For years, I have wanted to write on the ramifications of the Seven Habits for information professionals, and now seems the right time. As we enter the new year, we face more challenges than ever. It is ever more important for us to be able to contribute productively and add increased value to our organizations and society. I write not as one who "has arrived." I am still growing in my own development.
These habits are vital for any person to attain fulfillment in life, regardless of whether that person is a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, a custodian of a public school or an information professional. They are especially important for those of us whose "end" products are not really ends or products in themselves. Data models, database designs, application systems, IQ assessments or process improvements are but means to a greater end business effectiveness.
This month's column introduces a multipart series that may be punctuated from time to time with commentary on topics of temporal importance.
Covey talks of the habits in terms of our understanding our own paradigms and the need to make a paradigm shift to the "principle-centered paradigm." Those people who are effective in life are governed by a "character ethic" or the fundamental idea that there are principles that govern human effectiveness.1 These principles, while not esoteric or religious ideas, are a part of every major enduring religion, social philosophy and ethical system. These principles include fairness (and with it, equity and justice), integrity and honesty (the foundation of trust required for cooperation and long-term interpersonal growth), human dignity (upon which the U.S. Declaration of Independence was founded), service (the concept of making a contribution), quality or excellence (doing things right), potential (we can all develop and release more of our talent), growth (the releasing of potential, thereby adding more value) and with growth the accompanying principles such as patience, nurturance and encouragement.2
Covey defines a habit as "the intersection of knowledge, skill and desire."3 Knowledge is knowing what to do and why. I define knowledge as "understanding the significance of the information."4 Covey says skill is the how to do, and desire is the want to do. All three are required to make something a habit. In essence, this correlates with what I call wisdom, when a person "acts" on his or her knowledge, taking the right action or making the right decision.5
All of physical life is exemplified on a "maturity continuum" of growth from dependence to independence to interdependence. A baby is born in a state of total dependence on others. To grow from childhood to young adulthood, one must grow more independent (physically, mentally, emotionally and financially) becoming inner-directed and self-reliant. However, as we mature, we become increasingly aware that the world exists in a state of interdependence. The continuum is illustrated as:
- Dependence: the paradigm of "you." You take care of me; you must come through for me; if it doesn't work, you are to blame.
- Independence: the paradigm of "I." I can do it; I am self-reliant; I am responsible.
- Interdependence: the paradigm of "we." We can do it; we can cooperate; we can create something greater together by combining our talents.6
The Seven Habits are core to our ability as information professionals to accomplish our work effectively. If we operate out of a sense of dependence, our work will be other-directed and will fail to create real and transforming business benefit. Data models will be dictated by systems designs as opposed to meeting the needs of all knowledge-workers. Information quality initiations will be relegated to accepting defective data as "inevitable," and we will just clean it, failing to accomplish transforming process improvements.
If we operate out of a sense of independence, our work will tend to be "independent solutions" that meet what "I" consider the needs of others, when "my" view will probably be faulty and suboptimized.
It is from a maturity of interdependence that effective information professionals make the most significant impact on their businesses. When "we" (meaning the information professionals, and the system development professionals and the business knowledge-workers across the value chain) create consensus solutions for the benefit of all not just my department or organization unit we now solve the real problems facing "our" organization.
To challenge and solve the problems of information hording and broken business value-chains currently dependent on technology to transform data from "your" data to meet "my" needs, we must get to a maturity of interdependence.
What do you think? Let me know at Larry.English@infoimpact.com.
1. Covey, Stephen. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989. p. 32.
2. Ibid., p. 34.
3. Ibid., p. 46.
4. English, Larry. Improving Data Warehouse and Business Information Quality. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1999. p. 19.
5. Ibid., p. 20.
6. Covey, p. 49.
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