Watch this space: Lucky # 7 – avoiding information overload


Posted on: September 3, 2013 by Paul Albada Jelgersma

Atos - Watch this space: Lucky # 7 – avoiding information overloadI feel much more at ease than I did yesterday. The reason is that I just read the newest whitepaper of the Atos Scientific Community on ‘Information Overload’. The paper explains, that in general we humans can only remember 7 things – what a relief! Trying to remember more creates stress. So I decided to stop trying.

“Human beings have clear limits on the amount of information they can process, often called bounded rationality. The phenomenon is clearest in the ‘magical number’ that is linked to our short-term memory: at most, we can keep seven (+/- two) items at once in our working memory, (…). Any item beyond seven, causes the added item (…) to be partially ignored, forgotten, distorted, or otherwise lost.”

Suffering from Information overload is clearly a choice. If you suffer from it, it is because you fail to recognize your boundaries and/or, in relationship to that, fail to use the proper tools to manage your work.

In many corporations we see that there is a fundamental shift in the way information gets distributed and used for collaborative purposes – moving away from email and ‘the corporate newsletter’ (the push mechanisms) into a more ‘social’ network of information sharing and collaboration. These Enterprise Social Networks (ESN) are modelled after public social networks as Facebook, Twitter and others and are being explored as alternative ways of working in enterprises.

“Within a corporate social network, much of the potential for Information Overload can be avoided if the phenomenon is kept in mind during the design, creation and use of the network.”

So the premise of the paper is that a properly designed and implemented ESN can help avoid Information Overload and increase efficiency in the workplace, but if done incorrectly can increase the problem and create a very unhealthy and inefficient working environment.

In order to understand the success-factors, we need to understand human behavior and make sure they get addressed:

  • Noise filtering; the capability to assess and reflect on information and filter the data in a way it makes sense for the work we have to do.
  • Predictability; the fact that standardization and methodologies help us structure the way we work, focusing on the content instead of the process increases motivation and quality of work.

If the ESN allows us to address these elements we have a good chance of success and we can further increase the quality by understanding how an ESN will impact the way we work.

“The concept that every message must be seen by everyone, and that everything that is said on a corporate social network is relevant to every user has become outdated in the social media era.”

I believe this is a fundamental characteristic of what we will be able to achieve through a successful implementation of an ESN; empowerment of people. Moving away from the top-down pushing of information, but instead creating cross company collaboration processes in (virtual) communities.

Update! The white paper is finally available here.

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About Paul Albada Jelgersma

Global Head Atos IoT Solutions and member of the Scientific Community
Paul has over 30 years of experience in running IT and business programs; including managing large teams of IT and other professionals. Paul is a founding member of the Atos Scientific Community. In his day job, he focusses on developing and delivering Internet of Things Solutions for our customers. Paul likes to work with Virtual Teams in the new way of work. He dislikes email as a chat and document-management tool. He occasionally writes articles and publishes at his own blog. Paul is married and has 2 children. He lives near Amsterdam, The Netherlands. He likes to travel, moderate hiking and watch Netflix series.

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