The Seven Deadly Sins of Information Management, Part 1: Wrath

September 24, 2012
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Most of us have heard of the seven deadly sins: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. Inspired by Simon Laham’s book The Science of Sin, I’m kicking off a seven-part series in which I look at these sins in the context of information management (IM).

Most of us have heard of the seven deadly sins: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. Inspired by Simon Laham’s book The Science of Sin, I’m kicking off a seven-part series in which I look at these sins in the context of information management (IM).

Today’s installment: wrath. Think of wrath not as the final sin in the chilling movie Se7en, but as the equivalent of anger. As any psychologist can tell you, anger manifests itself in one of two forms: passive and aggressive.

Let’s cover each from an IM perspective.

Passive Anger

In order for just about any large-scale IM project to have a remote chance of being successful, people need to work together. To be sure, collaboration is essential (although I’d argue that it’s a necessary but insufficient condition for success). Yet, for whatever reason, often individuals have axes to grind and won’t work with consultants, vendors, colleagues, and even senior leadership. Rather than outwardly defying others, these folks vacillate. They make excuses. They ensure that other, more important (at least, in their view) priorities take precedence. Or perhaps they’ll do nothing. They’ll ignore an email or not return a phone call.

Without question, this is the more common of the two forms of anger. Now, let’s move to the counterpart of passive anger.

Aggressive Anger

Aggressiveness and outright defiance are much, much less common on IM projects. Rarely will an employee be so recalcitrant that he will flat-out refuse to do something, raise his voice, or physically threaten another person. The reasons are obvious. While employment laws vary considerably by country, in many parts of the world you have no right to a job. For instance, in the United States, at-will employment is the norm with two important exceptions:

  • employment contracts with clauses outlawing certain types of behavior
  • certain unionized environments (both public and private sectors)

Translation: those that behave in a manner not conducive to workplace tranquility can be terminated.

Yes, intraorganizational aggression tends not to take place very often. That’s not to say, however, that interorganizational aggression rarely happens. On the contrary, many organizations have lamentably bad relationships with some of their suppliers, customers, vendors, and other third parties. Many times, the very of source of this conflict is (you guessed it) data.

For instance, organizations implementing new systems often need to receive special attention from insurance and financial institutions as they test new interfaces. Fair enough, right? The problem: those third parties often have to service thousands of other equally important clients, making it nearly impossible to devote exclusive resources to the organization replacing its legacy systems. The end result is often yelling and screaming.

Simon Says

I’d argue that aggressive anger is actually better for IM projects for one simple reason: you know where the aggrieved party actually stands. With passive anger, you have to guess if John or Jane is really overburdened with other work or is just angry about the tasks asked of him/her.

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What say you?