How to Win the Information War


As you know, we have two boys. From time to time – like all children – one of them will be spectacularly sick. Occasionally this happens when I’m in charge. And being a typical man, I need to give my wife a graphic description when she comes home, so she’s in doubt as to how hard I’ve had to work…

“Blimey, Dav, it was spectacular. And I’m pretty sure there were carrots in there…”

At this point she holds her hand up to stop me. “Ed,” she says, “Too much information.”

Too much information…Right now, that’s how I feel when I look at my laptop. Because in the bottom right hand corner I have a word document, ominously called “To read.” And in that folder are all the articles – well, links to all the articles – that I really should read.

In the olden days, it was simple. Everything you needed to read came through on a piece of paper – and all you had to do was wait for a train journey. Then, instead of getting frustrated while you were parked in a siding at Newark, you could plough through your ‘to read’ pile. And by the time you reached Peterborough you’d have it all ripped in half and filed away in the British Rail rubbish bin. Then you could turn your attention to the spectacularly dull magazine (Livewire?) that BR fondly imagined was adequate compensation for missing your meeting.

But not these days. Everything arrives electronically – and relentlessly. And with technology and social media changing so quickly it seems there’s more and more that I feel I need to read. So I have my word document – and when I see something that I think I should look at, I write a one-line description, then copy and paste the link.

Clearly, this situation is not going to improve: in fact with the relentless growth of webinars-that-I-think-I-should-watch, it’s going to get a lot worse. So what can we do about it? Here are my tips for coping with TMIS (Too Much Information Syndrome) – but please, I can’t be the only one suffering from this newly diagnosed condition. Let me know your ideas – because TMIS isn’t going away…

  • Use your mobile phone. OK, this possibly qualifies me as The Saddest Man in North Yorkshire, but if I’m early for an appointment, I can access the dreaded word doc on my phone, click the links and read a couple of the articles in say, ten minutes. Which I’d otherwise spend doing nothing much at all.

 

  • Set some time aside. Easier said than done when you’ve a family, but I do try and grab an hour on Monday evening to plough through the virtual pile.

 

  • Be ruthless. As any competent time-management guru will tell you, if you haven’t done it inside two weeks the chances are that you’re not going to do it. So if you do keep a list of virtual links, delete anything that’s more than a fortnight old. It’ll come round again – or it’ll be overtaken by some even newer technology.

 

  • Rely on a single source. Limit yourself to reading a site like www.mashable.com and rely on them to make the choice for you.

 

  • Not quite cutting-edge tech (and slightly off-topic), but if you really like reading business books but simply can’t find the time, try a site like www.summaries.com – 8 page summaries of the best business books with a new one added each week. A year’s subscription is $100, which at the current exchange rate is just over £1 a week.

 

As I say, those are my suggestions – but they’re not foolproof (my word doc keeps growing) so I’d love to hear what you do…

But finally, ladies and gentlemen, a bizarre case of life-imitating-art. First of all, thank you to everyone who responded to last week’s April Fool blog (and yes, most of you saw through it.) BUT it appears that there are grants available for mentoring – from the EU, no less. Oh ye of little faith – looks like it’ll be just Rich and me on the tennis court in Marbella. Your serve, fella…

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9 comments

  1. Edward Roberts · April 8, 2011

    Hi Ed,

    You make some interesting points on winning the information war on external data sources. Probably more critical to many SMEs is wining the internal war; how to manage the business critical information & facts without it being the usual, constant bombardment of disjointed spreadsheets, powerpoint presentations etc.

    How do we take a huge list of customer names and addresses to create a targeted marketing resource; how do we take the P&L from last year and truly understand the areas of our business, which drive the profit and therefore those on which we should really focus (without locking our management team away in a room for a week and a half), etc. The only real way to win that war, is to create a system which integrates and makes sense of all the different data sources floating round businesses; accounts, inventory sheets, customer lists, market information, etc. to make it easy to access, easy to use and quickly turns it into actionable information. If only there was some help with that….

    Ed Roberts
    Commercial Director,
    Talysis Ltd “specialising in helping organisations make better use of data”

    • edreidyork · April 8, 2011

      Hi Ed – if I didn’t know you were as good as you are at doing this kind of stuff, I’d be chastising you for some outrageously blatant marketing. As it is, all I can do is doff my cap and enjoy your commercial spirit!

  2. rich cadden · April 8, 2011

    There is an nlp technique called ‘the hierarchy of ideas’ where an idea or concept moves through various levels of detail. So an example of this is ‘how did you get to work this morning?’ And the answer can come from the highest level:-

    – transportation
    – car
    – aston martin
    – db9s
    – on cream leather seats!

    Notice how this gets more detailled as we drop down the levels of abstraction.
    To use this we have to know what level of detail we require to make a decision.
    In the digital age information will still be there even if you delete it. Don’t sweat the small stuff and do what you can!

  3. Jason Feavers · April 8, 2011

    Great article. I think the digital age provides far greater opportunities for getting information out there, and we just have to be more effective in our delivery to make sure people will want to digest the information. Keeping it relevant and interesting is something you do very well with your blog posts. I ignore most of the links to blogposts I receive, but because I know that your blogs are always relevant (and reasonably short) I look forward to reading them. Also, other channels can make it so much easier for people to take in the information. So easy now to put an article into a podcast which can then be stored on MP3 player and listened to whenever.

    Because there’s so much information out there, I filter what I read, watch and listen to more by loyalty to presenters and writers who I know are going to deliver.

    • edreidyork · April 8, 2011

      Hi Jason – nice to hear from you, and thanks for your kind comments. I must say I agree with flitering by “loyalty” to the source – something I definitely do. I suppose it’s another type of brand loyalty.

  4. Simon Starr · April 8, 2011

    I swear by Read it Later for this kind of thing. I have a shortcut in all my browsers so if I see a link to an article and decide I don’t have time to read it, I just click the shortcut, close the tab and forget about it. When I have some spare time in the evening or on the train, I load the Read it Later app on my iPhone or iPad and all the articles are there waiting for me.

    As well as this works, it’s still only a cure for the symptoms rather than the underlying problem. I have some notes on an idea for an intelligent news aggregator which would aim to solve this by grouping articles by topic (like Techmeme) and then rating their importance (based on the number of tweets, links, comments, ‘likes’ etc.). It’s quite a difficult problem to solve from a technical point of view though so I don’t think I’ll be launching it any time soon!

  5. Andy Gambles · April 8, 2011

    Take a look at Evernote (https://www.evernote.com) a wonderful system you can use to collate snippets of ideas, links, articles, future blog post ideas.

    Not to be too bold but for handling your email read my “Managing your Inbox” article
    http://blog.aguk.net/managing-your-inbox

    • edreidyork · April 11, 2011

      Hi Andy – just checked out Evernote – looks good. I’ve downloaded, so we’ll see how we go. Thanks also for sharing your Inbox article

      • Andy Gambles · April 11, 2011

        The “web clipper” is an excellent tool in Evernote as a way of storing useful articles which you can then access elsewhere such as on your mobile. It can take some time to get the hang of it.

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