Too Much Information
What to do with an overabundance of data? And cars, and low-wage workers, and podcasts, and news on social media...
The Parable of the Rich Fool by Rembrandt, 1627 (public domain - Wikimedia Commons)
We're surrounded! By more data than ever before in history.
But like much of life, it's not how much you have, but what you do with it that matters.
In the words of Young Sherlock Holmes:
"A great detective relies on perception, intelligence, and imagination."
And so does 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 news. Now news consumes us.
When it comes to making business decisions, usually more data is beneficial. As Sherlock Holmes replied when Dr. Watson asked him his theory of a case:
"Data! data! data! I can't make bricks without clay."
Wise words. And yet...
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.
The Felicity of Facility
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.
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, it's actually 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.
Stories of the Week
"I have gathered a posy of other men's flowers, and nothing but the thread that binds them is my own." – Montaigne
Listen to the Numbers
Podcasting has been with us for a while, and now we've entered the era of Big Podcasting. (Vulture)
And if you have a podcast, there are more to the numbers than just downloads. (Blog Pacific)
My take: Don't get into podcasting for the numbers (it takes a long time to build up an audience if you don't already have one). Do it because you've got a good story to tell well.
Data Isn't the Only Thing That's Piling Up
Cars have reached a tipping point in New York City. Is it time to ban them? A fascinating look at the history of Manhattan traffic. (Curbed)
My take: The good news is there are many alternatives in the mobility space, from public transportation to ride hailing to individual mobility devices (bikes & scooters) to share the burden.
The Gig Is Up
The greatest problem of the gig economy isn't technology at all; it's about the poverty. (Fast Company)
In the historically exploitative low-wage work of food delivery, apps are changing things. But how much? “It’s a hustle. Back in the day you used to have hard drugs on the street, guys would pick corners—now it’s just that, with apps.” (The New York Review of Books)
If you think WeWork is in trouble now, just wait until the recession hits. (Recode)
My take: Frictionless apps mean that we get products and services almost without thinking. And that's the problem.
Good News / Bad News
More Americans are getting their news from social media, even as they say social media news "worse." Platforms vary by age, but the trend is clear. (Nieman Labs)
From Dusk to Dawn: a book of hours for modern night. The full image is available via the link. (Lapham's Quarterly)
For the Curious Mind
"Curiosity is the lust of the mind." – Thomas Hobbes
When you're out and walking around in the city (or anywhere else, for that matter), staring at your smartphone detracts from the rich tapestry of your surroundings. (Aeon) Heads up. Take in what the world has to offer.
Don't chase the wrong kind of happiness. Here are eleven habits of supremely happy people. (Quartz) Hint: some of the above links relate to this.
The surprisingly badass life of Adolph Sax, the inventor of the saxophone. (Today I Found Out) Two words: resilience and persistence.
The fast track to a life well-lived is feeling grateful. (Aeon) Thank you for being here.
A Heart Replete with Thankfulness
"Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder." – G.K. Chesterton
I'm starting a new section: each week, I'll express my gratitude for someone or something particularly meaningful. (See above)
This week, I'm grateful for the Newsletter Accelerator Course from Josh Spector. It's a comprehensive course with over 20 lessons, from defining and naming your newsletter to identifying your target audience, increasing conversions and engagement, monetization, and more.
Stop what you're doing. If you have a newsletter or are thinking about starting a newsletter, this is the only resource you'll need.
Josh also writes the fantastic newsletter For The Interested, which you should also check out.
"Let me recommend this book." – Arthur Conan Doyle
Who invented pants? How did ‘pink for girls’ and ‘blue for boys’ happen? What do dogs say when they bark? We all have questions about otherwise mundane or obscure things. Don't leave these mysteries unexplained. That's what Every Little Thing does. If you have a question that needs answering, call the ELT Help Line at 833-RING-ELT.
What could you accomplish if you could stay focused? In Indistractable, Nir Eyal reveals the hidden psychology driving us to distraction. He describes why solving the problem is not as simple as swearing off our devices: Abstinence is impractical and often makes us want more. In this empowering and optimistic book you'll find practical techniques to control your time and attention—helping you live the life you really want.
Disclosure: some links may be Amazon affiliates; we earn a small commission when you make a purchase.