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155 Fleet Street, Portsmouth, NH
15 Constitution Drive, Bedford, NH
(alternative locations routinelty utilized as well)
Phone: 603.661.6254 or 207.370.1063
Mail: PO Box 1550, Portsmouth, NH 03801
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“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -- I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
© 2010 Core Choices Consulting / Greg Fall. All rights reserved. No reproduction without permission.
FROM CORE CHOICE CONSULTING'S WRITINGS
Good Decisions or Data Distraction?
by Greg Fall
Are some of your employees occasionally paralyzed by collecting too much data? Could they be addicted to information gathering via the web, smart phones, emails, texts, and tweets instead of being productive for your organization? Can they be challenged to make good decisions or any decisions at all? The term “information overload,” brought into common language by Toffler, describes a condition we must all be vigilant to recognize and guard against.
As corporate and HR leaders, we have a responsibility to assist others in navigating the perils and promise of the information age. This is especially true given that our ability to acquire data has surpassed our ability to analyze it and make good choices. Our decision making is drowning in a sea of data. Indeed, much of my own client work – providing both leadership and outplacement coaching – emphasizes the development of choice and decision making competencies.
Consider these examples from my client logs:
Coaching client, VP, and master multi-tasker Tom figured he was sending 150+ business texts per day or 1 every 4-5 minutes. Our work focused Tom becoming more strategic and less reactionary to numerous “urgent” tactical considerations each day.
Outplacement client and former marketing specialist Teri presented me with results from 9 assessments suggesting 14 possible career paths in our first meeting. Together, we figured out how Teri could narrow possibilities down to 2 and act on her goals, instead of practicing the art of inaction.
Team learning client and group leader Gary had created a culture in which employees had to have reams of objective data to back up requests or observations. We figured out how to boost Gary’s awareness of his own information-related biases so he could listen better to others’ opinions.
Human brains are wired to want increasing amounts of data and to assign the greatest value to the newest information available. Unfortunately, at any given time, our internal RAM can only consider 5-7 pieces of information simultaneously; any more translates into “information overload.” A number of researchers, prominently including Iyengar, have proven that if a person has too much information and objectivity related to their choice then they are less satisfied with that choice. Most of us acknowledge that too much information negatively impacts our decision making ability … but we want more of it anyway!
Some common effects of too much information on the decision making process:
- Realizing a slower analytical or processing ability,
- Feeling more pressure/urgency to make quicker decisions,
- Failing to prioritize the relevance of certain pieces of information over others,
- Putting off decisions to another time, especially in lieu of more information gathering,
- Abdicating responsibility to choose altogether,
- Lacking focus on the right questions,
- Increasing anxiety by “information addicts” and those surrounding them,
- Gaining increasing dependency on a constant flow of information,
- Focusing more on decisions’ immediate impact instead of long term gain,
- Limiting ability to learn due to a lack of connecting new knowledge with context,
- Considering invalid or unreliable information in our decision making process, and
- Becoming disconnected from personal communication and sharing.
Some strategies to assist us in making good decisions during this information age include:
- Name and be aware of your own information gathering biases and practices,
- Identify the root question to be answered, and the information needed to answer it,
- Identify the correct decision criteria, such as values, motivators, organizational requirements,
- Weight each of the decision making criteria,
- Validate your information,
- Identify and be aware of the steps in your decision making process - for the 2-3 biggest daily decisions, the 2-3 biggest weekly or biweekly decisions, and for the 2-3 biggest quarterly decisions (these may be similar but are definitely different than the thousands of “snap” decisions we make every day regarding behavior and/or communication),
- Allow more time for more important decisions,
- Consider asking the counsel of stakeholders for more important decisions,
- Limit the collection of information,
- Organize information collected, and
- Digest pieces of daily digital information together in groups several times each day.
“Information overload” can impair an employee’s capacity to make good choices and decisions, which are central to gaining and keeping a competitive advantage in this economy. Take steps now to address this challenge in your organizational culture. It’s as simple as starting with a look inward to examine your own behaviors and beliefs.