Every business leader I know is overloaded with data these days, with a wealth of new business tools, social media channels, and countless emails and text messages. Yet, ironically, they still feel they are always behind in recognizing the impact and need for change. As a consultant, I often get asked for help in mining all this data and using it for long-term success in their business.
For example, just think of the data generated and captured for every online customer purchase transaction on the Internet. It starts with a browser capturing your shopping search initiatives, to cookies remembering your preferences, your software logging purchase details, to feedback via Yelp and social media data. People like me tell you to use all that data to win over competitors.
The challenge is to thrive on that opportunity, rather than let it drive your stress and costs through the roof. I was happy to see some practical guidance on this issue in a new book, "Thriving on Overload," by Ross Dawson. Mr. Dawson is a world-leading futurist, entrepreneur, and public speaker, who offers five key principles, which I can amplify, for turning information into value:
1. Purpose: thriving requires an understanding of why.
Your first challenge is to decide what information and why it is relevant to your business. I often see businesses madly collecting data without a clear purpose of relevancy, or ability to analyze it. I encourage each of you to simplify and balance your life by focusing only on the data you can use.
Don't let your passion, culture, expertise, or past experience distort what information you need, or why you need it. Success in new ventures does require foundational knowledge, and then consistently keeping abreast of the constant change in today's marketplace.
2. Framing: look for patterns and context to simplify.
Before you start collecting new data, spend some time defining the frameworks and connections you need. Avoid the stress of trying to make sense of random data, and the cost of experts and software to extract value where there is none. I suggest visual frameworks you can create today.
Another approach to framing is to use structured thinking about the future, for sensitizing yourself about what is relevant. Remember that every decision you make is about the future. You can't change the past, so orient your framing around future value elements.
3. Filtering: discarding information beyond your capacity.
We all have limited cognitive capacities, so don't take in more than you can process. Choose only the best media formats for each type of content you choose to engage with, across the range of text, audio, and video. Assess your daily limits for absorption, and use available filtering tools.
A key issue in every leader's filtering is your rules for saying "yes" to requests for time, money, and relationships. If you say yes to too many things, you will inevitably be overwhelmed, and not able to seize the most compelling new information sources.
4. Attention: don't be distracted by irrelevant inputs.
Schedule your thinking and analysis time to avoid interruptions and multitasking. Too many leaders I know think they can process data in the background, while on the phone or tapping into another meeting. The power of full attention is needed for success in processing the current data overload.
In fact, sometimes we need the extra attention of deep-diving for true comprehension, discerning difficult patterns, identifying new connections, or refining the structure of our frameworks. Deep-diving is a state of total immersion. Use it for tough data challenges.
5. Synthesis: connect and integrate disparate concepts.
To truly comprehend the value of multiple data sources, you must stay open to new ideas, and ready to learn new lessons from uncharted territory. I recommend that you supplement your own synthesis with artificial intelligence and mentoring from experts in related disciplines.
Another approach to improving your ability to synthesize disparate information elements is the use of contrarian thinking. Develop this ability by clearly articulating your current view on a specific issue, and then assembling a strong argument for the contrary case.
For every business leader today, managing massive amounts of information without being overwhelmed is a prerequisite for survival and success. The age of information overload is already here, and you can be assured that it will continue to accelerate.
I recommend that you start today to implement the strategies outlined here for your own well-being, as well as mine.