Timothy, Paul and Data Science

7 May

Like any other atheist who regularly attends an evangelical church, I often find myself wondering how to apply the sermon to my life. A recent example which seemed a little easier than other occasions was a sermon from a guest preacher on succession planning.

Part of the point for this preacher is that he’s a kind of mentor for a number of churches, so he traipses around Australia advising other pastors how to do things better – and also sees them failing, often for predictable reasons. Hence, when he spoke about succession, he was talking from experience.

Of course, succession planning isn’t specifically about churches. The phrase is more commonly heard in corporate settings. His solution to the problem – in the end a call to spread the Gospel, not all that surprisingly from an evangelical preacher – initially seemed one that had no application to the corporate world, but after a little reflection actually seemed very applicable.

By the pastor’s logic, the gospel was effectively the knowledge needed to participate in his religion. So, by extension, succession planning was about the transfer of knowledge. In a way, this is not a revolutionary idea – of course succession planning is about the transfer of knowledge of a working environment, customers, skills to get a job done.

But the emphasis is so often on the leader of an organisation and (too often, in both senses) his immediate reports. Hence the emphasis is on the knowledge that they will bring into the company, the skills in running a business they learnt elsewhere that they will aply to your company. It’s like judging future converts for the abilities they bring to a church from outside – their ability to speak in public, to be great fund raisers – rather than the pastor’s idea of succession planning through

The alternative is succession planning starting from the ground up – making succession planning being with the people make your product or provide your service, and the people who secure your customers. In a very real way they are your business. Certainly, in my own career in manufacturing, I’ve seen the results of failing to ensure knowledge is transferred from people who make the product to others. In short, when they retire, there are delays and defects as people attempt to re-discover the skills.

The previous blog post was about one way that skills can be transferred – the knowledge of a process can be converted into a computer program, with sensible commenting and documentation. Not a solution in itself, not the only alternative, but an extra tool that can be employed. From this perspective, the sermon was another way of seeing the big picture way that that tool can be employed in a Data Science setting.

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