Too Much Information
What to do with an overabundance of data? And cars, and low-wage workers, and podcasts, and news on social media...
“A great detective relies on perception, intelligence, and imagination.” — Chris Columbus, 1985
Don’t look now, but we’re surrounded!
By more data than ever before in history.
When it comes to data, like much of life, it’s not how much you have, but what you do with it that matters.
Chris Columbus put the above quote in the mouth of a young Sherlock Holmes, but it may as well apply to the capable executive.
We’re awash in information. It’s coming at us from every angle.
And while there are methods for reducing the onslaught (turn off your phone notifications, go on a digital detox, mindfulness training), it seems that between the news cycle and business data, we can't escape it.
We used to consume the news. Now the news consumes us.
When it comes to making business decisions, more data is beneficial.
“Data! data! data! I can’t make bricks without clay.” — Arthur Conan Doyle, 1893
There is a variety of topics here, from wordplay to the Timeless Leadership podcast. I hope you find what works for you.
There seems to be a desire for more data and more information in certain areas of business. What we fail to realize is that too much data can actually keep us from making decisions properly.
Data alone will not solve the problem. With any experienced leader or team, there’s a blend of data and experience — call it intuition — that allows for insights.
Making Sense of the Data
Some of us have a natural aptitude for numbers that makes data analysis particularly easy. Charles Baudelaire made this observation about the connection between music and math in Artificial Paradises (1860):
“Musical notes become numbers; and if your mind is gifted with some mathematical aptitude, the harmony to which you listen, while keeping its voluptuous and sensual character, transforms itself into a vast rhythmical operation where numbers beget numbers, and whose phases and generation follow with an inexplicable ease and an agility which equals that of the person playing.”
To some, spreadsheets and reports may seem like a jumble of numbers. To others, there are opportunities that cry out.
Weather or Passion?
During the planning for the D-Day invasion of Normandy, meteorologists informed General Eisenhower that there was a series of storms heading across the Atlantic that would delay the operation, then scheduled for June 5. Conditions had to be just right: calm seas and clear skies.
If the operation went ahead as planned, it would have been a failure; if the Allies waited for the next cycle of tides and improved weather, they would have lost the element of surprise.
However, an updated weather report came through showing a high-pressure system that would intersect with Normandy on June 6th. It left a very tight window.
The Germans saw the same forecasts, but didn’t think the brief moment of calm would allow the Allies to advance. Field Marshal Rommel was convinced of this and left for a few days in Paris.
Later, asked why D-Day had been a success, Eisenhower said, “Because we had better meteorologists than the Germans.”
While this makes sense from a pithy storytelling standpoint, there’s a problem with it: it’s not true. The meteorologists on both sides of the war saw the same data.
But German leadership failed to take into account just how much the Allies wanted to win the war.
Data will only tell part of the story.
Leaders need to put the pieces together using perception and imagination to create insights and informed decisions.
It’s our intuition — that blend of data and experience — that leads to better decisions.