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Dickeson on Productivity?Dealing With Data Paranoia

February 1998
You're bowling. You heave the ball. It's halfway down the lane when the lights go out. You hear the pins rattling, but how many went down?

Similarly, many printing companies are working in the dark. The folks see and hear the work going on everyday. They roll the balls down the alley, but then the lights go out. They never get to see the results. Why? Data paranoia.

How long would you continue to bowl if you never saw pins fall? Never knew your score? You just wouldn't have the incentive. So how do we expect people to have incentive for the work they do?

Unreasonable Fear
On the six o'clock news we're constantly hearing stories about hackers getting into computer systems. About Big Brother (Uncle Sam) and Little Brother (Internal Revenue Service) knowing so much from their data banks that our constitutional right of privacy is eroding. We are so constantly being spooked by stories of companies or people learning our "secrets" that we're nearly afraid to pick up the phone and call mom or dad for fear someone will be tapping in to listen to what we're saying.

Yeah, there's a lot of data paranoia—unreasoning and unreasonable fear—going around these days. Maybe it's not paranoia, maybe it's data schizophrenia. One personality says, "Tell me the results or I'll lose interest," and the other one says, "Don't you dare try to see what I'm doing. I want to know your average score, but I don't want you to know mine."

Don't you wish we could just say, "Take two aspirin, drink lots of water and get plenty of bed rest," and our fears and anxieties would go away? We can't, so I'll give you Dr. Roger's prescription for data spookiness: Just say, "Who gives a rat's patootie?"

Company managers who are scared witless that competitors will see the company's financial figures should stop and say, "Who gives a rat's patootie? We know the numbers, and we're not doing so hot with them. So if competitors got our numbers, what could they do with them that we haven't? Have they got time to sit around and worry about our results, or are they occupied with their own?"

I've mentioned before the frustration consultants and accounting software folks have with companies that will spend a bundle installing a system and then never seem to read the figures and take the required corrective action.

Remember the "Purloined Letter" by Edgar Allen Poe? If you really have something to conceal, the best spot to hide it is in the most obvious place possible. It just won't be seen. One of the problems we have today is "information overload." There's just so much statistical stuff around us we don't see it. So if I handed you my customer list together with last year's sales data for each of them, what would you do with it? Go out and steal all my customers?

Hold it. Time for a reality check. If you posted last month's income statement on the bulletin board by the coffee maker, what would happen? Would everyone come flocking in for a raise at the end of a good month? Would everyone come marching in volunteering to take a pay cut in a bum month? Reality check, please.

We're observing the distinction in response to information between our emotional side and our logical persona—between the right and left brain lobes. Image vs. reality is the conflict we're experiencing. We have an image—a perception—that secrecy and non-disclosure are needed to preserve our vulnerabilities, our insecurities. But our logical brain is saying, at the same instant, "Who gives a rat's patootie?"

Share Your Secrets
Why am I holding my cards so close to my vest? Isn't it time for me to create an environment where people derive satisfaction from their efforts beyond the mere monetary? Check the upside against the downside. What do you have to gain by secrecy? What do you have to lose by it? When you ask the "patootie" question that's what you're doing. You're balancing the left against the right brain side—logic against emotion.

Most of the time, I submit, you'll find that you have lots more to gain by disclosure. First, you create an environment of trust—trust among employees, customers, suppliers and competitors. You establish and foster an image of openness and honesty. Isn't that what we call integrity?

Within the company, you're disclosing data to the stakeholders. Employees of the company are committed to the success of the company. In a ham and egg omelet, stockholder hens are involved but employee hogs are committed! Employees are giving their active lives to the company and in return the paycheck pays their mortgages, groceries, car payments and keeps their kids in Nikes.

Outside the company, who's really interested in your data? Other than the bank and the IRS, I mean. What could they even do with your information if they had it? So why the fear that someone may hack into your computer system and see the numbers? Most of the hackers seem to be teen-agers having fun defeating security systems. Well, you know teen-agers. They used to tip over outhouses for sport. Now they play with computers.

I'm aware of companies that are afraid to hook up to the Internet or put up a Web site for fear that someone can sneak into their files and peek at their figures. Their loss is opting out of the communications medium that is becoming a norm for business and industry. I know—you shouldn't use a microwave because the radiation will zap you, use a cell phone because it will fry your brain, or accept e-mail because someone's going to plant a virus in your computer. See what I mean? Paranoia.

—Roger V. Dickeson

About the Author
Roger Dickeson is a printing productivity consultant based in The Woodlands, TX. He can be reached via e-mail at or; or via fax at (281) 362-7572.


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