I am often asked how our product and our culture are related. Why do we choose to say: Quality decisions with data, mind and heart? On one hand, we sell a software product that automates the data flows between source systems and BI and analytics tools. On the other, we practice mindfulness and meditation during work hours.
How are these soft and hard – these yin and yang values – in any way related? Do we sell software or yoga mats? Or are we maybe a religious company, with our employees the missionaries that want to reform the world with our hour glasses and moments of silence?
No, of course not. The question is what do data automation and mindfulness have in common? The answer is very simple…
Better decision-making and creativity
The linking factor is that both automation and mindfulness free up your mind so you can take better decisions and be more creative.
Our software reduces the number of tedious, repetitive tasks, freeing up the intellects of developers and BI specialist to focus on more interesting, creative tasks. It puts timely data at the fingertips of decision-makers, eliminating the stress of them having to wait for data of uncertain quality.
Similarly, mindfulness removes the clutter in your mind so you can be aware of the present moment. It is a state of mind in which you are paying full attention to whatever is happening in the present moment, rather than living in the past or worrying about the future. It reduces the state negative affect.
Let me explain in more detail…
It’s common knowledge that companies today have many data sources, every one containing ever-more data. In order to improve decision-making, all the data from every one of these sources needs to be combined into meaningful information that can impart business value.
The challenge therefore is to distribute this information from the sources to the decision makers, right-on-time and in a continuous flow. This flow can help to improve business performance, customer experience or security, to give a few examples. But how can businesses do this in a scalable way?
Collecting, combining and distributing data flows requires a lot of coding. Code is what moves the data from the source system to applications such as Power BI, Tableau and Qlik – the tools that deliver visual information to decision-makers. Yet manual coding is time-consuming, resource-heavy and error-prone.
Such precise coding requires IT staff of the highest caliber but even assuming that you have the budget to hire the right number of the right people, dealing with the inevitable turnover of staff, handover of projects and training of newcomers is a mammoth task in itself. And is it ever possible to produce hand-coded solutions fast enough to make systems scalable?
That’s where automation plays its part. Automation increases productivity,
improves data quality (or the predictability of the data quality), increases robustness and consistency,
reduces human labor costs, ensures scalability and reduces complexity.
For example, it can take a skilled developer hours to move a single field from a source database to a target destination. Yet using automation tools, a user only has to click one option to select a result. The data automation then compiles the required code in the background using the same underlying tools and processes that would be used to do it by hand. The difference is that automation can take about a second to code what it would take a developer an hour to do.
Data automation ensures that scripts always run in the correct order, while machine learning optimizes the way that all scripts are executed. The automation of these routine elements helps free up the time needed to create quality customizations and to focus on data modeling and data quality.
But data automation does not only automate the code – it will also free up time by automating reporting and documentation. Moreover, every operation is audited, monitored and tracked to ensure compliance with corporate rules and external regulations.
The raw speed advantage is obvious but since the process is programmatic – by which we mean done by a machine the same way every time – human error is also eliminated. In this way, testing time is greatly reduced and reworking code to fix errors is eliminated. As a result, time and money are saved and results are delivered faster.
By eliminating complexity, automation opens up data to line-of-business users and data scientists, providing them with integrated tools tailored to their role.
According to Wikipedia, automation can be defined as “the technology by which a process or procedure is performed without human assistance”. The paradox of automation is that the more efficient an automated system, the more crucial the human contribution of the operators becomes, since human interactions are reduced, yet each individual intervention becomes more critical. Any automated system that has an error will multiply that error until it’s fixed or shut down, so that’s where human operators come in. The technology itself does not make the difference – the people who use the technology do.
As software increasingly performs a broadening range of routine and repetitive tasks, it’s likely that human labor will become concentrated on hard-to-automate skills, especially those that require creative or emotional input and social interactivity.
Mindfulness in business
Mindfulness meditation is an age-old practice that has its origin in the Buddhist psychology tradition. Mindfulness has become such a buzzword in the fields of health and wellbeing that it’s easy to forget it has many other benefits too. For example, recent research shows that it also helps with decision-making by clarifying the mind and enhancing creativity. According to Dr Natalia Karelaia, Assistant Professor of Decision Sciences at the INSEAD Business School in Paris, mindfulness is being incorporated into “every area of business where strong decisions are required.”
Mindfulness can help you filter out mental chatter, weigh your options objectively, tune into your intuition and, ultimately, make decisions that you can stand behind completely. Mindfulness enhances creativity largely by encouraging divergent thinking but the benefits run much deeper. According to Dr Karelaia, mindfulness not only helps decision-makers reach conclusions but also impacts the way decisions are identified, made, implemented and assessed.
Abstaining from judgements about our feelings and experiences is linked with a better decision outcome score, according to a publication research from Lund University.
And mindfulness is extremely effective for avoiding the so-called ‘sunk-cost bias’. This is the tendency for people to irrationally continue with a course of action not because it is fruitful or effective but because they have already invested time, money or effort into it. In the financial world, investors often refuse to sell failing stock in the hope that the share price will recover, eventually losing all of their investment instead of part of it. Mindfulness can help by letting you think more strategically and less emotionally.
Let’s be clear: mindfulness is not a religion
- It’s a form of mental training
- It’s not time-intensive – around 20 minutes a day is enough
- It helps to make you more creative, less stressed and more effective at decision-making
- It’s not complicated and you can do it anywhere, even at a supermarket queue
TimeXtender – not (only) data-driven
Because time matters, at TimeXtender we practice both mindfulness and automation. We practice a moment of silence before starting each meeting to land, focus and connect. We also have our Friday meditations and our Mindful Mondays – you’re welcome to join the latter by signing up here.
We take our own medicine and automate all that can be automated in the data discovery lifecycle, so we use our own Discovery Hub® to provide us with the data needed to make our own business decisions.
But we believe being ‘data-driven’ is a misleading term. While data helps from a validation or targeting point of view, on its own, it doesn’t deliver the rich insight required to build a creative platform. It’s easy to go too far – and that’s the distinction made between being ‘data-informed’ compared to being ‘data-driven’, which a Facebook talk in 2010 also confirms.
Are you the type of person who likes to focus entirely on facts? If so, then remember to leverage data in the right way. You need to have a vision for what you are trying to do so that you can use data to validate and help you navigate towards that vision. Mindfulness enables us at TimeXtender to take decisions that are aligned with our strategy, visions and values. It also helps us avoid the pitfalls of the past.
Our software helps our partners and customers to automate all the data flows from source systems to BI and analytics tools, as well as automatically documenting the entire data pipeline. In this way, the use of BI and analytics tools becomes a matter of plug-and-play.
With regards to mindfulness, we want to inspire other companies to also practice it as a tool for better decision-making and enhancing creativity.
That’s why we say: Make quality decisions with data, mind and heart.