How to Avoid Information Pinballing
The speed and volume of information in the modern age can make us feel like our heads may physically blow clean off our necks.
In the world of marketing communications and ebusiness, both client-side and agency colleagues I’ve spoken share the same sentiment: it’s extremely difficult to effectively utilize the small bucket of time they have every week to read and synthesize information.
Metalife, a futurist/cultural insights agency, calls this struggle information pin-balling. In short, human minds are not programmed to handle the volume and interactivity of modern information. As a result, most of us bounce from content to content, barely absorbing the surface level information and over-relying on a cloud of information to supplement our inability to store and recall facts.
After witnessing and experiencing this phenomenon myself, I’ve isolated a few problems and some simple solutions that I believe help our minds recall and absorb information.
Four things you do that exasperates information pin-balling:
Do you read a whitepaper while answering emails and listening to music? If so, comprehension levels are probably going to be low. There are lots of good studies out there that establish that humans are very poor at multi-tasking.
2. Poor (or lack of) archiving system.
What do you do after you stumble into a great financial services campaign from Germany? If you don’t have a system to log articles, you are not going to be able to action insights and best practices when the time comes to use it.
3. Lack of rigorous evaluation
The democratization of information has led to an explosion of agencies and experts. There are now more people than ever tasked with analyzing information and making strategic decisions. Unfortunately; due to lack of time, skill and/or will, there seems to be a lack of critical evaluation taking place.
Even if you didn’t major in statistics and it’s been a while since your last research methods class, you ought to be capable of assessing methodology, assumptions, limitations and similarities at a high level.
4. Quantity over Quality
Rather than deeply evaluating one sub-topic of a larger theme, many of us seem to get a thrill out of exploring 100 different topics at a surface level.
- Find a quiet space, turn off all other applications and take notes while you read.
- Develop a knowledge bank database with a reliable tagging system and a search function that indexes tags and file text contents (Noise uses Zotero, an open source citation management application developed by George Mason University).
- Rather than trying to read 1,000 articles on 1,000 different topics, choose one topic per week or even month and find as many reliable sources as possible.
- Wherever possible, try to find on the root sources of information (press release, research study) rather than the chatter and commentary that are simply derivatives of that core information.
- Document each article’s argument, sources, methodology, findings, etc while you read.
- Compare and contrast notes for articles that address the same topic for common threads than you can turn into actionable insights down the road.
Always Stay Humble & Hungry
Last night I watched the documentary Flight 666 about the world tour rock legends Iron Maiden did back in 2008. It was very inspiring to watch because it showed me what you need to do to get to the top and stay there for 30 years.
Iron Maiden started as part of the New British Heavy Metal scene in the early eighties of the last century, and more or less became famous overnight. But asthe saying goes: “It’s easy to get to the top but very hard to stay there”. This proved to be true for almost all the other bands in the heavy metal genre; artists got swept away within ten years when grunge turned out to be the next big thing - but not Iron Maiden.
The secret? Iron Maiden didn’t try to fit in with new music flavors that came along. They kept doing what they do best; bring their own mix of hard rock music, mythical lyrics and theatrical showmanship. “If you like us, great. If you don’t, you’re a f…. no problem”, according to drummer and band comedian Nicko McBrain.
What they prove is that by sticking to your guns, instead of adjusting course when the water gets rough, you’ll have a far better chance to survive and thrive. The audience - or your customers for that matter - know when you’re the real deal or just selling out. By going with the flow you may be the flavor of the month, but people will ultimately trade you in for the next big thing.
This documentary shows that staying true to yourself can pay off big time. You still see a few guys doing what they love to do in the first place: play music in front of an audience. Their old Ford Transit turned into their own Boeing 747 (Ed Force One) and Birmingham became Costa Rica, but that didn’t change their attitude one bit.
The other thing that’s very clear when you watch this documentary: being humble about your success [instead of arrogant] and giving everything every night will create a big, loyal, and enthusiastic audience for a long period of time. In this case it’s a rockband, but this philosophy works for startups as well, no matter what product or service you deliver.
Stay humble and hungry! And have fun along the way!