The Path of Least Resistance, Newton’s First Law, and Data Management

The wikipedia definition of the path of least resistance, states, in part, “…metaphorical pathway that provides the least resistance to forward motion…” Or put another way, we do what’s easiest to get the job done.

Here are just two examples of how this manifests itself in data management:

  1. Collecting data we don’t use. Over the years I’ve heard many of my clients say “We’ve always collected that data, but we never actually use it.” Doesn’t it seem like more work to collect it than not? Sure, but in order to stop collecting data, we probably have to change forms (e.g., online and paper), and we have to retrain staff to not collect the data. So the path of least resistance is to actually continue collecting the data.
  2. Not collecting data we need because it’s too difficult to collect. Many of my clients will say “We want to capture the conversations we’re having with our members and prospects, but we don’t.” When we dig deeper, what we find is that it’s too cumbersome to capture notes (e.g., query for a record, find the right one, click through to the record, find the area for entering notes, enter the notes, and then save them). So the path of least resistance is to not capture the notes.

Newton’s First Law states that an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion. We continue to collect data we don’t need because it’s already happening (in motion) and we don’t collect data we actually want because it’s too difficult (at rest). It’s simple physics!

I’d be willing to bet you can identify many other examples of Newton’s First Law in action at your association.

So what can you do to address these issues? Here are three steps:

  1. Acknowledge that it’s happening. Any time you hear “We’ve always done it that way” as an explanation for why something is being done a certain way, you’ve just found an object in motion. The first step is acknowledging that it’s happening.
  2. Identify what the change should be. What are we doing that we shouldn’t be, or what are we not doing that we should be? Identify the specific changes that need to be implemented. Not just “stop collecting that data” but “find and change all forms where this is being collected.” Be specific!
  3. Choose no more than three to implement. Once you’ve identified where changes should be made, select no more than three to change, and execute those. More than three can be overwhelming, and getting early wins on just two or three changes will create momentum to fix more.

Remember, Newton’s First Law says that what’s at rest stays at rest and what’s in motion stays in motion. Make sure you’ve got the right things resting or moving!

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