Socratic teaching is based on hypothesis elimination, around the thought that every belief should be challenged and that critical thinking drives our nature to understand. Socrates himself has been credited with many famous quotes – I recently tweeted one that is the impetus for this blog …

“There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.” – Socrates

My customers and other association professionals with whom I work all collect mounds of data, yet for all the gigabytes of data they gather, how much knowledge have they gleaned? Ignorance is evil because it blinds us to the potential good we can do and/or the harm our ignorance can cause.

So, what else can we learn from Socrates about data management? Here are three of his philosophies we can apply:

1) Know Nothing

One of Socrates’ most famous – and often misquoted – quotes is, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” The wisdom I take away from this is to always remember to further your understanding. As you puzzle out what purchases are hot, as you find the sweet spot for membership recruitment, remember there is always more to learn. Ask yourself:

  • Do I have data that can be transformed into knowledge about why a trend is happening?
  • Is the data I collected versus what is out there skewing my results?
  • Am I collecting data that provides historical or predictive trends? Why?

Always be hungry to know more than what you know.

2) Generate Ideas

Here’s one of my favorite quotes – “Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people.”

We collect data for many reasons, but how many of us collect data to generate ideas? Ideas about what we can be, who we can serve, how we can add value. Every organization struggles to be relevant. Can your data help generate ideas that support your relevance? Some tips that may help …

  • Look at the edge cases in your data analytics. These may be early adopters or trend setters. What are they looking at, and can you boil it down to a hypothesis that can be tested and challenged?
  • As you start to look at data from various angles, you should use the information gleaned to develop ideas that could improve the value of the collected data. For example, can you eliminate double data entry and are you identifying areas where data security could be a problem? Don’t just use data to validate an existing hypothesis. Instead, use it to challenge the status quo.

3) Avoid the Evils of Ignorance

My initial tweet ended with the hashtag: #DataIsNotKnowledge, and I’m sure many of you are nodding in agreement. Socrates’ quote reminds me that while I may be able to enter data into my CRM/AMS, it is not the same as knowing the person whose data I just entered or understanding the business model of the organization that just signed up via my website. Another evil of ignorance is being comfortable in the collection of useless data points.

Instead, think about:

  • How are you using the data you collected to learn about your customers?
  • What is the human interaction associated with your data management strategy?
  • Do you review data analytics in reference to your strategic objectives, not just your goals?

What is so great about the Socratic Method and a sound data management strategy is that both can serve as an ongoing challenge to pull as much knowledge from an existing source as possible.