For Flock’s Sake - Data Personalities To Avoid

Colm O'Grada
Colm O'Grada

To transform your business with data, you need build your capabilities and resources carefully. The hardest part is making sure you have the right people onboard. If you’ve worked in the analytics space for a while, you’ll have come across characters you’ve learned to avoid. I call them the magpie, the ostrich and the cuckoo.

Always on the hunt for the latest trend? Slow down!

The data ‘magpie’ is more common than you might think. They know that data is important, but can’t really articulate what that means in terms of action. They tend to fly towards the latest and shiniest new developments in data and analytics without a consistent strategy, or perhaps any strategy at all. This can also manifest in their approach to building teams; I once had a hiring manager ask me for advice about a job description they were writing. When I asked why they required Python skills in the candidate’s profile, they couldn’t give me an answer (nor could they explain what Python was). They had just heard it was a ‘data thing’ and felt they should hire someone with those skills. I convinced them to remove the requirement to avoid them hiring an overqualified (and soon to be very bored) data scientist. The lesson here is to take the time to build a coherent strategy and avoid being too trend-driven. If there’s a new development that gets you excited but you don’t understand how it fits into your strategy, just ask someone who does.

The data ostrich is quite different to the magpie. This is the ‘bury your head in the sand’ approach to data; ignore it and hope it goes away. These are people who might define data as ‘just a fad’ or feel threatened by the widening gap between their skills and the needs of the company. Unfortunately, things tend to end badly for the ostriches and the organisations they lead. The challenges they avoid don’t go away and tend to get more difficult to deal with over time. Just like too much current flowing through an electrical resistor, this resistance to change leads to overheating and ultimately, failure. If you are interested in real business transformation, let the ostriches go the way of the dodo.

Most dangerous, perhaps, is the data cuckoo. The magpie and ostrich are usually easy to spot; not so the cuckoo. The cuckoo is the great pretender. Like the magpie, they can name all the buzzwords, but they also claim to be experts in many areas related to analytics. They can often string enough acronyms together to sound temporarily credible; scratch the surface, however, and it all falls apart. You tend to see the cuckoo manifest as ‘AI Blockchain Robotics IOT Thought Leader’ and the like on LinkedIn. Without real knowledge or experience, they are unlikely to build a sustainable data strategy and can cost you credibility with technical stakeholders. Don’t hire these people unless you’ve done your due diligence and you’re sure there is substance behind the fluff.

The success of any data-driven business transformation will be determined by the people you have on board. If you’re planning on building a high-flying data organisation, watch out for these birds getting stuck in the engines.

-- Colm

Colm O'Grada

Building a data organisation from scratch at Tines.