Today, I am going to do something a little different with my blog and share with you a problem I am struggling with that I don’t have a complete answer for. The problem is information overload – not just personally, but also for my organization; maybe you're having the same problem.
We as business professionals have more tools than ever before to help us send and receive information. On the receiving end, we get e-mail, instant messages, telephone calls, pointers to the Web, applications, podcasts, blackberry messages, text messages, paper documents, CDs, DVDs, books, magazines, and so on and so on.
Multiply the above by the number of individuals in your organization who might be sending you any of these communications, and the sheer volume of material is astounding. How do we deal with it, make sense of it, and most importantly, manage it?
A quick look on the Web and you will find dozens upon dozens of "solutions" to this problem in the form of collaboration tools, knowledge management tools, whiteboards, Sharepoint, groupware, Web conferencing, change management, document management, and more.
In and of themselves, each of these tools can be as much a contributor to the problem as they are a solution. There is no magic bullet. The reason there is no magic bullet is that each organization is unique, as well as each individual, in the way they work or prefer to work.
Because of this uniqueness, what works for one organization or even a set of individuals within an organization, may not work for others. On top of that, even when people are clearly drowning in information, they are often reluctant to change to a "new way of doing things."
Therefore, we end up with a difficult problem about which everyone has an opinion. The problem begs for multiple approaches, is not necessarily cheap to solve, and the solution probably will not satisfy everyone.
So where do we start? I think the most important place to start is the same place that therapists tell their patients to start – by admitting you have a problem in the first place.
This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Management may not be too keen on admitting that a problem exists despite the fact that you can go into most organizations and document hundreds if not thousands of hours of lost productivity due to information overload.
I often cite that organizations have difficulty in communicating, and in fact, by making that statement, I am not communicating well myself. As you know, organizations generate a great deal of information that gets disseminated among individuals – but is it truly effective communication?
If so, why does it seem that important information always seems to fail to reach the necessary individuals, or if it does get to them, it gets lost among all the other noise?"
Is it possible to communicate too much? Can you have too much information?
The answers you just gave yourself to those questions may very well be different than mine, but I think the answers are yes and yes.
I believe that all the tools we have allow us - or delude us - into thinking that the volume of communication is what is important and not the quality. And perhaps if we spent more time thinking about what we are communicating and to whom, we might become better at it and communicate more efficiently.
But even coming to that understanding is not enough. The sheer volume of "good" communication is still vast and overwhelming. There has to be a plan to manage information in order to make more effective and efficient use of our precious time.
The plan is the tough part. Most people are too "busy" doing their jobs to take time to think about how they work and communicate. But without buy-in and participation, any solution you can provide is not going to be well received
Yet, I know I have to do something, because I can envision the untapped potential of workers who are less encumbered by a crushing volume of information and are free mentally to concentrate on what is important.
I also know that the solution tools I mentioned above are potentially part of the problem. And that is the crux of the issue. Merely implementing more tools will not solve anything. I need to create a paradigm shift in my organization. The American Heritage Dictionary defines paradigm as: “A set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality for the community that shares them, especially in an intellectual discipline.”
Therefore I need not only to establish acknowledgement of the problem, but I also need to effect a shift in thinking about how we manage our information and communication. I have started down the road regarding the first part – acknowledgement of the problem.
Tackling the second part is going to be an interesting challenge. I’ll bring you along for the ride and share my insights with you. But I know it is going to be a long and slow one given my circumstances. But then again, you never know – life has a way of handing you unexpected opportunities. So stay tuned and share your thoughts and experiences with me too!