Information Overload

On the eMarketer site I found this interesting article about generating, digesting, judging and coping with information. Lots has been written about this topic, under the title 'Information overload' (or 'cognitive overload'). They also give some interesting statistics.
I want to comment on some parts of the article. It states:

"Like it or not, marketers today are on a constantly accelerating treadmill where they need to get data faster, make decisions faster, execute faster, measure faster and even make mistakes faster. Particularly in digital marketing, the game is not won by endlessly debating what might work, but rather constantly iterating within the marketplace," said Mr. Ramsey.

It is more important than ever to get the right data, quickly. Yet it is more challenging as well. The information-gathering process at most businesses is neither efficient nor effective, according to a survey of more than 1,000 middle managers in the US and the UK conducted by Accenture.

More than half of the respondents said that having to go to numerous sources to compile information made managing the information difficult. In addition, four in 10 said they accidentally use the wrong information at least once a week.

I think this is interesting stuff. As the article focuses on marketing, we all know this problem is not limited to marketing. All 'knowledge workers' have to do with this problem.

But, as you often find, this article simply stresses the problem. The real issue is: what are we going to do with this knowledge? How do we help ourselves and our colleagues to address these issues? There was a time that a separate department would help us solve this problem, the Information Management department (or what ever it is called at your company). And most companies still have such a department. This department is specialized in going through large amounts of information and filtering out just the stuff you need. And in many companies these employees are still valued. At university and college we all also learned to cope with lots of information. We had to be able to do this to pass our exams and write our thesis. But now were at work and sorting through and judging information often doesn't seem to be our core task. We got work to do...!

And of course, along came the Internet. All the information we want at our fingertips! And implicitly we conclude that we can now do our own information sorting, gathering, etc. But is this really true? Of course, I also think the Internet is a wonderful resource. I couldn't do without it. But even with all the nice supporting technologies as retrieval, RSS, Alerting, Filtering, Yahoo! Pipes, etc. it doesn't imply that we cope with information in a better way. These tools don't really help us make judgments and decisions. Although this is the central task for knowledge workers, skilling ourselves in that area doesn't not seem to be a high priority.

And lots of the time solutions can also be found in very practical directions. Awareness training for instance, addressing these issues during team and project meetings, etc. In this context I simply want to point to interesting research (and practical results!) the Metis project came up with to help 'knowledge workers' cope with information.



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