Can Data Ever Be Free from Our Values?

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Digital Transformation is complex and challenging, partly because we are dealing with data. We can make things easier through empathy, and leading with empathy when we consider data. How can we tackle the challenges of digital transformation leadership with empathy? In this post, we will consider how to demonstrate empathy in digital transformation leadership through a consideration of the data. Can we ever respond to data without emotion? Do people really care about the truth or is it the case that they bring different perspectives to the data than you?

Humans don’t look at data as rationally as we like to think. As data leaders, it is crucial to understand people’s responses to data better.


When people don’t have the facts, they judge – often, unfairly. How can we lead to a fairer, better understanding of data?

This question applies to everyone, not just the people whom you disagree with! We can develop and showcase empathy as leaders, and this is crucial in ongoing digital and continuous transformation in businesses.

We keep growing through content choices that may not fit with what you’ve been led to believe. It can help you to seek out facts in a balanced way.

Sometimes, people will believe very different things from you. They have their own data and belief systems to back up their perspective. You can understand the data better by meeting people halfway. By listening, we can understand their history, values and perspectives on the data to learn from voices that are different from our own.

People can feel supercilious when they criticise people who don’t understand data as they do. Something I often hear: “there is a need for more data literacy.” This is a way of diminishing an opinion that’s different from yours. It’s another way of saying ‘I am rational, and I have the right to judge and that other people are, or are not, rational’. Why not take a more empathetic view, particularly if we are in a position of leadership?

People know when they are being diminished. It’s not going to help them or you. In the world of data, we need to think about being insights-inspired as well as data-driven. We can take their values and context into account before dismissing people as data-illiterate.

Ronald McNair was an African American who was killed in the Challenger tragedy in 1986. During his training, he could not swim very well and he was struggling with the water part of the training. One of the female astronauts was afraid of the water and she asked him why he could not swim well, and McNair explained that, when he was brought up, ‘his people were not welcome in swimming pools’. You can’t assume that everyone has the same experience as you, or had the same opportunities.

Data literacy can be a term used to categorize people outside the circle of being one of the chosen ones who understand data. It entails saying that people are data illiterate which seems incredibly exclusionary. Instead, we can try to understand better their priorities, values, contexts and perspectives. Technology needs to be human-centred, after all.

Leaders can step outside individual echo chambers to understand how and why people have reached the conclusions that they have. When did you last really try and engage and understand someone who thought so differently from you? You have the opportunity to learn, evaluate and strengthen my own thoughts and evidence. Flexible thinkers change their minds in the face of evidence. Imposter Syndrome aside, it is actually a good thing to keep questioning yourself.

By listening, you may have a more receptive audience than you did before. Diversity and inclusion also include people’s thoughts processes. You don’t have to agree with them but you may learn something more about yourself in the process.

Practice the ‘Pause’

Is data ever value-free? Our response to data tells us a lot about ourselves, if, of course, we are willing to listen to that data. It tells us about our unconscious values and perspectives, as well as something about the data. For some, data literacy just means that people share the values that we do, and agree with the data that we see.

There is nothing wrong with taking a pause to consider our own values, our audience’s values, and the wider context when considering data. Empathy can be learned, and it can start with a pause that overcomes our reptilian brain reactions. We can inspire others every day by encouraging empathy as leaders, and this is crucial in ongoing digital and continuous transformation success. 

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