With more and more information being demanded from us for everything, everywhere, everyday and all at once, we still end up with “boiled down” information highlights.

The irony is that while we have so much more detailed information collected, we end up having to communicate in smaller “boiled down” quantities. Details get lost and different people focus on different details because everyone’s brain takes different shortcuts. There are more pieces from more places with more variation due to multiple interpretations.

A Single Source of Data Truth

In theory, having an up to date centralized database would reduce this problem, it doesn’t solve the very real problem of human variability. Humans process information differently.  This is simultaneously frustrating and also very powerful.  Without that variation in perception and processing of the same information there would be very little opportunity for improvement.

Even with a single source of data truth, we are still dependent on systems to convey information. Organizations rely on things like dashboards and alerts to look for signals that show that something might be widely out of range. This is great for easy things, but the big stuff that goes wrong always seems to evade the dashboards. Moreover, we get desensitized to all the information that gets pushed at us.

We get so many automated notices that we build automations to deal with the sheer quantity of notifications. Inevitably information gets buried. The digital volcano spews information at such a rapid pace that it smothers the digital Pompeii.

The way that we cope with all of this data is to construct information funnel(s) in our minds that give us the information that we need to survive in our jobs and our personal lives. The funnels are necessary for survival, but are limiting too. We get what we think that we need. While other information can breakthrough, it is a matter of catching our valuable attention and our minds being open enough to receive it.

Push and Pull

Information systems are both push and pull. In theory, pull systems are great. Get the information that you need when you need it.  But everyone knows the limits of pull systems. You know what you need and when you need it. While this might be a great tool for managing just-in-time inventory in the short run, it kind of blocks out certain externalities that might cause bigger problems. But push systems run the risk of being pure noise.

Organizations dedicate significant resources on implementing and maintaining tools and systems to process information, improve communication and streamline workflow, but rarely do they commit the commensurate resources on improving the quality of communication and information. Forms and templates help standardize the collection and distribution of information, but they aren’t helpful dealing with ambiguity.  And all information contains some degree of uncertainty that fluctuates over time.  

Since information changes over time, what you know and what you think you know is usually incomplete. Being “right” at a moment in time is advantageous, but that advantage doesn’t last. Information ebbs and flows between certainty and uncertainty, so information systems are only accurate up to a point. While that level of accuracy may be sufficient for some activities, it may be completely inappropriate for other activities.

It All Boils Down

Dealing with information is such a multi-faceted problem that most of the time we choose not to really think about all of the implications.

Thinking about information as very dynamic with high variability with communication systems with high variability will help your organization develop less fragile communication and knowledge generation and transmission systems.