» Archive for April, 2012

Information Overload – Is there a silver bullet?

Friday, April 27th, 2012 by Jonathan Spira

A little help please...

There is really one key driver of all of the costs of Information Overload and that’s the phenomenon I discovered early on in my research and which I named Recovery Time.

Recovery Time is the time it takes you to get back to where you were prior to an interruption. I’ve calculated it as being 10-20 times the duration of the interruption so, if you interrupt me for 30 seconds, the recovery time is likely to be 5 minutes or longer.

Take a typical knowledge worker who is interrupted five times in the course of a day. With each interruption lasting on average one minute (some were shorter and some were longer), this knowledge worker will lose an hour at the very least and, more likely, an hour and forty minutes. This translates into as much as $43. Per person. Per day.

Now take the typical 5,000-person division or company and multiply $43 by 5,000. That ($215,000) is the cost of Recovery Time each and every workday at that company.

Recovery Time is the key contributor to the large cost of Information Overload ($997 billion p.a. to the U.S. economy in 2010 according to Basex). Understanding it may very well be the silver bullet we have all been looking for.

Of course, there is some good news in this: every interruption we eliminate has the potential of saving significant amounts of time and money.

For example, for every 100 people we unnecessarily cc on an e-mail, we lose eight manhours as they deal with it in their inbox. Even when spread out over only 100 knowledge workers, the total time is still the same as an entire workday.

All we have to do is start to eliminate a few interruptions each day and we will quickly see positive results.

You might wonder what kind of interruptions I am talking about. They run the gamut from self-interruption (an uncontrollable urge to look at an eBay auction or check whether any new e-mail messages have arrived) to someone knocking at your door or, if you are at home, ringing the bell (with apologies to Paul McCartney and Wings), or someone sending you an e-mail (interruption nr. 1) and two minutes later calling to see if you had received it.

Much of our newfound impatience comes from a society that, in the past three decades, has become increasingly accustomed to instant gratification and therefore cannot wait more than a few minutes to get a reply. In addition, newer workers enter the workforce with a sense of entitlement that is somewhat oversized, in large part due to new parenting and child-rearing techniques that have always put the child first.

We’ll look at that next time.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex and author of Overload! How Too Much Information Is Hazardous To Your Organization.

Getting Wise: How is Wisdom Really Acquired?

Friday, April 20th, 2012 by Cody Burke

How to wise up?

In my book Overload! How Too Much Information Is Hazardous To Your Organization, I wrote that the three trickiest words in the English language may very well be “information,” “knowledge,” and “wisdom.”

To say that their meanings, as well as the concepts behind them, overlap is a gross understatement.

With respect to the word “wisdom,” I’ve long sought a better understanding of its meaning. The explanation David Goldes and I developed for wisdom over a decade ago was that it was “knowledge with human interpretation added.”

It has long been a stereotype of wisdom that it is something one accumulates as one gets older. A study two years ago by Igor Grossmann at the University of Waterloo suggested as much. He found that older Americans were wiser than younger ones. A new study by Grossmann, recently published in the journal Psychological Science, follows Grossmann’s investigations in this area in Asia, specifically Japan.

What Grossmann found in Japan is that younger people were almost as wise as their elders.

Grossmann contrasted tests performed on 186 Japanese and 225 Americans. The tests included reading a series of (fictional) newspaper articles, half of which described conflicts between different interest groups (local residents versus a large foreign corporation, for example). The remaining articles were make-believe advice columns where the questions concerned conflict amongst people (such as with one’s spouse, relative, friend, boss, etc.).

Each participant in the study was asked “What do you think will happen after that?” and “Why do you think it will happen this way?”

The responses were analyzed using the five crucial aspects of wise reasoning: namely, a willingness to seek opportunities to resolve conflict; a willingness to search for compromise; the recognition of the limits of personal knowledge; an awareness that more than one perspective on a problem can exist; and the appreciation of the fact that things may get worse before they get better.

Scoring ranged from one to three where one indicated that no consideration was given to the problem in the answer and three indicated a great deal of consideration.

Using a scale from 0 to 100, Dr. Grossmann and his team found that the average intergroup wisdom score at age 25 was 45 and at 75, it was 55. The interpersonal score was 46 at 25 and 50 at 75.

Reading Grossmann’s study didn’t help me refine my definition of wisdom but it was enlightening to see the difference in scores in two very different societies. While his numbers suggest that, at least in Japan, wisdom is not connected to age, it is only one study, albeit a very interesting one.

The fact that wisdom continues to be the source of scientific enquiry, however, does give me hope that we’ll improve our understanding of knowledge and wisdom in this age of Information Overload. As for me, I continue to optimistically assume that I get wiser each and every day, except on those trips I make to Japan every so often.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex and author of Overload! How Too Much Information Is Hazardous To Your Organization.

Is Getting More Free Time As Easy as Withdrawing Money from an Automated Teller Machine?

Friday, April 13th, 2012 by Jonathan Spira

I will use my new free time to go for a walk. Thanks Microsoft!

As part of a publicity stunt for its 4G LTE Windows Phones, Microsoft set up Free-Time Machines (FTMs) across the country.

What exactly is an FTM, I hear you all cry?

Similar to ATMs, the FTMs essentially dispense free time in the form of free grocery deliveries, cleaning and dog-walking services, or support from a personal concierge to random users. A few select FTM users will win a new Windows Phone.

This is being done to emphasize how using a Windows Phone creates, well, more free time.

I had to double-check the date of the news release. Indeed, it was April 9, not April 1 – but you can draw your own conclusions just from the very fact that I had to check.

To underscore the point (if such a thing were possible), the FTMs were staffed by Free-Time Engineers who’d do anything from standing in line for food or theater tickets, or delivering a meal.

The machines were located in New York at Bryant Park and Madison Square Park, in Chicago at John Hancock Plaza and Pioneer Court, and in San Francisco at Union Square.

Microsoft also engaged a few celebrities for this promotion, the purpose being to show how a smartphone (at least for the given celebrity, none of whom I had ever heard of) makes things “fast and easy” thereby saving time, helps you “stay on top of your game” (this was for a sports-related celebrity), and keeps you “connected” to your business (and to your fans, if you happen to have any).

The paradox here is that any phone – including a Windows Phone – is unlikely to have a positive impact on your free time. A well-designed smartphone can allow you to accomplish things you might have otherwise had to do in a less-efficient manner, but so far I truly haven’t come across one that actually gives me free time. If anything, I find that smartphones typically open up a Pandora’s box full of potential time-wasting activities that more than counter any gains I might see. Of course, if Microsoft would add a free time deposit option to their shiny new FTMs, we could surely find a way to withdraw that valuable free time when needed.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex and author of Overload! How Too Much Information Is Hazardous To Your Organization.

In the briefing room: AwayFind

Friday, April 6th, 2012 by Cody Burke

In the top right of the screen shot, the user has selected to be alerted via the AwayFind iPhone app.

The only thing worse than getting too much e-mail is not getting the e-mail messages you really need.  Missing an important e-mail message can have far-ranging implications, but the only way to 100% guarantee you won’t let one slip by is to essentially live in your inbox.  Doing that is not an appealing proposition but you won’t be surprised to hear that countless knowledge workers do just that.

The detrimental impact of e-mail overload has been very well documented, here and elsewhere, and the damage occasioned by the constant stream of interruptions resulting from constantly monitoring one’s inbox is fairly self-evident.  Too much e-mail makes it harder to separate the wheat from the chaff, and revisiting the inbox every five minutes to see if anything critical has arrived is not conducive to focused, quality work.  Some experts, including Nathan Zeldes, president of the Information Overload Research Group, recommend only checking your e-mail a few times a day, at scheduled times.  Not a bad idea, but what about the e-mail with critical information that comes in right before a meeting on the topic, or the urgent e-mail that requires immediate attention?

AwayFind is a solution that attempts to bring a sense of balance to this challenge by allowing users to define what e-mail is critical and designating an alternative method of contact.  The concept is based on the idea that only specific e-mail messages are really important at a given time, such as one from a co-worker you share a project with as you near a deadline, or a customer you are finalizing a deal with.  AwayFind allows users to set up alerts for e-mail that is pushed out via a phone call, SMS, instant message, or notifications in an iPhone or Android app.

AwayFind uses a mix of automated rules for alerting users, as well as customizable rules for select time periods.  For example, the system monitors a user’s calendar, and notifies them if an e-mail from someone who has a meeting scheduled has arrived.

For setting up custom alerts, AwayFind allows the user to pick a sender or domain name, and then specify a time slot.  This enables a user to stay away from his inboxe and, for example, go out for lunch knowing that if the one person that he’s waiting for important information from sends an e-mail message, he will be notified.

AwayFind is an innovative idea and works on two distinct levels.  On one level, the tool has potential to be used as a filter for the inbox.  This would allow important messages to get through, while relieving the pressure of wading through the spam and non-critical messages that clog up the typical inbox.  Setting up rules for who is important, and recognizing that priorities change and must be adjusted, is a really valuable feature.

On another level, the product is significant because of the way it pushes notifications through numerous other channels.  This is interesting because it shows AwayFind understands that individuals make different choices in communications tools.  Some knowledge workers live in instant messaging environments, while others find that disruptive and instead prefer phone calls or texts.  Virtually all knowledge workers these days carry smartphones, and many already rely on apps running on those devices for everything from social network updates to calendaring notifications.  In theory, using AwayFind would allow knowledge workers to wean themselves off of the inbox and allow only the most important e-mail to get through, via the communications channel that they prefer.  Of course, this would also require knowledge workers to turn off new e-mail notifications from their e-mail client

For most knowledge workers, using AwayFind will not completely substitute for checking their inbox.  Too many random messages still come in everyday that we all have to comb through, and the ramifications of missing them can be severe (we also seem to actually like checking our e-mail, or at least feel compelled to).  What a tool such as AwayFind can do if used properly, is make it possible to check our inboxes far less frequently.  And that is no small feat.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex. He can be reached at cburke@basex.com