According to our latest research Information Overload costs the U.S. economy a minimum of $900 billion per year in lowered employee productivity and reduced innovation. Despite its heft, this is a fairly conservative number and reflects the loss of 25% of the knowledge worker’s day to the problem. The total could be as high as $1 trillion.
Information overload describes an excess of information that results in the loss of ability to make decisions, process information, and prioritize tasks. It remains a key challenge for companies that operate in the knowledge economy but it is nothing new. Indeed, it was very much on the minds of thought leaders of an earlier information age centuries ago, including Roger Bacon, Samuel Johnson, and Konrad Geßner whose 1545 Bibliotheca universalis warned of the “confusing and harmful abundance of books” and promulgated reading strategies for coping with the overload of information.
In modern times, information overload was first mentioned in 1962, in an article entitled “Operation Basic: The Retrieval of Wasted Knowledge” by Gertram M. Gross. The problem was predicted by Alvin Toffler in Future Shock (1970), and in 1989, Richard Saul Wurman warned of it in his book, Information Anxiety.
Workers spend up to 50 percent of their day managing information, according to a recent survey conducted by Basex of more than 3,000 knowledge workers, and streamlining these processes can have a significant impact on productivity. But determining the extent of the problem is the first step.
To help companies understand their financial exposure, Basex has created a free, Web-based Information Overload Calculator at www.iocalculator.com, allowing companies to calculate the impact of the problem on their own operations. [N.b. Our legal counsel urges that users be seated when operating the calculator.]
Indeed, in order to remain competitive in 2009, companies will need to begin an information overload bailout, i.e. taking active countermeasures, in order to remain competitive. Nothing is more disruptive to the way we work than information overload and we need to reverse this trend as quickly as possible.
Some companies are already doing so. Intel, a company with 86,300 employees, sees information overload as a serious problem. “At Intel we estimated the impact of information overload on each knowledge worker at up to eight hours a week,” said Nathan Zeldes, a principal engineer focusing on computing productivity issues at Intel and founding chairman of the Information Overload Research Group, an industry consortium. “We continuously look at applying new work behaviors that can help reduce its impact.”
Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.