Bob Lieberman's Blog

Commentary and Tools For Empowering Change

Information Overload: Alarm or Transformation? (part 2)

Last time, I was wondering about the feeling of "information overload" we are all experiencing, and entertaining the possibility that the feeling is telling us it's time for major adaptation. That line of thinking led to two key questions for leaders: Where are we going? What will we need when we get there?

In an open system like an organization, you can't predict future behavior without understanding the past. So here's my thumbnail summary of the some recent developments in the world of information (I welcome your corrections).

Hypertext, the ability to jump non-sequentially between documents, is the disruptive technology that got this ball rolling. It arose from research at Harvard in the mid 1960's. But it wasn't until the advent of the world wide web in the 1990's that hypertext documents, in the form of web pages, became commonly available.

The resulting information explosion begot web crawlers, which are software robots developed in order to automate searching. To crawlers, Google added the sophistication of page ranking, a refinement that places value on the affinity and authority relationships between documents. Then Flickr popularized the now familiar tag cloud, a visual arrangement of keywords whose sizes and spatial arrangement make visible some basic hidden relationships of meaning and importance. 

These images feed the highly efficient, non-linear, image-processing center of our brain, whose parallelism could easily take us far beyond the sequential, logical approach to information we have used up to now.

To summarize: in the past, we made the connections, by looking things up manually and by thinking about them. In the near future, we may not have to do that anymore. 

In the near future, it's possible that connections will be made for us, using technologies that will emerge from those in common usage today. Results we are looking for may be delivered to us fully summarized, reasoned, and supported, based on aggregated knowledge and behavior. The summaries could have so much value that we might get used to ignoring their supporting details.

How different business would be in that world! Of course, you can debate whether it will actually come to pass. But there's no denying that in ten years information usage will be different in some astounding future which seems foreign to us now. Do you know what workers will need to capitalize on those developments? 

And that's my point: If you're a C-level executive, you should be seriously exploring that big question right now. If you're just wondering how your organization will cope, you're managing not leading,

P.S. If you think my predicted future is far-fetched, see Robot Scientists Can Think For Themselves.