Lord Of The Data Flies

William Golding’s 1954 novel Lord of the Flies is an allegorical work of fiction that tells the story of a group of young boys who find themselves alone on a deserted island. They develop rules and a system of organisation, but without any adults to serve as a ‘civilising’ impulse, the children eventually become violent and brutal. In the context of the novel, the tale of the boys’ descent into chaos suggests that human nature is fundamentally savage.

The novel explores many themes:

  • Order vs. Chaos
  • Individualism vs. Community
  • Civilization vs. Savagery
  • Good vs Evil

So, what lessons can we learn and apply to the dynamics and operations of the modern-day enterprise? After all any collective establishment is built by its constituent organisational components and their interactions with each other.

The need for social order

In the novel, the boys are stranded on an island and so separated from civilisation and they attempt to create their own form of order and government whilst they wait to be rescued. However, whilst they manage to satisfy their immediate physiological needs for air, food, water, shelter etc. without someone to govern and enforce their rules they abandon them. Without social order they eventually succumb and descend to their base instincts and reveal their savagery and descend into chaos.

Lesson: Any collective organisation, or even a single individual, needs to understand it’s vision, goals, and objectives and what course of action, guiding principles, and rules it is going to follow to achieve its ends.

Individualism vs. Community

One of the key concerns of the novel is the role of the individual within an organisation and the balance of self-interest versus benefit to the community. That is, the boys would rather fulfil their individual desires than cooperate as a functioning group which would require that each one act for the good of the group.

Lesson: Successful governance is about getting the balance right between governance and providing agility to deliver on the needs of the organisation. Working for the good of the group requires work and effort without any immediate payback on the effort expended for the individual, and this requires an appreciation of the collective good to realise the benefits of being in the group.

  • Data governance defines how data is accessed and treated within a broader data management strategy.
  • Data management is the implementation of architectures, tools and processes to achieve stated data governance objectives.

Civilisation vs. Savagery

The overarching theme of the novel is the conflict between the human impulse towards savagery and the rules of civilisation which are designed to contain and minimise it. The creation of a civilised society requires authority to establish rules, protect the good of the group, and enforce the moral and ethical codes of the society.

Respect for authority is achieved through the strategic application of knowledge to deliver wisdom. Power cannot be exercised without knowledge: ergo knowledge is power.

Lesson: Data exists everywhere but it is only when the appropriate data collection, classification, architecture, metadata management, quality control methods and integration mechanisms are in place can a data governance framework be implemented:

Good vs. Evil

The central theme of the novel, running from beginning to end, is the question of human nature: are the boys (and thus all humankind) naturally good, evil, or something else entirely? The issue of behaviour is out of bounds for consideration here. However, the use of data can only be considered evil if the user knowingly uses the data for profoundly immoral and wicked intent.

  • Good data – misuse of good data for evil intent.
  • Good data obtained illegally/immorally – data that is obtained illegally or has been obtained through questionable ethics and is used for evil intent.
  • Poor, invalid, incorrect data –it is known that it is bad data and users take actions knowingly based on that with malicious

Lesson: We can’t stop the misuse of data for evil intent entirely but can apply data management and governance best practices, policies, and security to minimise the risks and opportunities for misuse and evil intent.


In the novel, and as often is the case in real life, monsters are created within the mind through ignorance and from fear of the unknown. The boys imagine a monster is terrorising them; to placate the monster, the boys offer a pig’s head that eventually is surrounded by flies, hence the title of the novel.

Instead of fearing data, you too can eliminate your data monster by establishing trust and reliability in your data to advance curiosity and innovative use of your data.

For further information on how tools can be used to:

  • Describe your enterprise architecture: mission, vision, goals, objectives of an organisation and it’s applications and their associated technologies and data. See this link for further information.
  • Create a complete and contextual depiction of the entire metadata landscape: catalog your metadata assets, integration points, business terms and glossaries, business rules and policies. See this link for further information.