Tag Archives: “information overload”

More on the Battle of Focus in an Information Overload Era – (with insight from McChrystal’s Team of Teams & Cal Newport’s Deep Work)

Team of TeamsIn 2011 Americans took in five times as much information every day as they did in 1986—the equivalent of 175 newspapers.
Where once an educated person might have assumed she was at least conversant with the relevant knowledge on a particular field of study, the explosion of information has rendered that assumption laughable. 

General Stanley McChrystal (and others),Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World


Surprise, surprise – we are in the midst of full-bore information overload. You are; I am; we all are.

And, plenty of the information we take in is important information. Information we need to know.

And, alas, much of the information crossing our Facebook/LinkedIn/Twitter/web site eyeball path is not worth investing time in knowing.

But, we do invest our time in such anyway.

We all knew that the amount of information we take in has greatly increased, but when you read the statistic quoted above by General McChrystal – “five times as much information every day as they did in 1986” – and, that statistic is back from 2011 (a half-decade ago!) — then I’ve got a hunch we are drowning in, being covered up by, buried under… too much information.

In Deep Work, Cal Newport reminded us that our real challenge and task is to decide in advance what we do with our intellectual deep-work-cal-newportattention. And then, stick to that advanced decision making. Set a timer; focus and read and pay attention to the intellectual content at hand. That’s the plan to combat this onslaught.

One of the reasons that I think people appreciate the First Friday Book Synopsis is that it is a focused time. Every person has a handout, and seemingly everyone follows along with the handout.. Their attention seems pretty focused for those 35 minutes or so once a month as Karl Krayer and I deliver our two business book synopses each month.

But I’ve seen quite the contrast. I’ve seen people “watching” presentations, by glancing up at a few slides, and then putting their eyeballs, and a major portion of their focus, on their SmartPhones while a presenter speaks on.

Divided attention is divided attention – and few lessons are fully taken in that way.

I don’t know how you handle your information overload. I know that I don’t always win in my fight in this battle. But, this much I know – I’ve got to find a way to choose in advance some key intellectual content, and then give my undivided attention until I finish drinking in that content (in my case, usually reading books).

In other words, if it is an information overload era, then I’ve got to become my own master regarding what information I take in, and when, and how.

OK – blog post finished. Now it’s time to read. I’ll set my timer, and then after that focused time, after an immersion in the content of a good book, I’ll get back to checking my email, and make a call or two, and maybe even watch a cat video…

Is “Information Overload” a myth – or, at least, not really a problem?

Slate.com tackles this question in Don’t Touch That Dial! A history of media technology scares, from the printing press to Facebook by Vaughan Bell. It is a fun and enlightening read.  Here’s the concluding paragraph:

The writer Douglas Adams observed how technology that existed when we were born seems normal, anything that is developed before we turn 35 is exciting, and whatever comes after that is treated with suspicion. This is not to say all media technologies are harmless, and there is an important debate to be had about how new developments affect our bodies and minds. But history has shown that we rarely consider these effects in anything except the most superficial terms because our suspicions get the better of us. In retrospect, the debates about whether schooling dulls the brain or whether newspapers damage the fabric of society seem peculiar, but our children will undoubtedly feel the same about the technology scares we entertain now. It won’t be long until they start the cycle anew.

{off topic:  Here’s a favorite quote from the above quoted Douglas Adams:
A learning experience is one of those things that say, “You know that thing you just did? Don’t do that.”}

My take:  I don’t worry that information overload will make me mentally ill (other things might…), or that it is going to dull my brain.  And I do think that the more we know, the more we know.

But, I have never learned as much about as much as I do now at this stage in my life.  It is information learning – books, articles, essays, NPR…  How do I keep track of all this information – which feels like overload?  That is what I wrestle with…

Rx for Information Overload — The First Friday Book Synopsis

There is too much to know.  Really — there is too much to know.

Everywhere around us, we see this truth pounded home.   Recently 60 Minutes re-ran its great, touching, sad, profound story about “Picking Cotton.”  (Transcript available here).  It is the true story of Ronald Cotton, falsely accused of raping Jennifer Thompson-Cannoni, identified (falsely) by Jennifer herself as the rapist.  The actual rapist, Bobby Poole, was not caught, and raped other women until he was later convicted for one of his other crimes.

The detective in charge of the case, Mike Gauldin (now Captain Mike Gauldin), assisted Jennifer with photos and a line-up of possible suspects.  He used standard, accepted procedure at the time.  She picked Ronald Cotton, who was convicted — twice.  It was the wrong choice, which DNA evidence later proved.  Here are the words of Detective Gauldin from the 60 Minutes interview:

“Law enforcement wasn’t schooled in memory. We weren’t schooled in protecting memory, treating it like a crime scene, where you’re very careful, methodical about what you do and how you use it. I mean, we weren’t taught that in those days.”

Here is a little more of the Leslie Stahl interview with Detective Gaudlin:

“Before this case, did you think that there were a lot of innocent people put away?” Stahl asked Detective Gauldin.  “No,” he said with a smile. “No, I didn’t. Innocent people aren’t convicted of crimes they didn’t commit. I believed that.”  Asked what he thinks now, Gauldin told Stahl, “I know better. I mean, well over 200 cases nationally. We’ve had a half a dozen in this state alone. The first, of course, was my case.”

This is the clear lesson — as much as we know, as much as we think we know, there is still so much we do not know.  Detective Gauldin had been thoroughly trained.  He is, without any doubt, a man with great credibility  (Just watch the interview).  He cared about getting the conviction right.  But, the knowledge was simply inadequate.  We needed, he needed, to learn more about the mistakes that can be made in confirming eye-witness testimony.

There was so much more to learn (and there is still so much more to learn).  Captain Gauldin has now helped develop a computer program, gaining acceptance across the country, to help avoid the eyewitness testimony mistakes made in the Cotton case.  (By the way, Jennifer Thompson-Cannoni has apologized to Ronald Cotton, and asked for his forgiveness, which he granted, and they are now friends– and they wrote their story in a book together.  It really is a remarkable story of forgiveness and redemption).

But for this blog post, it is as a parable that I refer to this story.  It serves as a reminder that we always have more to learn.  If Outliers, and Talent is Overrated, and so many other business books have anything to teach us, it is this:  we need to keep learning.

This is where the First Friday Book Synopsis serves such a useful purpose. Few people have the time to read all of the business books they would like to read – that they need to read.  And even when they do read them, they do not remember what they read, nor do they pull out of a book its most useful transferable principles.

If a person attends our event (or purchases our synopses on-line), they have a better chance of knowing which books to buy and which books they don’t need to buy.  But we offer even more — our presentations provide the key ideas which would be especially useful in anyone’s unique circumstances.

There are other places, of course, to find these points out — including the many excellent book reviews available on Amazon.com, the New York Times, Business Week, and many other places.  But let’s be honest– not only do people not have time to read business books, they don’t even have time to read business book reviews.

Our unique approach really does give the key content of the books we choose.  One enthusiastic participant put it this way:

“attending the First Friday Book Synopsis, is not the same as reading the book for yourself — but it’s close.”

The information you need to learn may not be as important as the information Detective Gauldin needed to learn.  But we are all on a trajectory toward greater competence and success, in business and in life.  Learning is a life-long challenge.  We believe the First Friday Book Synopsis can help.


If you have never attended the First Friday Book Synopsis, here’s a quick overview.  In addition to great networking and a terrific Park City Club breakfast, Karl Krayer and I will each present a 15-minute synopsis of a best-selling business book.  You will receive two pages of quotes taken directly from each book, and an outline of the key content.  You will discover many transferable concepts.  It is a fast-paced delivery of useful, insightful business principles and concepts.

• You can always see the next two books for the next meeting on any page on this web site.

• You can order synopses of many or our presentations at our companion web site, 15 Minute Business Books.

• You can sign up for reminder e-mails for the First Friday Book Synopsis here.

• And if your company could benefit from one of these presentations delivered within your company, let us know.  E-mail me at .

A “Book” or an “Essay” — Some thoughts on Good Books and Information Overload

I read a lot of books — not as many as some, and in this chapter of my life, not as many as our blogging partner Bob Morris — but I read a lot of books.  Let me state the obvious — many (most) business books are not masterpieces of great literature.  But nearly all of them are worth investing some time to learn what is in them — and nearly all of them have an idea or two that if I actually followed through on, my business life would be more productive, my thinking might be a little clearer, and my path to success would be helped.

Recently, I was reading some reviews for one of the books selected for the First Friday Book Synopsis (no, I won’t tell you which book it was), that complained that the book would have been fine as an essay, but there was simply not enough in it to justify a full book.  And it got me thinking.

First, my agreement.  Yes, there are business books that would be just fine as essays.  The authors had to stretch things a bit to come up with a full book.

And, I have come to learn that a fair number of business books give you almost as much as you need in the introduction.  The introduction is written with thoroughness, and when this is the case, the rest of the book is primarily commentary and elaboration.  There is nothing wrong with this approach — and I appreciate, even love and greatly respect, a well-written introduction to a book.  (By the way, I see this pattern in books on poverty and social justice also.  I present synopses of such books at the Urban Engagement Book Club sponsored by Central Dallas Ministries).

But here’s the thing.  Many times I read a book, and when I reach a key paragraph, I put the book down, and start “working,” because the book gave me the right prompt, the right idea, the right nudge…  

Or, I have listened to a speaker, and a phrase, an idea, something, is said and I “tune out” for a while, because I am thinking about the implication of the idea just heard in the midst of a still ongoing presentation.  I can assure you that I see this happen to people who listen to me — they hear something, and go into their own world of implications searching.  So I miss part of a presentation, and maybe am partially tuned out (even, at times, when I am reading), because I am so energized by a good, important, useful idea.

So I am not bothered by a book that is really only worthy of an essay.  If the ideas are good, I will take them in any form they arrive.  And I will appreciate all good ideas.  And, by the way, there is a chance I would not learn about this good idea if it were in an article or essay — I may have a better chance of discovering it if it is in a book.

Now — certainly, I prefer a book full of good content.  But if all I get is an essay full of good content packaged in a too long book, I’ll take it.  It is the bad ideas, the worthless content, that I dislike.  And I can usually tell that in a hurry.

Maybe this is why our short synopses are so valuable.  And maybe this is why the Q & A format that Bob Morris uses on this blog is so worthwhile.  We are really lucky when we learn any ideas that are genuinely useful and helpful.  And our synopses, and this blog, can provide such ideas from the books we choose.

(Note to authors, and to those of you who have a favorite book or author:  of course I am not referring to your beloved book when I describe a book as not being a masterpiece.  Your book is clearly a true, brilliant masterpiece.  It is all of those other books I am referring to…)

The Crunch of the Immediate and our Struggle with Information Overload

Information overload has set in. People have been talking about this for quite a few years. But now it is getting serious. Everywhere I go, somebody else is writing about the problem. Too many e-mails. Too many distractions. The people in the United States are losing any ability to take an actual vacation. Most can’t even define the word vacation anymore.


And I see no light at the end of this tunnel. We are getting busier by the year/month/week/day. In a recent article in Slate.com, I learned of the news studies being done on how to write the kinds of sentences that people will actually read on line. The article states its opinion of our shrinking attention span: Lazy Eyes: How we read online.

But the real moment of understanding came recently when I finished presenting a book synopsis to a corporate audience. I could tell something was up by the body language. The book was Big Think Strategy, and it trumpeted the value of thinking big think thoughts rather than small think thoughts. It speaks of the value of looking at the big, big picture, of taking bold steps. And all of that requires time to ponder, time to think, time to dream. I asked someone after the presentation about the resistance I was sensing. Then I understood. The thoughts went something like this (my paraphrase): “We would love to think big think thoughts. We would love to think about anything. But we leave this presentation, and our to do list has gotten longer because we have taken time away from our work to think about the latest book. The crunch of the immediate saps the life of dreaming right out of us.”

As I said, it is a serious problem.

But I know this. Thinking — thinking big think thoughts — is part of our work. And if we don’t make time for that, the future might slip right out of our hands.

I don’t have a solution. Any suggestions out there?