Every morning, my smartphone wakes me up. Unconsciously, my fingers tap the keyboard to find their way to Twitter, Facebook, and a couple of other news apps and make sure to scroll over their news feeds, to keep me Updated. Before I have even had the chance to check the weather outside (given that I live in the Midwest, checking the weather is key for a decent survival), my brain has already processed the equivalent of 15 to 20 MB of data.
In his NYTimes article ‘You Love Your iPhone. Literally.’, Martin Lindstrom explains that when experimental subjects were exposed to audio and video of a ringing and vibrating iPhone, the insular cortex of their brain, associated with feelings of love and compassion, was activated. ”The subjects’ brains responded to the sound of their phones as they would respond to the presence or proximity of a girlfriend, boyfriend or family member.”
Great, we love our phones. I mean this study seems intuitive, doesn’t it. Of course we love all those tech tools that we keep on us 24/7. They make life easier, more fun, and somehow boost our ego by keeping us reachable at any time, and in the loop about increasingly democratized voices and opinions. But how can we get the best out of this love? How can we allow this relationship to construct us instead of destroying us and killing our productivity?
It has become super easy and basic to find information, find people, stay connected, and acquire data. With 15 petabytes of data created every day, today’s systems have to correlate, analyze, and take action more than 200 times a second. Our brain is just another system. But in our case, the question is not actually ‘how much can our system process?’; instead, we should ask: ‘how much should our system process?’ Because in all cases, even the smartest of human brains won’t be able to process it all. Let’s take a look at the graph below.
P.S: (The linear curves do not suggest a linear ability of humans to learn. They are just represented graphically to contrast the exponential growth of the amount of data).
The growing gap between our ability to process data and the actual amount of data available makes it look like we’re getting dumber. Actually, we’re not. But think of it as if you were standing in a swimming pool versus standing in the ocean. Your ability to swim is the same; however, in the ocean you are drowning because of all the forces exerted on your body by the huge amount of water around you. This is where we stand today, drowning in information. And we must know how to get back to land safely.
Today, survival is no longer for those who have access to resources, but to the fittest who use them effectively. Today information is just everywhere, but our ability to find the right questions in order to correctly inform our priorities is what will make us stand out, whether at the individual or business level.
In Wall Street (1987), greedy wall st. trader Gordon Gekko tells his protege Bud Fox : “The most valuable commodity I know of is information”. However, Gekko’s greed stopped him from asking the right questions that could anticipate his protege from leading him to prison.
Data does not inform. Data provides numbers and charts. Charts provide information about trends and processes. But only by analyzing this information that we actually get an insight about what we are asking. How many times did we read an article, attend a presentation, or sit in a meeting where the amount of generated data and charts infringed our ability to think because it adds up more complexity to the issue instead of advancing solutions. How many times did we feel that some questions that are being asked around us are just irrelevant. Irrelevant to the topic, to a social issue, to our business strategy- irrelevant to our priorities in general? Wouldn’t it actually be great to head out of a meeting with some practical conclusions in hand? Finish reading a book or an article knowing that the ideas discussed had an added value to our intellectual archive.
Data → Numbers → Graphs → Information/Insight.
In their book, Drinking from the Firehose (2011), authors Frank and Magnone who worked in the IT industry for more than 25 years suggest 7 questions to help businesses align their enterprise systems strategy with their business priorities. Three of these questions are:
1- What is the Essential Business Question?
2- Where is Your Customer’s North Star?
3- The Three W’s: What? So What? Now What? I highly recommend this book.
Social Media platforms have certainly figured that the high volume of shared information has become overwhelming, and nothing indicates that the situation is getting any better. In late 2011, Facebook started aggregating all news feeds that share a common topic (e.g: “15 friends posted about New Year: …“), and all the profiles and pages that share the same post (e.g.: ‘3 friends shared a link: …”). This month, Twitter acquired a Vancouver-based start-up, Summify, that used to send to its users a daily digest of the 5 most relevant news for them, based on their friends’ shares on multiple social media platforms. Twitter users, among others, have their fingers crossed awaiting for the new feature of posts ‘moderation’ or ‘sorting’. The new trend of aggregation approaches certainly helps fix a noise problem on social media platforms and eliminate unwanted shares. I guess, it too, has emerged out of need and our instinct of ‘survival’.
Analytics Tools are also another way of survival. Businesses that can use Analytics to get customer insights, manage enterprise risk and operate with it, and strategically ‘evade’ strict regulations are gaining competitive advantages over businesses who are still drowning in information.
Although we are the decision makers when it comes to what tasks we need to do every morning, whether we want to check our cell phones first, or the weather outside, the nature of the environment around us can be a catalyst or an inhibitor of such activities. Since we are vulnerable creatures who like to try what is ‘in’ and new, we tend to fall in the logic fallacy of ‘newer means better’ and become addicted to what could may actually be irrelevant to us. In her book Technological revolutions and financial capital: the dynamics of bubbles and golden ages (2001), Carlota Perez explains that, according to the historical evolutionary trends of revolutions, the next 2 to 3 upcoming decades are those of the maturity and deployment phases of the age of information and telecommunications. I guess its up to us now to design and make use of more advanced tools that give us more control of our information stream, and it’s up to us to take this era to its maturity level since it has already installed itself in our lives.