How To Successfully Advance (Data) Strategies

For Datentreiber's 10th anniversary, we have a guest article by Ulrike Reinhard in which you will learn about the nine principles that enable the successful implementation of data strategies and, consequently, the transformation of business models.

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Guest article on data strategies by Ulrike Reinhard

The new Datentreiber philosophy is “train. think. transform.” It is a holistic approach which defines data-driven strategies as the trigger for corporate transformation processes. datentreiber realised that companies frequently encounter difficulty in defining and executing innovative (data) strategies, often due to apprehensions about potential negative impacts on their corporate culture. We believe companies can easily break away from this pattern. When done right, data-driven strategy and corporate culture benefit from each other and play into each other’s hands. And, as a consequence, transformation not only becomes possible but manifests in new behaviour and action.

This article is about how to create exactly this synergy. It is about nine principles which create the space for successful transformation. The principles work best when applied ALL together. Not only four or five of them. No! Check all nine principles and make sure your strategy is not only supporting but really applying them. I applied them successfully in my consultancy work as well as in my social change project “Janwaar” – read in Datentreiber’s November newsletter edition more about this project.

Joi Ito, entrepreneur and activist, defined the principles first when he was head of the MIT Media Lab in the 2000’s, and encouraged his faculty staff to apply them in all their activities. I modified them for my own purposes.

Let’s have a detailed look at each single principle and understand why only applied together they become most powerful.

The nine principles for data strategies at a glance

systems over objects

At the end of the day, there needs to be a balance of planet, people and profit. Especially for companies. We require a constant focus on the overall impact of new structures, technologies, products, processes and an understanding of the connections between people, their communities and their environments. We need to consider ecological, social, and network effects. The focus on a single object such as optimising revenue shares (= measuring growth only in numbers) without considering its implications in its overall environment is no longer acceptable.

Companies are embedded in something bigger, and they finally need to act within this overarching system with its endless resources called planet earth.

resilience over strength

Strength is often equated with NOT making mistakes. We do not have a culture of mistakes!
Resilience means I want to win, I want to make it, but I allow myself to make mistakes! This has the great advantage that you don’t “close down”; you make a mistake, “step aside”, reflect and create a space for yourself between the moment when something went wrong and your response to it. You resist failure and this creates space for action that you can use creatively. You deliberately allow mistakes to happen and you focus on the potential to grow.

If you choose resilience, life will show up as it is, and you can create accordingly – this understanding of resilience gives leadership and decision making a more spiritual meaning in the sense of “growing” and moves away from traditional business doctrines.

practice over theory

When you do things, you get facts. When you plan things, you get a theory.

What it means in company language: Start, learn along the way. and include the learning in your way forward. It is a constant way of adapting. Move forward in rather small steps than making a huge step at one time.

This practice reduces your costs of failure tremendously – just imagine you design an entire strategy; implement it and you find out it is NOT working. You lose a lot of money, waste even more time and very often the planned strategy never work out completely.

emergence over authorities

It is the opposite of top-down management.

Don’t define hierarchies when you start a project or define a strategy. Go with the flow. Empower those employers / team members who stand out in their social skills to unify and take responsibility without pushing others aside – no matter what position they hold. Define your leaders as they emerge – by reputation and respect.

Those ‘leaders’ usually have a high EQ; they are respected team members and very often don’t grasp power. They are connected within the system.

disobedience over compliance

You don’t win a Nobel Prize by doing what you’ve been told. You win a Nobel Prize by questioning the authority and thinking for yourself. So, in a company you want questions to be asked. Create a company where employees are seen as important and valuable contributors for the whole. Demand critical thinking and give space for Q&A.

A company needs strong employees who are not afraid to not comply and who are confident enough to ask and provide feedback in a meaningful way.

Allowing questions to be asked causes sometimes disruption and it might seem disturbing. Yet it is the best way to develop a common understanding and to move forward as a team. By asking questions and challenging the status quo companies do get better!

compasses over maps

Empower your employees to find their best way to achieve the company’s mission instead of providing a map how to reach the goal.

Be very clear about your overall goal – the vision of the company. Make sure every employee understands it. The visions provides guidance and gives direction – it is NOT necessarily a detailed map how to move forward. This makes it much easier to adjust to challenges and blockades. You will always have enough time to react in this more and more complex and unpredictable world. It is a way to save costs and resources. A killer argument for companies, no?

pull over push

Pull the ideas and thoughts from your employees, partners, and entire network. Don’t stock and centrally control everything by the top management. Don’t pre-define your strategies – but create a space in which new strategies / projects can emerge – initiated and carried out WITH the employees. And partners. Don’t design FOR them. Include them in the process.

You will experience that strategies / projects which emerged from the “company pool” are carried out much more seamlessly and everyone is acting much more responsibly. What more do you want?

Pull also means only invest in assets such as machinery, IP, fixed partners when there is a striking cause. Otherwise, these things can turn out to be liabilities. They can make you slow and resistant to change.

Again, pull is in many cases more cost effective, and it keeps you agile.

learning over education

I prefer the word learning to education. Simply because learning is something I do to / for myself. Education is what people do to me – at school, at university, seminars.

Learning means understanding and being able to apply what you’ve learned in practice. Learning means to be able to evaluate and ask questions. It means to admit what you don’t know and that you are open for new experiences without any (company) filter. The more your employees learn, the better they can contribute to the common cause.

So, every company should support its employees to become learners. In an ever-changing world learning this is the possibility to survive well.

And companies need to be aware that learning is a very individual thing. Every employee learns differently, requires different time, tools, and methods. Instead of judging what the employee knows NOW, companies should focus on the employee’s potential. What can the employee be tomorrow?

ME and WE

Choose and empower those employees (MEs), who create the best for the company (WE).

Those employees are not always the ones with the best exams or certificates. Very often these are the employees who fit best to the culture of a company. Skills everyone can acquire certain skills, to change an employee’s values and thinking is much harder.

This is a huge challenge for HR departments; they need to completely rethink how they select AND evaluate their employees.

What has all this to do with data-driven strategies?

This is the first blogpost of a series for Datentreiber’s 10th anniversary in which we explain our guiding principles in their purest form.

In the following months we will follow up with very specific data use cases. We will explain what it means to “translate” and apply these principles in action and how Datentreiber new philosophy “train. think. transform.” manifests in data-driven solutions.

So please stay tuned!

About the author

Guest author Ulrike Reinhard

Heartfelt thanks Ulrike for sharing this preview into Datentreiber’s new philosophy “train. think. transform.”. The alignment of these principles with our philosophy is truly a match. We are very pleased that you are contributing the celebrations of our 10th anniversary.

Beyond professional collaborations on Ulrike’s social projects, her personal connection with Martin Szugat and Datentreiber spans a significant period.

Peter Kruse on Ulrike Reinhard

There are some people whose lives followed the logic of dynamic networks long before the internet appeared on the scene. In my time I’ve met a handful of individuals who were digital natives in a much more radical sense than their date of birth might lead you to suppose.

Ulrike Reinhard is one of them. She has the genius to be able to think and act in terms of interaction. In conversation with her, it’s easy to be carried away by her enthusiasm for open processes. Ulrike Reinhard is a catalyst for collective intelligence and network nodes, an enabler who forges direct links that bring people together. She’s a virtuoso across the whole repertoire of modern technologies, but she would still be adding more reality to the We in this world if she had to use smoke signals and pigeon post to do so. Ulrike Reinhard is an impassioned explorer of frontiers with an astonishing faith in her ability to find her way even in new and uncharted territory.  She seldom follows a steady straight line but always shows an unflappable sense of direction. Like the path she’s carved through life, Ulrike Reinhard is never boring and always good for a few surprises!

Further reading

Valve’s Handbook for New Employees: A fearless adventure in knowing what to do when no one’s there telling you what to do.


Joi Ito’s Nine Principles of the Media Lab

(Link: on YouTube)

Kate Raworth: Economic growth within the planetary boundaries

(Link on YouTube)

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