Thursday, 27 December 2007

Information overload - Is this the real problem?

Information Overload Predicted Problem of the Year for 2008 ... So reads one of yesterday's headlines.

Apparently, for 2008 the US-based advisor to knowledge economy decision makers, Basex Inc. have deviated from their normal practice of announcing a Product of the Year or Person of the Year to forecasting a Problem of the Year.

This problem is not new, but Basex's chief analyst Jonathan Spira says that it has grown as the technology we use increases our expectations for an instantaneous response to our request.

I believe that same expectation exists for instantaneous solutions to our problems.

Two causes of this overload are:

  1. Copying someone in on an e-mail or hitting the reply to all button
  2. The availability of more information to sift through for the correct answer (whether in an old e-mail or via a search engine)

These have resulted in more information and requests, more interruptions, more time wasted looking for the right information or answers, and perhaps most significantly, today's workers being much less productive. Spira indicates that workers get disorientated every time they stop what they are doing to reply to an e-mail or answer a follow-up phone call because they didn't reply within minutes, and estimating that they then spend 10 to 20 times the length of the original interruption trying to get back on track.

To put all this in context, it is estimated that such disruptions cost the U.S. economy alone, $650 billion in 2006.

Spira comments, "It's always too much of a good thing." None of these technologies we use are in themselves a bad thing ... it's just when they are used to excess. I worked in an office which was perhaps 20 yards long, contained only 25 staff and yet people in that office (who could see each other) often sent e-mails in preference to getting-up and talking to someone. Perhaps our lawyers have had too much influence with their 'Get it in writing' slogan or perhaps people are too afraid to make mistakes to cover their back.

So, is the issue really just one of too much information? Perhaps the problem is also a reflection of our corporate cultures and structures. In our thrust to please the shareholders we want instant response, instant results ... and instant show for our labours.

However, if we take a step back, we know that this is impossible!

I remember being taught in the early 90s that it is impossible to take anything less than a 3 or 6 month cycle in order to make a reasonable prediction of performance e.g., sales. Long-term planning (3, 5, 10 years) was the foundation of any successful business. Yet, only 10 years later we are predicting performance on a monthly basis or even less. The underlying noise and fluctuation is seemingly ignored ... sales increase in January and we're doing well; they decrease in February and it's someone's fault.

The development of ideas, development of products, development of our work cultures, the development of most things takes time and thought.

I would challenge us that the very thing we need for success, creativity, has been squeezed out of our businesses in return for short-term gain. We all want creativity, but rarely know what we're looking for, or how to implement or cultivate it within our business. Creativity needs space for experimentation, play, mistakes and improvements. It requires interaction between departments and people of different skill sets. Many of our company cultures pay lip service to 'allowing mistakes' but we all know the reality ... a blame culture.

Whilst this mentality persists, whilst we continue to stifle creativity, our businesses will continue to struggle, continue to lose sense of identity, continue to lose sense of direction, and most significantly, continue to lose our lifeblood, our best staff.

So, in order to counter the impact of this information overload, we need structures in place that provide effective support for staff, allowing them to develop and to do their job efficiently whilst reducing unnecessary interruption. We need to give them space to experiment and encouragement to take risks and then support them if these don't work out. And we need to allow them the time to do this.

Too much information and no structure to manage the problem has potentially catastrophic consequences for our businesses if we don't take steps to combat this cancer of the 21st century. We may resist the urge to immediately follow up an e-mail with an instant message or phone call, we may make sure the subject line clearly reflects the topic and urgency of an e-mail and we may avoid copying in more than necessary or using the reply to all button, but the problem is larger than just the amount of information out there ... The amount of information available will only continue to increase.

How we handle that increase within our businesses is a key to success or failure.

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Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Whatever happened to the dreamers?

So echoes the chorus of one of the most haunting songs of 2006. Jack Savoretti sings of dreams lost, the decline of true visionaries ... and the hole that leaves in our world.

For many of us, our dreaming was snuffed-out at school or in education...

'Stop dreaming boy!'

'If you don't stop dreaming and get on with your work you'll be no-one; get nowhere!'

'Get real!'

'What good is it if I can't touch it?'

'In your dreams!'

And yet, more recent discoveries show the important of dreaming in our creativity ... and it also shows the paucity and severe crisis in business because the creatives just aren't there any longer. Intelligence isn't just about answering questions that are posed ... sometimes it's about looking beyond those questions to the root of the problem, making connections that weren't otherwise there, being creative, dreaming a little, from which the true life-changing solutions arise.

A good friend with whom I worked for a number of years had come into the Pharmaceutical Industry from being a professional dancer and lighting engineer: one of the rare people who worked both sides of the stage. Her ideas flowed like water and it wasn't long before she'd established links with doctors that had previously been unreachable. Sales started to increase BUT this wasn't the way our company worked! She was told to stick to our tried and tested methods. Eventually she left and started working for another company who allowed her to use her dreaming and creativity ... and surprise, surprise ... she's been the top sales representative consistently throughout 2007.

Suppressing dreams is not only fatal to our own development and fulfilment, it is also death to our business and industry.

Innocent drinks works with an underlying ethos that encourages creativity and dreaming in all departments ... and celebrates when those dreams result in success. In just 8 years the company has grown from a 3 man outfit selling drinks from a stall at a small music festival into a business with an annual turnover of more than £76 million pounds. Try telling them that dreaming doesn't work or isn't reality.

Thankfully, there is a re-converging of the arts and the sciences ... a broadening of the definition of intelligence, a broadening of co-operative projects where both fields benefit.

And what is the source of this Renaissance?

A resurrection of the dreamers!

I often wonder what would have happened if I'd followed my inclinations to dream. What would have been the impact on me, my family, my friends, my business, my self-perception, my insecurity .. my life.

Never give-up dreaming. Dream against the odds. Bring about change. Challenge the boundaries and see the changes!

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Monday, 24 December 2007

Happy Christmas - Take a break & recharge!

Today is Christmas Eve ...

I love this time of year because I try to take time to rest, relax and recharge. It's very easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle, the adverts and marketing which tell us that in order to be happy we must have this or that product ... until we feel that we're on a carousel and we can't jump off.

So, why not find somewhere quiet and amongst the joy, partying and celebrating take some well-earned rest and recovery!

Wishing you all a very Happy Christmas & Peaceful New Year.

... and if you like poetry, here's something I wrote about the first Christmas ...


A back street stable in a crowded town.
Anguished screams; an occasional moan
Go unheard in the noise of a night
Of hustle and bustle, and rooms packed tight
With people, so busy and unaware
That a virgin's sweat means God is here.

No warm, cosy glow; only candle-lit straw.
A manger and oxen and filth on the floor.
No sweet smelling incense or soft comfy chair,
But cold stone walls; acrid smells in the air;
And the breath of animals to supply the heat,
In this hole in the rock on an unnamed street.

But God's not ignored the place that He's chosen
To visit as a baby, when the night air's frozen.
He treats some shepherds, the lowest of the low,
To front seat tickets at the greatest light show;
And singing and music like they've never heard before,
Which leaves them face down, shaking on the floor.

"Get up! Rejoice! For your king is here!
Run to the town and worship Him there.
Not in the palace so lofty and tall,
But lying in a stable, accessible to all.
So go! Take gifts and sing and feast,
For the mightiest God, has come down for the least."

And in palaces and castles hundreds of miles away,
A country's elite, at the end of the day
Study changes in the stars and heavens which bring
News, that on earth is born a king.
A king so great that creation bows down,
And brings its own offering, unseen in the town.

Their journey is long and filled with pain,
Across scorching deserts and rugged terrain.
As days turn to months and months to years;
Following the bright star whenever it appears.
Then rejoicing and thanks when at last they find
A small boy, just walking; the Lord of mankind.

With regal bows and language unknown,
They offer their gifts to Mary's son.
Gold, incense and myrrh; "What can I believe?"
His mother wonders as the visitors leave
To journey back east, their hearts on fire.
They've seen and worshipped the true Messiah.

And as years roll on by and the crowd's anger grows,
In reaction to this radical who constantly shows
That God has no favourites; our rules don't apply
To the values of heaven. "Crucify!" they now cry,
So He's crowned and beaten and then nailed to a tree;
This King, Priest and Sacrifice; thorns and straw set us free.

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Wednesday, 12 December 2007

The Ken Robinson talk that made a difference

Today, I have a video for you. It lasts 19 minutes so get a coffee ... sit down .. relax ... watch ... and enjoy.

Probably one of the most encouraging and challenging talks I have seen in recent years.

If the video doesn't start use the following link (the video will open in a new window which you can close, using the 'Close Window' button after viewing) Watch Ken Robinson Talk

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Monday, 10 December 2007

How relevant are our emotions in our outlook & learning?

I was reading a book today and came across a quote from psychologist Daniel Goleman, which seems to sum up pretty well where we currently find ourselves in education, business and society.

Here are some of his thoughts:

'These are times when the fabric of society seems to unravel at ever greater speed, where selfishness, violence and a meanness of spirit seem to be rotting the goodness of our communal lives ... Those who are at the mercy of impulse - who lack self-control - suffer a moral deficiency. The ability to control impulse is the basis of will and character. By the same token, the root of altruism lies in empathy, the ability to read emotions in others; lacking a sense of another's need or despair, there is no caring. And if there are any two moral stances that our times call for, they are precisely these, self-restraint and compassion ... When it comes to shaping our decisions and our actions, feeling counts every bit as much, and often more, than thought; we have gone too far in emphasising the value of the purely rational, of what IQ measures, in human life.'

Goleman points at the changes needed to bring about a revision and resurgence of individual and community values and creativity. Stimulation and development of only one area of our personality quashes the full potential of us as people (individuals and in our communities).

Only when each of us we are able to redress the balance and open up ourselves to facets of our lives that have lain dormant or remained underdeveloped/undeveloped can we begin to release our true potential and creativity. Then, our crisis in the business and indeed world arena may begin to be challenged and effectively reversed. Until next time ...

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Thursday, 6 December 2007

The creative paradox

For decades we have been educating and training people to be academics. Those who succeed take the highest places of honour, those who don't ... well, we'd rather not talk about them.

But who are the REAL losers in these systems. I think the short answer is ... everyone!

We focus on training people to become thinkers, but at the same time deprive them of a key aspect of their intellectual capacity ... creativity.

Creativity isn't just something done by a small subset of people, locked away in a special 'creative room' that most of us never see. True creativity is something in which everyone of us can engage and comes when we apply all of our intellectual faculties ... reasoning, emotions, feelings ... when we allow our whole brain in on the party.

Think about an athlete preparing for a key race. We wouldn't expect them to exercise only one leg and one arm. We may laugh at the idea, but our traditional education systems do exactly that with our brain ... one part thrives and the other part atrophies.

And worse still, what if our brain doesn't connect with these logical, deductive learning processes? In two words: we struggle. Worse still, we become convinced of our own failure because we don't hit the academic standards (which after all are only set against one dimension of criteria).

There are many amazingly creative people who fall by the wayside because they are never allowed to achieve their full potential. Even the so-called 'academic successes' fail, as critical areas of personal development involving the emotions, interactive skills and basic team player skills have been squeezed through the academic mangle and been left behind.

Business cries out for creative people but is rarely in a position to get any: it doesn't really know how to recognise and test for creative people within its own walls and the end-products of university or college education rarely have the necessary skills or abilities.

It's a sobering thought ... one I will be looking at further. But what do you think?

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