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The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Information Professionals, Part 4

  • May 01 2004, 1:00am EDT
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Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind

This is the fourth in a series of columns on Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Here we describe the second habit, "Begin with the End in Mind," and what that means for information professionals.

Lewis Carroll's marvelous story, Alice in Wonderland, contains an insightful truth in Alice's dialog with the Cheshire Cat. It goes like this:

"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to walk from here?" asked Alice.
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don't much care where," said Alice.
"Then it doesn't matter which way you walk," said the Cat.1

The lesson here is that if we do not have a clear vision of the outcomes we desire from an information project or initiative, we may wander aimlessly. Project plans may be filled with activities that take our time, but do not produce results. We may toil forever, without ever accomplishing our mission.

"Begin with the End in Mind," is a required habit for information professionals to be able to visualize the end result for information excellence.

I cannot write a more poignant introduction to this subject than Covey:

"In your mind's eye, see yourself going to the funeral of a loved one. Picture yourself driving to the funeral parlor or chapel, parking the car, and getting out. As you walk inside the building, you notice the flowers, the soft organ music. You see the faces of friends and family you pass along the way. You feel the shared sorrow of losing, the joy of having known, that radiates from the hearts of the people there.

"As you walk down to the front of the room and look inside the casket, you suddenly come face to face with yourself. This is your funeral, three years from today. All these people have come to honor you, to express feelings of love and appreciation for your life.

"As you take a seat and wait for the services to begin, you look at the program in your hand. There are to be four speakers. The first is from your family, immediate and also extended - children, brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents who have come from all over the country to attend. The second speaker is one of your friends, someone who can give a sense of what you were as a person. The third speaker is from your work or profession. And the fourth is from your church or some community organization where you've been involved in service.

"Now think deeply. What would you like each of these speakers to say about you and your life? What kind of husband, wife, father, or mother would you like their words to reflect? What kind of son or daughter or cousin? What kind of friend? What kind of working associate?

"What character would you like them to have seen in you? What contributions, what achievements would you want them to remember? Look carefully at the people around you. What difference would you like to have made in their lives?"2

Covey's Habit 2 Equals Deming's Quality Point 1

The personal habit of beginning with the end in mind is reflected in W. Edwards Deming's Point 1, "Create constancy of purpose for improvement of product and service."3 The enterprise has two sets of problems, those of today and those of tomorrow. "It is easy to stay bound up in the tangled knot of the problems of today, becoming ever more and more efficient in them."4

To solve the problems of tomorrow, we must have a plan and a vision for the future. It is this plan that represents the survival and "thrival" of the enterprise. Deming was clear that any plan for the future must be driven by the needs of the customer. This obligation of constant improvement of product and service is an obligation to the customer that never ceases. "The consumer is the most important part of the production line."5

As information professionals, our "plans" for the future must understand and meet our information customers' needs. The obligation to the knowledge-worker never ceases. We must be able to visualize what that world looks like when we "perfectly" meet those needs and delight our customers.

Information Quality Journey

Every one of us - whether professional or manager, whether a custodian who keeps the enterprise clean or a CEO who charts the enterprise course - has customers. Beginning with the end in mind is a habit based on principles of personal leadership. Leadership is about doing the right things. Peter Drucker, the great management guru, equates this to effectiveness. "Efficiency is concerned with doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things."6

Is your personal and professional journey filled with instances of "doing the right things"? Filling our journeys with these instances requires us to have a clear vision of what we need to accomplish. Before we develop that project plan, we must visualize the end state. What will it look like when we achieve Stage 5, Maturity in Information Quality? What will it look like when we have our information assets managed as rigorously as banks manage their customers' deposits?

"End-in-Mind" Vision

Where do we start? First, forget for the moment the perceived barriers and obstacles that beset your efforts to create change in your organization. These we will overcome using the remaining habits. For now, open your minds to the "impossible."

Joel Barker, the futurist, challenges his clients with the question, "What today is impossible to do in your business, but if it could be done would fundamentally change what you do?"7 Here is my challenge to you: What is it you (and your knowledge-workers) don't know today, but if you did know, would fundamentally change what you do? In scenario analysis, this is visualizing the best-case scenario. What does it look like? What does it feel like? Play with this question. Ask it on a regular basis. And put it on paper.

Now, think about what the outcomes can be when you accomplish your vision. What accolades will you receive from family, colleagues, management and customers as you accomplish it? What will be the cost savings from eliminated waste? What increased internal and external customer satisfaction will be achieved? What sense of personal victory will you derive as you make the impossible the reality?

What is your vision of the outcomes you want to see as a result of your information initiatives? What will your customers and stakeholders say about what you helped or led them to accomplish in information quality or information management?

What do you think? Let me know at


  1. Carroll, Lewis. Through the Looking Glass, Alice In Wonderland. New York: Konecky & Konecky, 1999.
  2. Covey, Stephen. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989. pp. 96-97.
  3. Deming, W. Edwards. Out of the Crisis. Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for Advanced Engineering Study, 1986. p. 24.
  4. Ibid., pp. 24-25.
  5. Ibid., p. 26.
  6. Drucker, Peter. Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. New York: Harper & Row, 1973. p.45.
  7. Barker, Joel. "The Business of Paradigms" video trainer's manual. Burnsville, MN: Charthouse International Learning, 1990. p. 84.

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