In an earlier post, Shawn talked about when there is too much information (May 2005), which produced some interesting comments from Denham, Andrew and Clive Wilson.
Several presenting problems were identified in this discussion.
- conflicting and voluminous information
- complexity, uncertainty, unclear path
Firstly, we may note that an automatic (knee-jerk) demand for more information may be motivated by a number of factors.
- Ease, immediacy and relatively low cost of certain kinds of information retrieval (especially what is freely available and easily found using internet search engines);
- Prior investment in information technology and analytic capability (skilled professionals);
- Institutionalized risk aversion and "due diligence";
- Requests for more information (or inquiries or studies) being a strategy to defer or avoid making a decision. (This strategy is commonly found in dysfunctional organizations as depicted in the Dilbert cartoons.)
Instead of gathering more information, Shawn advocates focusing on principles, values and preferences to help you make a choice, and basing your decisions on plausibility instead of accuracy. For his part, Clive disagrees; he thinks the problem is often not a lack of information as such, but a lack of relevant and useful information. "In such circumstances, you would expect to get better quality decisions by obtaining the additional information first, rather than making a decision in its absence."
I can see that both positions might be reasonable in different contexts. The real issue for me however is achieving a good balance between three things.
- The quantity and quality of information.
- The capacity of the people (working collectively) to use the information effectively.
- The demands of the situation.
If the management team is already overloaded with information, then there seems little point merely trying to get more information. However, if we are overloaded with poor quality information, then it may be very useful to replace it with higher quality information. (This entails an ability to ask the right questions, and to frame any investigation intelligently.) At the same time, we may wish to increase the reasoning capacity (sense-making and decision-making) of the management team. If we can't manage to connect the dots, simply having more dots all over the place isn't necessarily going to help, but having dots closer together may help us to see the pattern. (By the way, I think I agree with Klein that sense-making isn't just about connecting the dots, but it is part of the story. I shall come back to that in another post.)
Gary Klein, Brian Moon, Robert R. Hoffman, "Making Sense of Sensemaking 1: Alternative Perspectives," IEEE Intelligent Systems, vol. 21, no. 4, pp. 70-73, July/Aug. 2006, doi:10.1109/MIS.2006.75
See also Sensemaking in a World of Shadows, a review by Stephen Few of Gary Klein's latest book.