Business & Leadership Behaviors

Why Are We Afraid of Data?

As every day progresses, we seem to be able to access and harvest more and more data. Our world seems to be getting exponentially larger as everything becomes digital. On the one hand, this is a very exciting time. On the other, it is a little scary to think of what exists “out there” that someday could come back to bite us.

I’ve come across a lot of articles lately talking about our “private-self” and our “public-self” (think Actual life vs. Facebook life). What is presented publicly isn’t always the full story. It’s kind of like looking in the medicine cabinet mirror. You get an accurate reflection – but that particular mirror only shows reality from the shoulders up and in one dimension. My scale tells me that there is a lot more to the story (and me) – but that’s another post for another day.

Looking at all of the data and getting a full and accurate picture of a situation can make a lot of people uncomfortable. I know people who won’t go to the doctor because they don’t want to know if there are any issues – they don’t want to know the data. Not knowing doesn’t change the facts – they may be healthy or there may be something that could become a problem. But if you don’t know the facts, you don’t have to deal with them, right?

No. Not right. I think the saying is “truth always finds daylight” – but I understand the fear. What if there is something bad lurking around in the data?

We have been dealing with the “fear of data” concern in our solution world (asset management/warehouse management/shop floor management solutions) since we were founded. In fact, the primary purpose our solutions is to get to the true data:

  • What do I have?
  • Where is it?
  • Do I have it in the right place at the right time?

And while everyone wants the data, many don’t necessarily want it as “public” data – at least not initially.

The “public” data worry is that past reports may contain facts that may not be supported by data that is truly accurate. Perhaps those facts were derived from estimates, projections, whatever – but weren’t verified (for whatever reason) before reporting. But those reports are out there. What if what was reported doesn’t match the data?

So one fear of “public” data is the potential accountability it can bring on an individuals or a department. Regardless of whether any previous errors in data we’re unintentional – making accurate data public does have a perceived risk.

When an organization undertakes a solution implementation initiative, it is usually to improve processes and information – to improve the overall operations. But you’re going to face some pushback from your team if they are worried if the solution is going to make them look bad or if they are focused on covering up past mistakes. An option to consider here may be a type of “amnesty program”. This would allow the team to draw a line in the sand and focus on moving forward with improvement rather than punishing for past mistakes.

Another challenge arrives once the solution is in place. We now have the “public” awareness of how we’re conducting ourselves day-to-day and that visibility can shed some light on less than stellar processes and practices. Again, the potential risks of scrutiny – and the fear of a negative reaction – may get in the way of progress or improvement for the organization at large.

Now combine these fears with the natural human resistance to change – and you have some challenges to overcome if you want to improve your organization.

But it’s not an impossible situation. It’s always a struggle to change versus staying with the status quo, but that change is the only path to progress. And sometimes you need to get a little creative with your approach to situations depending on the concerns and fears that your team may have. The key is to identify all the goals for the project up front – and the associated challenges – and continuously review and update them as the project progresses.

Having accurate data at the foundation is the only way to build “trustworthy information” for decisions and direction. But good data doesn’t need to be scary – and it is essential for any organization to move forward. With the right understanding, team and flexible plan options, you can substantially minimize the risks associated with any automation project and maximize its success.

What are some of the challenges or fears that you’ve come across? I’d love to hear about your experiences – and how you addressed them. Let’s talk.