This might be a bit of a stretch. But stick with me. When my daughter was young, she was very impatient. No idea where she gets it from. Anyway, after a bath, she’d always get dressed without drying herself properly. This led to ‘the parable of the wet sock’.

Firstly, she had to find the sock. It would often be in the wrong drawer. And it would never be attached to a matched item. After time spent assembling a pair, dragging a once dry sock over a wet foot was a study in frustration. And a sure way to early sock destruction. Completing the leg/sock interface took a long time, was difficult to do and on completing it she had both a wet foot and a wet sock. At which point the process repeated itself on the other side.

What’s this got to do with data management and governance? Think of the sock as the raw data, firstly we can’t find it (silo, accessibility) then we can’t match it (categorisation, quality). Then the application of sock to foot is painfully difficult (process, data management) with an outcome of a wet sock (governance, quality).

All that effort and the outcome is not what we expected. Sub optimal at best. So much frustration to get to this point, yet we keep on repeating the process. No time to try and improve it other than to shoehorn short cuts or cut corners which ultimately ruins the sock (Introduce errors, reduce trust in data)

And here’s the thing. WE BLAME THE SOCK. And we don’t have two socks, our organisation is not bipedal, it’s like a blooming centipede. We have hundreds, thousands of socks and we’re doomed to keep dragging them over our wet feet.

Here’s where the metaphor breaks down. The difference is my daughter learned how what she should be doing. She saw how the other kids got dressed (obviously she wasn’t going to take advice from a parent) and worked out there was an easier, quicker and less frustrating way to go from wet foot to dry sock.

The cycle we struggle to break with the way we manage and govern data is that ‘there is never time to do it right, but there is always time to do it twice‘. Clearly as individuals we can learn that is nonsense. Group us together in organisations with entrenched culture, functional silos and a frenetic pace of change and we appear to jettison that capability.

This is why technology will never save you. You have to start with culture, if you can’t move the dial on the why, you’ll never get to the how. Technology is important of course, but without focussing on the right problem to fix first, we’ll just move crap data around more quickly.

So step 1: stop blaming the sock, step 2: get everyone else to stop blaming the sock, step 3: work out how to explain the sock shall remain wet unless we do something about it. Step 4: start, make a change, show the value of doing this differently.

Make today the day you commit to sorting out your sock drawer. We’ve lived far too long with wet feet!