Don Paglia | Marriage and Family Counseling. Constellations Workshops

Business Articles

Back in 201 A.D. the amount of data that existed in the world would fit on one shelf in your library.Today, data that is available to leaders is so huge that it stresses our biggest mainframes. Every time a new bit of information is conceived, it can immediately cross-pollinate with all existing data and double  all within a nanosecond. Terms like “exponential” and “logarithmic” have become understatements.

Projecting into the future can only boggle the mind about what is in store and what all this data collection will provide. No one will be able to escape the flood of data that engulfs us, either by trying to limit its expansion or by trying to keep up with its flow. Nor is specialization the way out. This only sends the avalanche of information in the opposite direction.

The data deluge can only be harnessed to the extent that leaders can recognize that not all information is worth gathering, and also to the extent they can develop criteria for discerning what information is important to leadership.

Without the development of such criteria, leaders will constantly be caught in a wearying bind wherein the quick-fix orientation of a chronically anxious society spawns unlimited quantities of data and technique, while leaders, in their own effort to “stay on top of things,” will continually be made more anxious by their efforts to keep up, if not feeling more guilty over the fact that they are not all current.

Advancing technology is not creating the information bind. It is the perverting of the natural instincts of curiosity and adventure into a dogged quest for certainty, and by a focus on pathology rather than on strength, that causes this to happen.

The thinking processes in an age of discovery that is marked by a spirit of wonderment are quite different from those that characterize an anxiety-driven dash for “the truth.”

The latter is more likely to lead to reductionistic thinking, the over reliance of models, and an overbearing seriousness, all of which rigidity rather than free the imaginative capacity.

Perhaps the worst of all this is the focus on pathology. Data-gathering that is orientated toward pathology rather than strength eventually winds up as a process that is unable to set limits on itself.

In contrast, the categories of strength are well defined, and the pursuit of information in this area promotes the self-differentiation necessary for harnessing the data deluge.

Developing new criteria for judging the importance of information is not a matter of changing one’s database. What is required is a fundamental reorientation of our thinking processes, one that allows leaders to evaluate information in the context of emotional variables, along with the leader’s self-differentiation.

Ultimately, the capacity of leaders to distinguish what information is important depends less on the development of new techniques for sorting data than on the leader’s ability to avoid being driven by the regressive anxiety that is often the source of the unregulated data proliferation to begin with.

The myth surrounding data, like all superstitions, comes in various versions: “If only we knew enough, we could do (fix) anything,” and ” If we failed, it is because we did not use the right method.”

An orientation away from the myth of data and method is one that requires leaders to avoid the temptation toward the false light of omniscience and omnipotence.

In addition, as leaders move in a direction toward an understanding of the nature of their own presence, they will discover the path out of the tangle. This requires self-assurance that emotional process over and orientation toward data and technique is pertinent.

The current focus obscures the nature of one’s being and devalues the self of leaders in several ways: (1) it overwhelms leaders, (2) it confuses them with contradictory results, (3) it emphasizes weakness rather than strength, and (4) it de-“Selfs” leaders.

The pursuit of data in almost any field has come to resemble a form of substance abuse,
accompanied by all the usual problems of addiction: self-doubt, denial, temptation, relapse and withdrawal. Leadership training programs thus wind up in the codependent position of “enablers,” with publishers often in the role of “suppliers.”

Leaders, like anyone, are smack in the middle of an exquisite double bind, precisely the kind of relational position in a family that escalates stress exponentially. They are both overwhelmed and seduced by the data.

In a chronically anxious family this type of bind could easily lead a family leader to seek a way out through indiscriminate and panicky abuse of alcohol, nicotine, drugs or sex. In chronically anxious America the constant imbibing of data and technique offers a similar quick fix.

Data thus become the substance that is at first eagerly sought and then ultimately abused. What drives people to drink drives people to data. What is worse is the vicious cycle that is always characteristic of addiction.

The reliance on the substance erodes the very strengths that have to be mobilized in order to break free from the substance. This is remarkably descriptive of what has happened to America’s leaders regarding data and technique. What would data-sobriety look like in a leader? What would be the profile of a data-sober CEO? The answer is not abstinence. The issue here is not the use of data; it is the misuse and abuse of it.

And while there is no basic sobering agent, it would require an admission of the problem. It would then require the willingness to face the pain, anxiety and growth, not denying the emotional processes that erode self-differentiation, and being willing to risk and be vulnerable.

Donald J. Paglia helps business executives clarify their vision for themselves and their businesses and regain the balance needed to effectively lead their firms. .htm11/21/02