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(Too Much) Information Can Be Dangerous, Period


NextStage: Predictive Intelligence, Persuasion Engineering, Interactive Analytics and Behavioral Metrics (I want to skip the boring stuff, Joseph. Just send me to the nitty-gritty.)

I read Dr. Lent’s Information Can Be Dangerous to Healthy Decisions and smiled. His opening line, “Information is generally viewed as a good thing” comes from a worldview where…where…well, I’m not really sure where. I know he and I come from different disciplines and sometimes our conversations hearken back to the microbiologist and the anthropologist having lunch; The microbiologist calmly checks her watch and states, “I have to get back and destroy a culture”, the anthropologist goes into shock.

Based on what Dr. Lent writes, I understand his worldview. I also appreciate his examples from neuroscience researchers. I’ve written about how people deal with information (and how it affects them socially and personally) in several places (see link list below. I was writing about this stuff back in 2007. I’ve either got to learn to hold things several years or grow more comfortable being years ahead of the crowd. Which would you prefer?). In addition, I’ve written several scientific papers on Shannonistic, Semantic and Semiotic Information Mechanics and quite a few whitepapers that use these disciplines in a business paradigm (again, see the list below. We’ve been at this for a while now).

When Information Overload Gets Personal

A fellow I’ve known for several years wanted a personal training from me on NextStage’s PersonaScope Tool. I suggested a group, webinar style training and this fellow again requested a personal training so we could go over how to use NextStage’s PersonaScope directly in his business. I don’t usually give personal trainings and as NextStage bills for my time, I had to make some decisions about how such a training should occur. After a little internal haggling, NextStage came up with a solution — a deep discount for my time and the price of the tool’s use. I sent this suggestion off.

What I got back was terse and hurtful. This isn’t my opinion, we have tools that determine such things from a neutral standpoint (maybe you’ve heard of them?) and the tools indicated this fellow wasn’t being pleasant in his response.

But these same tools also indicated this fellow was harried, hurried, distracted, frazzled, frustrated, … all symptoms of information overload.

In short, this fellow wasn’t responding to my offer per se, he was responding to everything going on around him and I got in the way. There was more information coming at him (lots more than my email) than he could comfortably integrate and it got dangerous (he lashed out).

A very similar thing happened when I asked someone to be a commentator on NextStage’s Politics2012 Blog. The response was out of synch (not to mention out of proportion) to the request. We talked, this person admitted there were other, unrelated things going on, and I offered “We respond in the moment with a lifetime of experience.”

What Dr. Lent said

Dr. Lent makes three suggestions in the Healthy Information for Decision-Making section of his post. They’re excellent suggestions and I’ll spin them a bit to make them applicable to individuals instead of groups.

1) Invite your own, internal, diverse group of stakeholders to take part in your decision. In other words, slow down, take time to consider your response, and look at it from all sides, not just your own. In the end, your side should rule and your “side” will be a demonstration of the kind of person you are, so be aware (NextStage has a set of Principles that help us make decisions as individuals and as a company. Feel free to use them or not as you require).

2) Only consider the information that’s relevant to the decision being made. I know of several people who play chess in their minds when dealing with others. They literally go through a “I’ll do this then they’ll do that then I’ll do this then they’ll do that then…” for days and weeks prior to making a decision. I believe there’s a problem when one’s life gets that complicated. Any information that’s not relevant to the decision at hand is a distraction.

Now, careful readers may note that suggestions 1 and 2 could be in conflict. At first, yes, I’m sure.

So Practice!

3) The more important a decision, the more time you should give yourself to make it. You’ll notice that this suggestion is both the result and the cause of suggestions 1 and 2. Eventually decisions that were incredibly difficult to make become instantaneous. People are amazed at your ability to reach conclusions both rapidly and accurately.

What they won’t notice is that you’ve probably been analyzing things long before they became aware a decision was necessary.

And again, this comes with practice(!).

If nothing else, making these suggestions part of your life’s practice might save you from sending potentially embarrassing if not destructive emails.

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