As I explained in my previous post, which used the existentialist philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre to explain the existence of the data silos that each and every one of an organization’s business units rely on for maintaining their own version of the truth, I am almost as obsessive-compulsive about literature and philosophy as I am about data and data quality.
Therefore, since my previous post was inspired by philosophy, I decided that this blog post should be inspired by literature.
Although he consistently received critical praise for his poetry, Wallace Stevens spent most of his life working as a lawyer in the insurance industry. After winning the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1955, he was offered a faculty position at his alma mater, Harvard University, but declined since it would have required his resignation from his then executive management position.
Therefore, Wallace Stevens was somewhat unique in the sense he was successful both as an artist and as a business professional, which is one of the many reasons why he remains one of my favorite American poets.
Stevens believed that reality is the by-product of our imagination as we use it to shape the constantly changing world around us. Since change is the only constant in the universe, reality must be acknowledged as an activity, whereby we are constantly trying to make sense of the world through our re-imagining of it—our endless quest to discover order and meaning amongst the chaos.
The Idea of Order in Data
This is an excerpt from The Idea of Order at Key West, one of my favorite Wallace Stevens poems, which provides an example of how our re-imagining of reality shapes the world around us, and allows us to discover order and meaning amongst the chaos.
Even though their business unit’s data silos are “insulated from all those wrong ideas” created and maintained by the data silos of other business units, as Standen wisely points out, all data silos are often considered “not personal enough for the individual.”
“Microsoft Excel lets people create micro-data silos,” Standen continued. These micro-data silos (i.e., their personal spreadsheets) are “complete (for them), accurate (for them, or at least, they can pretend they are) and constant (in that no matter how much the data in the source system or other people’s spreadsheets change, their spreadsheet will be comfortingly static). It doesn’t matter what the truth is, as long as they believe their version, and insulate themselves from dissenting views/data sets.”
This insidious pursuit truly becomes a Single Version of the Truth because it represents an individual’s version of the truth.
The individual is the single artificer of the only world for them—the one that their own private data describes—thereby allowing them to discover their own personal order and meaning amongst the chaos of other, and often conflicting, versions of the truth.
However, any single version of the truth will only discover a comfortingly static, and therefore false order, as well as an artificial, and therefore misleading meaning, amongst the chaos.
Data is a by-product of our re-imagining of reality. Data is our abstract description of real-world entities (i.e., “master data”) and the real-world interactions (i.e., “transaction data”) among entities. Our creation and maintenance of these abstract descriptions of reality shapes our perception of the constantly changing and rapidly evolving business world around us.
Since change is the only constant, we must acknowledge that The Idea of Order in Data requires a constant activity, whereby we are constantly trying to make sense of the business world through our analysis of the data that describes it, which requires our endless quest to discover the business insight amongst the data chaos.
This quest is bigger than a single individual—or a single business unit. This quest truly requires an enterprise-wide collaboration, a shared purpose that dissolves the barriers—data silos, politics, and any others—which separate business units and individuals.
The Idea of Order in Data is a quest for a Shared Version of the Truth.