» Archive for November, 2010

The Tech Industry and Information Overload

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010 by Jonathan Spira

Just whom am I supposed to call about all this?

While it’s clear that technology has been an enabler for Information Overload, several questions arise including the extent to which the tech industry is to blame and what the tech industry is doing.  This needs to be examined both in terms of developing new solutions that fight the problem as well as fixing problems in existing tools that encourage more Information Overload.

With every significant development, from Gutenberg’s printing press to Carlson’s photocopier to IBM’s personal computer, mankind found itself able to create and distribute more and more information.  The rapid advances made in information and communication technology in the past two decades have further exacerbated the situation.

Unfortunately, these developments brought with them neither the tools to better filter neither the information that was generated nor the knowledge of how to use the tools in the most responsive manner.

The first time, from what I can tell, that the tech industry acknowledged the problem publicly was in the mid 1990s, when Reuters, a business information provider, decided to exploit the problem by positioning itself as a solution for “Information Fatigue Syndrome,” a term coined not by doctors but by Reuters marketing agency, Firefly. (Firefly won a PR Effectiveness Award for this campaign in 1998.)

Reuters went so far as to hire a psychologist specializing in stress, who then wrote a research report on IFS, to add a measure of gravitas to the campaign.  After receiving a considerable amount of coverage, however, Reuters moved on to the next campaign and forgot all about IFS.

It’s not just the tech industry (which somewhat ironically refers to its customers as “users”) that should shoulder some of the blame, but it should also contribute to the development of a long-term solution.  There is an entire ecosystem built around information, with millions of consultants and information producers, which serves to prove that the knowledge economy is in full swing and that the genie is out of the bottle and won’t return anytime soon.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

What are the leading sources of Information Overload?

Thursday, November 18th, 2010 by David Goldes

Information Overload impacts us all, both on a personal level and on an organizational level.  However, all is not lost.  Knowledge workers are a resourceful bunch and have addressed the problem in multiple and often very creative ways.

Is it too much yet?

To find out what you consider to be the greatest sources of Information Overload, both for you individually and for your organization, as well as to understand how these challenges are being addressed, we’ve developed a survey that asks you to share your thoughts on this topic.

Please click here to take the survey.

Participants will receive an Executive Summary of the survey’s findings and can also enter a drawing to win a set of Dilbert CubeGuard information overload blockers (three sets will be awarded).  Please share the survey link with colleagues or in forums where knowledge workers congregate; the more people participating in the survey, the better we will be able take steps to reduce Information Overload for yourself and your team.

David M. Goldes is the president of Basex.

The Tools We Use

Thursday, November 11th, 2010 by Jonathan Spira
While we are discussing an upgrade, can we work on the clothes and hair too?

Now that we've gotten a system makeover, I think something else needs updating too...

Three of the tools we use the most to create and record information were invented in the last one hundred years.   Just as the invention of the printing press and moveable type by Gutenberg launched a revolution in the distribution of books (and later on, newspapers, magazines, and other printed material), several nineteenth- and twentieth-century discoveries begat a revolution in the distribution of individually-crafted documents, namely the typewriter, the photocopier, and word processing software.

These three inventions did more to shape the creation and mass distribution of information (both in individual and mass quantity) than anything that preceded it in the history of mankind.

At the same time, however, these benefits came with a price: the better the technology has gotten, the more copies of information have been able to be made and distributed.

Indeed, until the era of the laser printer arrived in the 1990s, creators of documents had two choices.  There were those few documents important enough to warrant the investment of time and energy in setting type and printing and the overwhelming majority of documents that didn’t, many of them of an ephemeral nature.  The photocopier closed the gap between commercial printing and low-volume copying (which had been more likely to have been handled via carbon copies than anything else).   It also gave knowledge workers the ability to distribute anything and everything to as many people as they wished, just as e-mail does today, albeit with less speed and efficiency.

The typewriter and the photocopier opened the door for knowledge workers to create and send documents to multiple recipients but there were still some significant limitations compared to what is available today using e-mail.  The distribution of documents within a building or campus was relatively easy and done via intra-office mail or simply by dropping off the document in the recipient’s inbox.  For those people traveling or in a different office or company, documents were typically sent by mail and this meant that they would not arrive until several days later.

Today, the norm is to measure the arrival of documents in seconds – and our new discoveries allow us to create more documents, more drafts and versions of the documents we are creating, as well as to distribute them to dozens if not hundreds or thousands of people with the click of a button.
That change is one of the key reasons why we have to contemplate the problem of Information Overload.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

The Knowledge Worker’s Day: Our Findings

Thursday, November 4th, 2010 by Jonathan Spira

To successfully manage in the knowledge economy, there are key differences in how knowledge workers work that we must recognize.

Is it time for thought and reflection yet?

For all intents and purposes, knowledge workers “own” the means of production and take it home with them every day, along with invaluable knowledge they develop as they perform their tasks.  Their work is generally not tied to a physical or specific location.  They also have rather different expectations about work and tools, often more demanding than those of industrial workers.

In the course of their jobs, knowledge workers perform tasks that can be grouped under a few overarching categories.  The tasks include searching, creating content (sometimes re-creating), thought and reflection, sharing knowledge, and networking.  All of these areas can be accomplished in more traditional ways, i.e. through direct contact with people, or increasingly, aided by technology.

In early 2010, Basex conducted a survey asking knowledge workers to describe their workday.  The questions included topics such as how long the typical workday was, how much time was devoted to various information sources, and how knowledge workers were impacted by Information Overload.

What we found was striking, compared to the last research we published on the knowledge worker’s day back in 2008 when we found that the typical knowledge worker was only able to devote 12% of the day to thought and reflection.

Here are some of the final findings:

  • 66% of knowledge workers feel they don’t have enough time to get all of their work done.
  • Over 50% of knowledge workers feel that the amount of information they are presented with on daily basis is detrimental to getting their work done.
  • 94% of those surveyed at some point have felt overwhelmed by information to the point of incapacity.
  • 30% of knowledge workers have no time at all for thought and reflection during their day, and 58% had only between 15 and 30 minutes.

A typical day in the life of the knowledge worker is comprised less of traditional work and more of a frenetic pace that intermingles people and technology interruptions with attempts to create content, find things, and attend meetings.

The Knowledge Worker’s Day:
25% – Information Overload
19% – Content creation
19% – Reading content
17% – Meetings/Phone Calls/Social Interaction
10% – Search and Research
5% – Personal time
5% – Thought and reflection

For our purposes, we define content to include e-mail related tasks, so e-mail time is essentially split between the content creation and reading content percentages.  It is interesting to note as well that the vast majority of knowledge workers spend between 30 minutes and no time at all managing their inboxes.

Since the underpinnings of knowledge work are thought and reflection, it’s ironic that these activities take up a mere 5% of the day, and Information Overload, the thing that holds the knowledge work back, occupies the greatest part of the day.

Knowledge workers are nowhere near as productive, efficient, or effective as they could be – and this is in part due to the problem of Information Overload.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.


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