Is too much information a good thing?

sensory overload

Well, no. By definition. But despite occasional thoughts that I am suffering from sensory overload, I’m grateful for the sheer amount of information available to us – TMI or not. I believe it makes me a better researcher.

However I can fully understand the concern some have over the sheer volume of knowledge available to us. Articles on the subject are appearing all of the time. We are infomaniacs. We now squeeze 31 hours into a single day. Google is making us stupid.

The root of this trend is of course the Internet. The democratisation of information means that our sources have multiplied. This is undoubtedly a good thing, but it becomes a challenge to distinguish the signal from the noise.

Extending the sources of our knowledge can widen our understanding, but the returns are diminishing. At what point do we reach an optimal point? When is the incremental benefit of an additional piece of information outweighed by the costs?

I’ve recently experienced this dilemma on a report I have been writing. After the first few pieces of research, the key themes begin to emerge. But rather than write up my findings, I continued to delve deeper into the data. My report was ultimately more thorough, but the key themes remained the same. Was this additional time spent worthwhile? Or would I have made better use of my time by moving onto the next project?

Ultimately, I believe it was worthwhile. There may be specific reasons when this isn’t the case, but generally I would argue that all information available should be considered because of NEEDS:

  • Nuance: Comparing and contrasting different sources allows you to put findings into a better context
  • Expertise: The more you take in, the more knowledgeable you are. It builds a solid platform for further work to emerge from. More work at the first stage can reduce the workload at later stages -in a similar way to new teachers writing lesson plans from scratch in their first year, and then honing existing plans in subsequent years
  • Experience: Following on from expertise, greater knowledge allows a greater understanding of both normative and emerging trends. In aural reports, this informed opinion is often as important as the data itself.
  • Depth: My themes may have remained, and so the breadth of my report remained the same. But I was able to expound on each with much greater depth of detail and understanding
  • Simplicity: This final point is counter-intuitive but also crucial. Accumulating information is easy; synthesizing and condensing isn’t. More information may make this task longer, but it will ensure greater quality and accuracy. For instance, the Net Promoter Score may be only one question, but a lot of work (and a 210 page book) went into the formulation of that question. As Mark Twain famously said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead”

If ignorance is bliss, does that make knowledge miserable? In my opinion, no. The best insights come from a complete assessment of the available information. This requires focus, dedication, excellent time management and an eye for detail, but the effort will be rewarded with the results.

sk

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/biancaprime/

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