Three Principles for Life (and Data Management!)

Data management IS my life, of course, but the principles I’ve outlined below apply equally well to both data management and to how you manage your life. I hope you find them useful.

Principle #1: There are no solutions, only trade-offs.

I suspect I’ve known this intuitively my entire life, but I first heard this principle stated this way so succinctly by Thomas Sowell, an award-winning economist and author. It’s a simple principle, but one with incredible importance.

Every decision we make in life is a trade-off. If you choose to eat unhealthy food for extended periods of time, the trade-off could be poor health, or a shortened life, or more time required at the gym.

And so it goes for data management. If you require technology that will do absolutely everything for you, you’ll certainly pay a pretty penny for it. Or you can choose to buy a much less expensive technology product, but one that requires more manual intervention. Every decision you make about managing your data, from the type of data you choose to collect, how you collect it, who manages it, and how they manage it, is a choice. The choice is yours, but there will always be a trade-off.

Principle #2: Seek success, not perfection.

This one I heard originally from consultant Alan Weiss. Put another way, if we seek to be perfect, with whatever it is we are doing, we are guaranteed to fail, as perfection is always unattainable.

On the other hand, success is attainable by us all. And so we’ll live much happier and more fulfilling lives if we seek to be successful rather than perfect.

Consider data management. In 17 years of consulting I have yet to come across a database with a perfectly clean set of data (i.e., no data errors). But I’ve worked with dozens (if not hundreds) of associations who are very successful with their data management. Do they make mistakes? Yes. Do they have errors in their data? Yes. But in spite of all that, they are still successful.

Principle #3: It can always be worse

This one comes from my wife. And when she’s working with our children, she often adds “And I can make it worse, if you’d like me to.”

The reality is, that as bad as your data might be, it’s very likely that it could be even worse. This doesn’t mean we should accept things as they are; we should always work to improve. But it does mean that we need to keep things in perspective.

Is your data really as horrible as you think it is? If it is, how are you managing to keep your doors open? Wouldn’t it be worse if you had no idea who your members and customers are, or how to find them? See, it really could be worse!

I’ve found that if I can focus on these three principles, when it comes to everything in life, I’m a much happier person. I’m more productive, I’m more effective, and I’m more resilient. Maybe these principles can serve you that way, too.

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