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What's Your Why?

There’s a decent chance you’re one of the 25 million people who have viewed Simon Sinek’s TED talk.

I watched the video and thought about the message, “Start with Why”, which is, appropriately, the title of one of his books and also the name of his website.  So, as I set out to determine my professional goals for 2016, I did so with the idea that I would emphasize value over activity. Not so much, “What do I want to do?” as, “Why am I doing this?”

I have to admit that, in determining Why, I still started with What. I like what I do, so it made sense that if I could get to the key characteristics of that, I might rediscover the reasons I do. Much of my work involves data models and the analysis of systems and processes. That’s my What. If information is easier to find, it’s easier to use. Yes, that’s a Why, but it didn’t feel like enough for me just yet. I turned to social media for answers. I gathered a few thoughts that I hoped would guide me:

  • “Models begin as abstractions from experience, supported with evidence. As they age, they become filters - we only accept data that fits.” (Merv Adrian, Gartner)
  • “The primary purpose of Data Modeling is not to design databases, but to understand and organize your business.” (Axel Troike, Grandite)
  • “Understanding is not about simplification and minimalization, it's about organization and clarification.” (Richard Saul Wurman)

I feel like I could (and probably will) write a post about each of these. But for now, I’ll take them as a set. They all deal with What pretty well, and acknowledge limitations. There’s a sprinkling of Why, as well. I have a bias towards practicality and utility so, while understanding is great, the value would be in the application. Information is used to make decisions. I’m specifically interested in business decisions. I could see my Why taking shape.

At this point, I noticed that articulating my Why, like many projects, involved iteration. So, circling back to my What, I thought about how information is described in terms of models that show categories and relationships. How do I explain the connection between information models and business decisions?  

A lot of organizations create models every time they build a system or define a process. Too often, they only work within their own area of expertise. Business success depends on connecting these systems and processes efficiently. When that happens, they have alignment. Decisions can be made in a more timely fashion. And that’s when I figured out my Why: Aligned information models expedite business decisions.

I think about this as I talk to my clients and colleagues. It’s still early in 2016, but I think it’s helped me.