As knowledge workers in today’s digital world, we’re constantly bombarded with unstructured information of all types in all formats–emails, news feeds, blogs, research papers, whitepapers, performance reports, market analyses, etc. And information comes at us from all angles, 24/7—from internal organizations, external sources (friendly or otherwise), public websites, and private networks. With the endless barrage, it’s no wonder the term “information overload” has become normalized business parlance in the 21st century.
In an ideal state, too much information would be considered a good thing. Analysts would have abundant data and unparalleled expertise at their fingertips to sift, sort, ingest, massage, and process, thereby creating unique business intelligence and true value for their organizations that improve productivity. But reality tells a different story. The intangible result of information overload is overwhelming chaos in our brains, on our laptops and servers, and by extension, in our larger organizational systems. The basic business result, of course, is lost worker productivity. However, even more, debilitating is the most actionable business insight that’s never created due to the inability to harvest and leverage knowledge quickly.
For decades, business managers and analysts have written seemingly endlessly about the information beast and how it negatively affects worker productivity and corporate results, but a real-world example in a military setting really brings the point home. In a recent Fast Company Digital article entitled “How This Former Navy SEAL Tackles Information Overload – On and Off the Battlefield”, retired Navy SEAL Chris Fussell discusses the critical role of efficient information dissemination in military zones as described in detail in his 2017 book One Mission: How Leaders Build a Team of Teams.
One of Fussell’s key observations from his time on active duty was that as the military sought to become agiler in the field by leveraging abundant information sources, the opposite was happening. A glut of information was available, but it was being disseminated too slowly. As a result, critical strategy changes were implemented slowly. As Fussell described in his book, “The reality, as the battlefield taught us, is that a 20th-century organizational system is simply insufficient for the speed of the information age.”
Unless companies have systems in place to tame the beast by facilitating access, sharing, collaboration, and communication, information does not get converted into knowledge at all. Work silos remain in place, teams become stymied, and critical decisions get put on hold or made based on insufficient information. What should be a potential treasure chest of useful intelligence becomes an unmanageable bottomless pit devoid of tangible value.
Recognizing this is a problem is one step. Finding an appropriate information management partner is the second. Your organization might have the internal framework to tame the beast on its own or it could be wise to bring in an unbiased third party. Regardless of which route you choose, it’s time to get out of the wild and employ effective solutions to overcome information overload. Your employees will thank you and your customers will revere you.