This is Part 5 of a 5 part blog post. If you have not read them yet, see:

In this final post of this series we briefly consider how the different data personalities work together and suggest some strategies to change how people behave.

Clearly in most organisations there will be a variety of data personalities, some positive and some less so. It is useful if you can become aware of the different personalities and how they interact.

There are many theories about how different personalities behave within teams, arguably the most well known of these is the Belbin Team Inventory. A common theme of most group behaviour theories, particularly Belbin, is that for a team to perform at a high level, there need to be each of these behaviours or personalities types present within a team. Similarly in the Data Zoo most of the data personalities have valuable positive aspects that can improve overall approaches to data, if they are exploited effectively.

Previous posts have covered some of the specific negative traits of each specific  data personality, we now will consider how they interact with each other.

Data personality interactions

In general the data personalities on the outside of the diagram above will tend to be fairly static unless a stronger personality starts to exert an influence over them. Some, such as the Whinger and the Jobsworth may be particularly resistant to change. The most malleable personality is probably the Plodder who may start to exhibit the tendencies of the strongest personalities around them. You therefore need to ensure that they have good role models and that the Data Squirrels and Data Anarchists are kept at a distance. You also need to be aware that, depending on organisational culture, staff may exhibit different data personalities at different times and sometimes at the same time. For example, Data Evangelists can show Data Squirrel like tendencies by hanging on to key data etc.

If you consider some of the organisational culture and procedures that can encourage different data personalities, then you can identify mitigation strategies to avoid negative impacts. For example, if your organisation has to be responsive to change instigated by external stakeholders (such as regulators) and internal stakeholders (such as marketing) then an over bureaucratic process for obtaining changes to systems and data will tend to encourage people to behave more like a Data Anarchist. Conversely, a too flexible approach may encourage Whingers, who will be seeking clarity on exactly what they should do in any circumstance.

Strategies for change

For each of the personalities in the data zoo, a different approach will be required to improve how they interact with data, as illustrated in the table below:

Data personality Suggested strategies for change
Data Evangelist

A positive personality type who will encourage others to adopt better approaches to data, however, they may need gentle reminders not to forget to do the day job
Useful Person

As they are solid team members, they should only need some encouragement to become more of an evangelist to convert Plodders to more Useful People

Exploit their ability to identify areas where standards and processes are ambiguous or do not match current business needs.Encourage them to be more tolerant of these issues once they have alerted managers to their presence, you just have to make sure you resolve them in a realistic timescale!
Data Beaver

Channel the boundless energy of Data Beavers by providing clearer guidelines on areas where they can improve data.Monitor that the tasks have been done correctly.

Provide lots of recognition for their efforts


Pair the naturally lazy Plodders up with a Useful Person who can show them the easy ways to get tasks completed.Also ensure that lots of recognition is provided for improvements in approach and attitude.
Data Anarchist

Allow the Data Anarchist to explore new areas by engaging them on work to solve new business problems.Get them as busy as you can so that they will be happier to pass their home created spreadsheets and databases to others to incorporate in the main corporate systems.
Data Squirrel

Encourage Data Squirrels to pass their hoard of data and information to others for sharing more widely.Provide lots of praise for how diligent they have been to keep all this information for the company good etc.

Get rid of them!If you can’t sack them, get them transferred to a project where they cannot demotivate others nor cause data problems.
Data Ostrich

Provide suitable technical support to allow them to easily add evidence based on data to their deep technical knowledge.If they are receptive, provide training and mentoring to allow them to understand and use decision support tools for themselves.

Good luck in identifying all the different data personalities in your organisation and changing them into more positive roles.

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2 thoughts on “The Data Zoo (Part 5 of 5) – How data personalities interact

  • 1st April 2010 at 13:21


    Congratulations on the completion of a remarkable series!

    As I commented earlier in the series:

    Personality management is often more important than data management, since without the former, the latter will not have much of a chance to be successful.

    I think that every organization should administer what I am now going to refer to as the “Schwarzenbach-Belbin Personality Test.”


    Jim – An Aspiring Data Evangelist 🙂

  • 1st April 2010 at 15:43

    Enjoyed your series Julian. Food for thought – Do you think that “information optimization” will alleviate the issues in the “zoo”?

    @Jim – Love that you said “aspiring” because I think we all have work to do. At least I know I do. sigh….


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