questions as we go.