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Tips to Manage the Info Overload

It should come as no shock that we now have access to more information than ever before. In just a few clicks we can access an unparalleled volume of data. However, sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. Today, a simple Google search can quickly and easily get out of hand and turn into an overwhelming feat. So in an age where we have access to so much, how do you cope?

In a Harvard Business Review article, Ron Ashkenas, managing partner of Schafer Consulting, offers up some tips on how best to cope with the information avalanche. According to Ashkenas, the “ability to synthesize overwhelming amounts of information isn’t only a challenge in public affairs and politics – it’s also an increasing problem in organizations.” As companies strive to learn more about their customers, they are struggling with coming up with effective techniques to manage all this newly collected data. More importantly, this explosion of information is happing at all levels, in all industries.

The information available, while in theory is great, is actually costing firms valuable time and money. The time it takes to go through, categorize, and analyze all this incoming important data is not only expensive, but also it’s making it difficult for organizations to act. Ashkenas states, “By the time they get an aligned picture of performance, it’s too late to take action.” Let’s illustrate this problem with an example, “Not so long ago, senior leaders received well-scrubbed financial reports and had regular patterns for reviewing performance, plans, strategies, etc… If anything, they didn’t get enough direct data.” Today, managers not only receive the previously mentioned reports, but also a continual stream of emails from the field, tweets from customers, internet-based data about markets and competitors and more…

So how can you manage this data free for all?

Below are five steps that Ashkenas believes can help control the information avalanche, where it flows from:

  1. Trying to absorb everything at once is bad. Focus on only a few important indicators For short-term performance, focus on a few important leading instead of lagging indicators. Mark sure that you select those that give you a basis for taking action.
  2. Opinion vs. data. Remember that different people can observe the same information and interpret it differently. It’s important to separate the two as sometimes you’ll find that results can be based on others’ own (sometimes unconscious) bias or agenda.
  3. Learn from trends and patterns. This means not only looking at indicators over time, but also examining their sources and how they may be changing.
  4. Periodically recheck your sources. Since information flows from everywhere, it’s a good idea to occasionally take some time to map out where data is coming from and what it says. This will help you determine if certain data sources are becoming dominant or just “noisy”; or if other key constituencies are not providing any input.
  5. Use information as a basis for dialogue. Interpreting information requires people with different filters, analytical tools, and perspectives. Take advantage of your team and other resources to sort through the information so that you’ll have a richer foundation for making decisions.

Today’s technology gives us access to more information than ever before. However, more does not necessarily mean better. It’s important to focus on turning that information into a meaningful basis for making decisions.

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