When to stop procrastinating

Some time ago, after a lot of dithering, I decided to participate in a leadership development program. I had delayed and delayed before finally committing. I was on unfamiliar ground; all I knew I was looking for something personally challenging, immersive, and experiential. I wanted to come out changed.

The stakes seemed high. I would not sign up for anything until I knew exactly what I was getting out of it.

Then I read this quote from Meno: “How will you go about finding that thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you?”

The quote was in a piece by Rebecca Solnit. “The things we want are transformative,” she writes, “and we don’t know or only think we know what is on the other side of that transformation. Love, wisdom, grace, inspiration — how do you go about finding these things that are in some ways about extending the boundaries of the self into unknown territory, about becoming someone else?”

From time to time, I make a list of things I’m avoiding, and why. Sometimes there are good reasons for procrastinating; sometimes I just need to get my shit together. Other times, I see I’m waiting for knowledge of the unknowable future, a future that could in fact be changed in unpredictable ways by what I’m thinking of doing. Then I have to picture myself in a year or three, and ask if that future self would regret not having acted, even if things didn’t turn out as I’d hoped. If the answer is yes, then it’s time to go in blind.

Willingly going in blind is like being lost and feeling okay with it. When you are lost, Solnit writes, “the world has become larger than your knowledge of it.” However it feels, sometimes we need to start there.

Data is an expensive tool. We should teach people how to use it.

When you buy a tool you have to learn how to use it, or you’ve wasted your money. Our team understood this when we implemented a new CRM system: If frontline staff used it and used it well, the investment would deliver on the promise of facilitating advancement of the mission.

Data is also a tool. Managers and decision-makers will succeed if they know how to use data. The question is, what have we done to maximize on that investment?

During our CRM implementation, we had more than 50 working sessions with frontline staff – focus groups and training sessions that involved nearly everyone in configuring the software and applying it in their work. So many hours!

CRM was big, but our investment in data, spread over years, is much bigger. Like other advancement shops we have staff employed in the collection, creation, and management of data, staff who design and maintain the infrastructure for securely storing, assembling, and preparing the data, and staff who use the data to develop reports and business insights.

That investment far exceeds the cost of any CRM, yet has it been matched with an equivalent degree of training in its end-use by managers and decision-makers? For us and many other organizations, the answer is no.

Operations can get very good at translating between the data and the business, but staff across Advancement must be able to speak the language. Author and advisor Bernard Marr says, “… organizations that fail to boost the data literacy of their employees will be left behind because they are not able to fully use the vital business resource of data to their business advantage.” (1)

Organizations large and small, in every sector, are coming to this realization. A 2019 Gartner survey found 80 percent of organizations now plan to start developing staff competency in data literacy. (2)

Data literacy simply means the ability to understand data in the context of one’s business knowledge. It includes knowing where the data comes from, how it’s defined, the methods used to analyze it, and having a view to applying it to achieve an outcome.

You don’t need to be a mechanic to drive a car. You don’t need to be an analyst to make decisions with data. The next big leap forward in data-informed decision making might lie in helping more and more staff across the organization learn how to drive.

  1. Why Is Data Literacy Important For Any Business?” by Bernard Marr (see also “What Are The Biggest Barriers To Data Literacy?“)
  2. Design a Data and Analytics Strategy,” Gartner Inc., 2019