Don’t apply software thinking to information gathering

One thing that software developers, architects, etc. strive for is not duplicating functionality across systems. The more systems you have in your ecosystem, the more complex it is to modify and use. Got two places where people can manage a workflow? Inevitably they will build a complex process where half of the business work is done in one workflow and half in the other. Unfortunately, while simplification like this is good for software and processes, it is not good for the general process of thinking.

To me, it’s confusing when organizations reduce or eliminate access to analytics services. Whether you’re a fan of Forrester, Gartner or some other service, it’s true that all sources of data (analyst firms, academic research, books, etc.) offer, at some level, duplicative information. One might be inclined to simply read one source and conclude the rest are duplicates. After all, duplication is bad in software and processes, so it must be bad in information as well, right?

Not so much. Edward Tufte called it ‘a diversity of evidence.’ The scientific method demands the experiments be repeatable by others, and in fact relies on such attempts to reproduce. So, it’s true that many sources provide similar kinds of nun formation, but the value is in the diversity. This is one place where you should seek to multiply, not reduce, the number of places you can take information in from. Don’t fall prey to the idea that just because simplification is good some places that it is universally good.

The Wise Man

It is the wise man who knows that he knows nothing, to paraphrase Socrates.  Our knowledge of things is meager, certainly compared to all the things we as a species might ever come to know.  Every thing we learn seems to uncover new questions that need answers.  It’s an ever expanding universe of possibilities with things we never considered before cropping up all the time.

Yet, when most of us start our job each morning, how many of us remember this?  How many of us realize that the way we do whatever it is we do is only based upon (hopefully, at the minimum) the best that we know?  More importantly, how many of us realize that they best we know may not be the best that the world knows?  And how many of us realize that what we collectively know is very likely not the best that the world has yet to discover?

If we sit down and do something, even in a standard way, but never consider that we don’t yet (and likely never will) know the best way, then how do we ever expect to improve?  Improvement comes from recognizing a gap between the result we are getting now and the result we desire to get.

If we have KPIs and are meeting them, should we equate that to knowing the best way to do something?  Why is it that change is so hard when things are going well and yet we’re desperate for change when doing the same thing we’ve always done is suddenly not making customers happy anymore.

The goal isn’t good enough.  The goal is perfect, and the first step you can take towards that is realizing that we don’t know how to achieve it.  We need to discover it.  We need to have a curiosity about the world – about what our competitors are doing, about what academia is learning, and a recognition that all those things we could learn might get us closer to perfection, but not ever perfect.

It’s the wise man who knows he knows nothing, but it’s the recognition of the gap that should drive us to constantly learn and therefore improve.