We live in the information age, which according to Wikipedia is a period in human history characterized by the shift from industrial production to one based on information and computerization.
Nothing surprising there, except for the idea that this is “a period in human history” — which tends to suggest it will come to an end at some point. The industrial revolution in the late nineteenth century ushered in the industrial age, and the digital revolution in the mid twentieth century spurred the emergence of the information age. So it is not entirely crazy to speculate about what might lie beyond the information age.
Of course, I am not arguing that information will become obsolete. Firms will always need to harness information in effective ways, just as most of them still need industrial techniques to make their products cheaply and efficiently. My point, instead, is that information will become necessary but not sufficient for firms to be successful. All this talk of “big data,” for example, feels like an attempt to strain a few more drops of juice out of an already-squeezed orange, just as Six Sigma was a way of squeezing more value out of the quality revolution. Both are valuable concepts, but their benefits are incremental, not revolutionary.
So just as night follows day, the information age will eventually be superseded by another age; and it behooves those with senior executive responsibility to develop a point of view on what that age might look like.
So here is a specific question that helps us develop this point of view — one that was a topic of debate at our annual Global Leadership Summit at London Business School, focused this year on the rapid advance of technology and its impact on not only business, but society, politics and the economy: What would a world with too much information look like? And what problems would it create? I think there are at least four answers:
1. Paralysis through Analysis. In a world of ubiquitous information, there is always more out there. Information gathering is easy, and often quite enjoyable as well. My students frequently complain that they need more information before coming to a view on a difficult case-study decision. Many corporate decisions are delayed because of the need for further analysis. Whether due to the complexity of the decision in front of them, or because of the fear of not performing sufficient due diligence, the easy option facing any executive is simply to request more information.
2. Easy access to data makes us intellectually lazy. Many firms have invested a lot of money in “big data” and sophisticated data-crunching techniques. But a data-driven approach to analysis has a couple of big flaws. First, the bigger the database, the easier it is to find support for any hypothesis you choose to test. Second, big data makes us lazy – we allow rapid processing power to substitute for thinking and judgment. One example: pharmaceutical companies fell in love with “high throughput screening” techniques in the 1990s, as a way of testing out all possible molecular combinations to match a target. It was a bust. Most have now moved back towards a more rational model based around deep understanding, experience and intuition.
3. Impulsive and Flighty Consumers. Watch how your fellow commuters juggle their smartphone, tablet and Kindle. Or marvel at your teenager doing his homework. With multiple sources of stimulation available at our fingertips, the capacity to focus and concentrate on a specific activity is falling. This has implications for how firms manage their internal processes – with much greater emphasis being placed on holding people’s attention than before. It also has massive consequences for how firms manage their consumer relationships, as the traditional sources of “stickiness” in those relationships are being eroded.
4. A little learning is a dangerous thing. We are quick to access information that helps us, but we often lack the ability to make sense of it, or to use it appropriately. Doctors encounter this problem on a daily basis, as patients show up with (often incorrect) self-diagnoses. Senior executives second-guess their subordinates because their corporate IT system gives them line-of-sight down to detailed plant-level data. We also see this at a societal level: people believe they have the right to information that is in the public interest (think Wikileaks), but they are rarely capable of interpreting and using it in a sensible way. The broader point here is that the democratization of information creates an imbalance between the “top” and “bottom” of society, and most firms are not good at coping with this shift.
So what are the consequences of a business world with “too much information”? At an individual level, we face two contrasting risks. One is that we become obsessed with getting to the bottom of a problem, and we keep on digging, desperate to find the truth but taking forever to do so. The other risk is that we become overwhelmed with the amount of information out there and we give up: we realise we cannot actually master the issue at hand, and we end up falling back on a pre-existing belief.
For firms, there are three important consequences. First, they have to become masters of “attention management” — making sure that people are focused on the right set of issues, and not distracted by the dozens of equally-interesting issues that could be discussed. A surplus of , as Nobel Laureate Herbert Simon noted, creates a deficit of attention. That is the real scarce resource today.
Second, firms have to get the right balance between information and judgment in making important decisions. As Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, observed, there are two types of decisions: “There are decisions that can be made by analysis. These are the best kind of decisions. They are fact-based decisions that overrule the hierarchy. Unfortunately there’s this whole other set of decisions you can’t boil down to a math problem.” One of the hallmarks of Amazon’s success, arguably, has been its capacity to make the big calls based on judgement and intuition.
Finally, the ubiquity of information means a careful balance is needed when it comes to sharing. Keeping everything secret isn’t going to work anymore — but pure transparency has its risks as well. Firms have to become smarter at figuring out what information to share with their employees, and what consumer information to keep track of for their own benefits.
For the last forty years, firms have built their competitive positions on harnessing information and knowledge more effectively than others. But with information now ubiquitous and increasingly shared across firms, these traditional sources of advantage are simply table-stakes. The most successful companies in the future will be smart about scanning for information and accessing the knowledge of their employees, but they will favour action over analysis, and they will harness the intuition and gut-feeling of their employees in combination with rational analysis.
Julian Birkinshaw is Professor and Chair of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the London Business School.
Staff Writer for Wake Up World
We grow up going to school and learning about “common core” subjects, along with others. We are also given information about things from the media, organized religion, governments, and the internet. We are living in what is literally called the Information Age. We are conditioned by all of this information to see Reality through a specific lens. I am here to tell you that all that learning is not as important as it’s made out to be. In fact, it can be confining you to a life of mediocrity.
There is a Buddhist proverb that says learning to unlearn is the highest form of learning. As with many deeper truths, you need to really contemplate what this means to understand what it is saying.
The more you learn about things, be they true or not, the more rigid your reality becomes. The less possible certain things seem to be, limiting your ability to imagine possibilities as a child does. This goes for information as well as applied activities.
This is not to say that you should not learn anything. The jewel of this teaching here is that you should be able to learn, unlearn, and relearn. You should be able to break bad habits you learned from others, discard information that becomes contradicted by something with more evidence supporting it, and reprogram over things which no longer serve your continued evolution.
The sooner you allow yourself to go through the process of unlearning, the easier it will be to unlearn things which are impeding on your ability to see things as the limitless possibilities they are. As Seneca once said, “The mind is slow to unlearn what it learned early.” This is why you see older people become set in their ways, being imprisoned by the same beliefs they had in their youth. Once those grooves are made in the brain and reinforced over time, it will take something extraordinary to reprogram over them.
The education system is the way the dominant consciousness entrains people to think a certain way. It is the system which gets humans at their earliest and most impressionable. Everything from the concept of time being linear and broken up in the ways they say it is, to human civilization suddenly appearing out of nowhere 6,000 years ago, in a gradual ever-increasing movement of progress.
What we learn gets reinforced by other people who have also been told to believe the same things about the nature of things, which gives them more validity in our minds. To allow for something different to be possible, you need to first acknowledge that just because you think something is a certain way, doesn’t mean it actually is. Unless you know how to bypass subconscious biases while accessing the Akashic information field, you are bound to get the wool pulled over your eyes at some point in your life, or many times. This is why unlearning is the best tool we have down here on Earth to replace what we believed was true with something that appears truer.
How to Unlearn
You can go about unlearning in a few ways. Here’s one technique you can practice:
- Make a list of a few beliefs you have about things which you feel may be holding you back from evolving.
- Make a list of any activities you currently partake in, but don’t amount to anything that constructive.
- Explore what else is possible in regards to those areas and take action. When you come across information and receive greater understanding on something, make it a part of your reality and belief system.
- Remind yourself that even though some new information has superseded what you believed was true and worth continuing to support, it may one day also be replaced by something even more closely aligned with truth and more helpful with your evolution.
When you follow these steps on a consistent basis, such as over the course of a month, you will begin to notice you are growing once again and having the energy of excitement fill you with what you believe is now possible. Enjoy the new perspectives you will have!
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About the author:
Paul Lenda is a conscious evolution guide, founder & director of SHIFT, author, writer, speaker, meditation teacher, life coach, and ambassador for the New Paradigm wishing to provide an integral role in personal transformation and the collective social transformation of humanity. Paul offers private one-on-one holistic life counseling & conscious evolution sessions, via Skype or phone. Paul takes into account all aspects of the hyperdimensional matrix when providing guidance, counseling, and coaching.
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