The Growth of Privacy; Day 15 -Learning from the Older Kids

FEBRUARY 18, 2020

I was the oldest in my family growing up.

This always felt like a huge disadvantage.  There was no-one older to show you how to do things.

Sure, I had parents, but that’s not the same.  And there were older cousins, but they lived far away and glimpses into their, what seemed far more interesting lives were only occasional.

I was always envious of the classmates and contemporaries who had older siblings, they seemed to have an unfair advantage.  When it came to school, they seemed more familiar with things before we ever encountered them. They’d heard what to expect.

As a result, I was always a little in awe of those who were older and more experienced.  They seemed to know what to do and how to do it effortlessly; ordinary things that no one ever sat down and told you: “this is how this works”.

Looking back now these older guys that I looked up to were, in primary school to start with at least, under 12.  And later in secondary school, they would have been second-years upwards.  As I am now well aware of the general and collective cluelessness of these children, the fact that I thought these older kids knew it all seems hilarious.

But this view of the world that started from the age of four has continued with me all the way up.  As I went into my professional career, I found myself as a young apprentice and newly qualified solicitor a little in awe of those ahead of me. 

Particularly when it came to the ordinary things that they again seemed to do effortlessly.  No one ever told you how to handle an important conversation, or a meeting or a presentation.  I could follow the technical procedures and instructions that I had been provided very well, but when it came to the ordinary human interactions that surrounded all of that, particularly when the context was adversarial and you were playing for keeps, I was terrified. 

I mean, what were you supposed to say?  Which actual words were you supposed to use and in what order?  Surely there must be a manual on this, it can’t have all been left to chance.

But it seemed that it was.  You just had to learn as you went along, it was this thing called experience.  The thing you couldn’t get until you’d done the job, but that you needed in the first place to get the job done.

Where this was particularly acute as far as I was concerned was around the dreaded area of “business development”.  I mean how were you actually supposed to just get new work in?  There seemed a constant pressure to deliver on this but no clear guidance on how on earth you might go about it.

Again some seemed just better at this than others, whether they were natural or lucky or whatever; I could never say.

And for a very long time, I could not see what was going on.  Until again, later, years of experience and observation told me that many, indeed most, didn’t have clue to start with either, they just did what they saw others do and made it up as they went along.  Some had a genuine talent for it, others were just willing to practice and persevere. 

But the common theme was that no one had a clue about any of this to start with and very few are ever given any useful guidance; those who develop effective soft skills in professions tend to guard them jealously as trade secrets that give them their edge. 

Those who get good do so despite rather than because of what they are shown by others.

And so it is that often in business and in professions is the blind leading the blind, each trying to see what the one ahead is doing and then following that as closely as possible.

But most of us never stop to ask if the fundamental approach that we are taking is the right one in the first place. 

To question the merits of our entire mindset to start with.

When it comes to how we use data in business I grew up in a world where it was always important and the counsel of prudence to have as much of it as possible.  Always keep a copy.  Make sure it’s backed up; have a duplicate.  Better safe than sorry.

But data has changed, or at least what should be our understanding of the nature of personal data and our rights and duties in respect of it has changed fundamentally. 

That data that we always felt it was safer to have rather than not may actually represent a serious liability; should we be holding it at all? 

In fact, an excellent analogy for managing data is that it is like toxic waste. 

It is something that we really shouldn’t want to hold onto any more of than we absolutely need to and then for the right reasons.  And of course, we need to ensure that while we do remain responsible for it, we don’t allow our management of it to cause any harm to anyone else.

Author

flor mccarthy

Flor McCarthy is one of Ireland’s leading lawyers and a recognised expert in marketing. He has particular expertise and hands-on practical experience in privacy, data protection and GDPR issues for marketers. He is certified by the Law Society of Ireland in Data Protection Practice and lectures lawyers on data protection practice and compliance. He is managing partner of a multi-award-winning niche legal practice. He has been in private practice for over 20 years and has been elected by his peers to sit on the exclusive Council of the Law Society of Ireland, the governing body for Irish lawyers.

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