Davenport’s Law of Common Information

Dateline: January 23, 2015

Welcome to our Friday WRAP – one thought-provoking idea to think about over the weekend.

Big data and analytics are all the rage at the moment.  At the center of many discussions is my friend and colleague, Dr. Tom Davenport.  Recently Tom published a column in the CIO Journal, the Wall Street Journal’s area for all things IT, on the Promise and Perils of Common Information.  Here Tom shares Davenport’s Law of Common Information and several corollaries.  First the Law,

The more an organization knows or cares about a particular business entity, the less likely it is to agree on a common term and meaning for it.

He continues with a discussion about the number of definitions American Airlines has for “airport”, Union Pacific Railroad has for “train”, and The US Department of Justice has for “trial.”  But this Law has a few interesting corollaries,

If you’re not arguing about what constitutes a “customer,” your organization is probably not very passionate about customers.


A manager’s passion for a particular definition of a term will not be quenched by a data model specifying an alternative definition.


Consensus on the meaning of a term throughout an organization is achieved not by data architecture, but by data arguing.

What terms are most debated in your business?  How do you fix the language differences?

That’s a WRAP!  Have a great weekend!


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