How Healthy Is Your Business?


Wednesday, 7.58pm

Sheffield, U.K.

A man is as old as his arteries. – Thomas Sydenham

Some principles refuse to die – perhaps that’s why they became principles in the first case.

Winning companies, for example, tend to keep winning and eventually get so big that they tower over everyone else.

The Google and Apples and Microsofts of the world along with the GEs and Gazproms are huge, lumbering beasts – unstoppable and invincible.

And then you have everyone else.

The small businesses, the charities bigger businesses and the entire public sector.

The ones who employ everyone else and do everything else.

How can you tell whether they’re in good health or not?

I’ve been wondering whether how they use data could act as a measure.

It’s probably not an exaggeration to say that the flow of data through an organisation is like the flow of blood through an organism.

The thing that keeps the organisation going is that steady data flow, pumped out hourly, daily, monthly according to a cadence – a heartbeat.

What we do is pulled, pushed, driven by flows of data – emails in, emails out, spreadsheets, files, presentations, meetings – a never ending series of rolling waves of data that break on our desks.

And if you listen to the sound of that data flow – you’ll hear the wailing of anguished souls.

People don’t understand what to do.

They haven’t got the skills to clean and transform data.

The stuff they send out is incomplete and messy and plain wrong.

It’s always someone’s fault – if only they could just work harder and do a better job.

It’s going to take days to work through every line of this spreadsheet and check it off.

It feels to me like in such situations we have something clogging up the pipes that transport that data.

With the human heart and arteries it’s plaque that causes the damage – deposits of crud that narrow and constrict the vessels and stop the flow of blood.

With organisations the plaque is the people – as they try and deal with what’s in front of them but end up getting stuck and causing a blockage that eventually causes a failure of the whole system.

It’s not their fault just like heart disease is not the fault of the bacon you ate yesterday.

You can’t explain why the system behaves the way it does by pointing to the parts.

It’s the human making choices about what to eat that causes heart disease.

And it’s the organisation – the senior managers that make decisions – that are responsible for the deposits and blockage in their organisation.

And it doesn’t need to be that way.

It sometimes feels like technology solutions, especially those from the big vendors and anyone who tries to sell software as a service have the same effect as fast food on an organisation.

If you want to be healthy as a person you have to eat right and exercise – try and stay lean.

If you want to be healthy as an organisation – the same principles apply.

Looking to technology for the latest miracle cure or plaque busting pill will not help you get better.

Looking inside – looking at your behaviour and changing it – doing less of the bad stuff and more of the good stuff is the way to improve anything.

But again – do you know how to do this?

Sometimes, just like in real life, we need a doctor to help – someone who knows what to look for and what to prescribe.

The information is out there – in books, in open source software and in people who can help.

But you have to want to be healthy in the first place.

And then decide to do the hard work that’s involved in getting there.


Karthik Suresh

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