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Who Is The Smartest Person In The Room?

November 2020

Cartoon source Free for commercial use, no attribution required.

Question: Who is the smartest person in the room?


Answer: No one. Particularly where data operations are involved.


Consider the parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant. In a nutshell: a group of blind men come across an elephant. None of them know what an elephant is, so each one touches a different part of the elephant to try to figure it out. Their understanding is based on what they can feel, interpreted through the lens of their prior experiences. If they can piece together their individual experiences of the elephant, they can gain a collective understanding of what an elephant is. But, they need to work together to share knowledge and complete the picture.


If each person walks away with only their own piece of knowledge, then all of them will have an incorrect understanding of what an elephant really is.


You might be wondering how one blind man might fare if he tried to map the whole elephant on his own. He could do it, but it would take him a really long time and he would lack the benefit of others' experiences to help him interpret his mapping. If he has a bad memory, he may need to do a few passes before he can commit the entire mapping to memory. And if he needs to communicate that mapping to the rest of the blind group so they can accomplish some task, it will be tough to convey the information if the others have had no experience with the elephant.


For the purpose of this article, picture the elephant as a DevSecOps environment in your agency.


The group of blind men includes data scientists, agency leaders, IT and helpdesk folks, and the 'customer' workforce. Each has touched a little piece of knowledge related to what DevSecOps looks like in your agency. But I'd bet that no one in the group has a complete picture, because each is viewing the DevSecOps elephant through the lens of their own experience and knowledge. 


You all need to share knowledge with each other, for a successful DevSecOps environment.


So, why don't people just ask questions if they need information? Would the blind man at the elephant's trunk know to ask the others how the elephant's tail feels? Does he even know whether or not the elephant has a tail, or if one of his buddies is standing at the tail? Heck, does he even know what a tail is? They're all sharing in the process of discovery, and none of them need to know what questions to ask because they're all continuously communicating. Good thing, because they don't know what they don't know, and the group touching the DevSecOps elephant likely faces the same challenge.


Agile's answer to this is osmotic communication which means co-locating team members so they can overhear and join in on each other's knowledge exchanges. But, that's not realistic when we're talking about leadership, IT, and the entire workforce. So, what can your agency do?


Adopt a knowledge-exchange mindset, and approach each interaction with the belief that no one is the smartest person in the room.


IT doesn't know all they need to know to provide the tools that data scientists need. Data scientists don't know all they need to know about network security to act in ways that keep the agency's network secure. Leaders don't know all they need to know in order to formulate policy and strategy that empowers and protects. The workforce customers don't know all they need to know in order to get the most value from the data scientists and the solutions provided.


But if you all approach the elephant with a knowledge-exchange mindset, you can all emerge from your interactions significantly smarter and all derive maximum value from an epic DevSecOps environment!


You can do this. But, if you would like someone to help you improve your interactions and promote a knowledge-exchange mindset, please reach out to Cybele Data Advisory for help.

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