Cornering the Corner Office about Information OverloadApril 3, 2008 at 9:59 am | Posted in Attention Management, Information Work | 3 Comments
On March 31st the WSJ ran an interview with Gary Masada, the CIO of Chevron, where he described information overload as the biggest challenge he faces (page R6, available here for subscribers only). When the WSJ asked “What is the biggest challenge that you face as a CIO” he said:
Getting our arms around all the information we have. We’re basically creating the Library of Congress every day or so, which makes finding a piece of information like finding a needle in a haystack. Only that haystack is growing exponentially.
I’ve said many times before I think the media tends to focus too much on what individuals in a work environment can do about information overload (set aside time each day for emails, block out focused time, etc; see my personal attention management tips here) and doesn’t challenge the couple of folks in an organization that can really do something to make everyone else’s worklife easier and more productive. These are the CEO, CIO, and IT owners of attentional technologies.
Well, hurrah for the WSJ that asked Chevron’s CIO “From a technical standpoint, what can you do to make this easier?” Mr. Masada had a great answer:
Our challenge is to find the right search tools to help people find information. Then there are some things we can do to make the haystack not grow so much. We can put in place automatic-delete policies and rules that say if something is an important document you’ll retain it in a certain place and you have to tag it. Technology can be an enabler that helps people do this. But in the end an individual will have to do it.
Well, the focus on search is a bit narrow. I think search is an important enabler, but there are many other parts to the puzzle as well (see my EAM conceptual architecture for a more complete picture). But the rest are wise words to live by. Some of the relief lies in helping to filter the information so that the amount of information doesn’t grow out of control. While many have polarized views of technology’s role in alleviating information overload (either “the answer” or “irrelevant since it’s all cultural factors”), Mr. Masada has found the middle ground. Good technology, applied properly, can be an enabler that allows changes that individual employees want to make or that are driven by changes in culture of the organization as a whole. But in the end, it’s all up to people to make the change happen.