Paul Revere was a connector. According to Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, Revere knew exactly whose door to knock on in each town that he stopped in that historic night. As a connector, he knew lots of people, and he knew lots of the "right" kinds of people, which ensured that his message got out. Contrast his success with that of William Dawes, who made a similar journey south from Boston with the same news that fateful evening - of whom most of us have never heard. Persuading a connector to pass along your message can be one of the most effective communication means.
Connectors are just one of the forces that data managers need to change things. Focus on the word change. We have been conducting research into how well data management is performed and can report some mixed results. In general, we are better at what we do (manage data) than the software development community. In spite of this apparent success, the entire IT industry suffers from a 70 percent project failure rate, and few exhibit the maturity of practice required to decrease this appalling rate.
I contend that our most pressing problem in data management is how to get our organizations to change. Most data management groups are faced with the huge challenge of improving existing (poor) development (and redevelopment) habits and practices. I've met dozens of data managers who have been concerned that IT groups couldn't give them enough time to do a good job developing flexible and adaptable data structures that support the implementation of organizational strategies. These are only symptoms of far more pervasive problems that exist within IT development practices.
Quality data management and engineering practices cannot thrive within a larger context of poor IT management. We can only do our job well if we are permitted to by the context in which we operate. While we are data managers, we must recognize that our influence must extend far beyond what we have traditionally considered data management if we are going to help our organizations improve existing practices and achieve significant results. Success is dependent on the involvement of people with particular social skills. We'll do it with the help of connectors, mavens and salesmen.
Mavens are information gatherers and are a recognized class of individuals worthy of study in their own right (especially by economists). In addition to collecting information, mavens also distribute information at a rate greater than the typical individual. According to researchers, approximately one-half of all Americans know a true maven. Mavens are important because they know things that the rest of us do not know, and they want to distribute this information to others out of a sense of altruism or societal benefit. As Gladwell says, "The fact that mavens want to help, for no other reasons than because they like to help, turns out to be an awfully effective way of getting someone's attention."
The final category is the salesmen, who are crucial to persuading message receivers who are unconvinced of what they are hearing. Salesmen, it turns out, deliver far more than just the message. They persuade others of the message's truth using subtle, hidden and unspoken communication techniques that are demonstrably more effective. A large component of this is referred to as emotional contagion.
At the upcoming DAMA/Metadata conference April 23-27 in Denver, I challenge you to try to categorize some of the people you will meet as salesmen, mavens and connectors. Consider how the various individuals you encounter help bring about the change required to implement better data management at the organizational level, at the national level and at the international level. In my next column, I'll discuss how these three types of people come together and permit the law of the few to operate.
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