A couple of weeks ago Nicola Askham and I posed a question on LinkedIn: “What are the most common Data Myths you hear?’. 6000+ views and a hundred odd comments later suggests this is something worth investigating further.
While it felt a bit like group therapy, there is a serious side to myths around data. Firstly they exist- that’s a problem because they often confuse or obfuscate the narrative that data really is an organisational wide asset, and must be managed as such. Secondly, they endure- so even the most compelling or nuanced arguments are blocked by a unshiftable ideology around the way data is and how it should be used.
I think – as data professionals – we need to be prepared to vocally debunk some of these myths. Careful use of the word ‘some‘ here. I’m not prepared to die on the hill for ‘Data and Information are the same thing‘ but ‘Technology leads your data strategy‘ is not getting a pass. Many of these myths can be directly linked to the systemic problems we have with data. We need to address them in a way which challenges their assertions without creating unnecessary antagonism. Again careful use of ‘unnecessary‘ because there will be some necessarily difficult discussions to shift people – especially senior people frankly – from these firmly held but non fact based beliefs.
My approach is to pick the ones which really resonate with the organisation you’re working with. “Oh yeah we get that one A LOT” sets off my Spidey Senses so I’ll ask “Why is that, and can you give me some specific examples?‘. By building up a picture of these organisational myths gives me the tools to start breaking them down. It’s far easier to challenge with ‘That’s interesting, because here are five examples of where that is not happening” or, better still “here are some very bad outcomes of that myth being rooted in reality‘.
It’s a long game though. We’re back to nudging culture and that’s not changing overnight. Which shouldn’t in any way devalue the need to put efforts in here. I know it’s a bit of cliche to repeat ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast‘, so instead I would offer ‘Myths eat Best Practice for lunch” as an appropriate allegory.
You can download the spreadsheet (somewhat ironic choice of technology platform there!) below. Feel free to share far and wide, but not before deciding which of these you’re going to challenge. It’s the time for the rise of the ‘Data Mythbuster‘ !