Tech PRose

February 15, 2011

McKinsey says information overload not good for creativity, best decision-making

Filed under: Philip Anast,Social Media — techimage @ 8:00 am

“Information overload” is a term that has packed on the pounds, both literally and figuratively, over the years as smart phones and social networking tools have pervaded workplaces in just about every realm of industry.

Management consulting company McKinsey delivers some contrarian, yet scientifically based, recommendations for the use of social networking tools in an article entitled, “Recovering from information overload.”

The article is targeted to executives and their unique requirements and responsibilities; however, I think any person in a management or worker role can benefit from its implications.

Since the article is lengthy, I will summarize its three key points:

  • Multitasking is a terrible coping mechanism, leading to less productivity and poorer decision-making
  • Self-discipline and setting reasonable expectations are the antidotes for information overload
  • Our behavior sets the tone and tenor for people we work with and for the overall productivity of an organization

The writers assert, “In practice, most of us would probably acknowledge that multitasking lets us quickly cross some of the simpler items off our to-do lists. But it rarely helps us solve the toughest problems we’re working on. More often than not, it’s procrastination in disguise.”

Management expert Peter Drucker is invoked and quoted in the article, although he wrote his book “The Effective Executive” at a time where there were few communication tools at one’s disposal:

“’Most of the tasks of the executive require, for minimum effectiveness, a fairly large quantum of time.’ Drucker’s solutions for fragmented executives—reserve large blocks of time on your calendar, don’t answer the phone, and return calls in short bursts once or twice a day—sound remarkably like the ones offered up by today’s time- and information-management experts.”

I think an important takeaway from the article is that Twitter, Facebook LinkedIn, blogs and other social networking mechanisms are tools, and not ends in themselves. At the end of the day, the tasks we perform must lead to greater outcomes and not just a lot of extra stuff or superfluous activity. While the tools play an important role today in communicating with business influencers, partners and customers, we need to keep the big-picture in mind and think through whether what we’re doing benefits ourselves and the organization. Keeping a perspective on the best ways to use tools and their frequency lead to greater fulfillment and a sense of accomplishment based in reality.

It seems that taking time for creative reflection and the processing of information around us can make for more thoughtful decision-making. Those activities certainly inspired some of the greatest literature in the world – from Homer’s Iliad to Shakespeare’s classics – without the benefit of a laptop or a tweet.  We should do no less for the betterment of our organizations and the constituencies we serve. 

– By Philip Anast


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