Make Information Actionable

Dave Pollard recently reflected on the lack of meaning in the information he receives, and writes:

I find the vast majority of business information I receive is likewise useless and meaningless. Most of it is “best practices” or “benchmarks” — things that have presumably been proven to work in one business and hence could apply in others. From personal experience, I know most “best practices” are PR frauds, and I know most of them don’t translate to other companies because every business is different. Occasionally I’ll find one that has lots of detail (the full story) and unusually candid analysis (what didn’t work, not just what did, and why), but they’re few and far between.

The challenge, therefore, is to make information meaningful (literally, “full-of-meaning”), by putting it in context and considering the implications. Here’s some of the thoughts that I’ve taken from Dave’s piece:

  • If the information won’t mean anything to the person with whom you are sharing it … if it has no bearing on their work or plans … don’t share it.
  • “Meaning” will have various shades of “import” (what it brings to us) and “importance” (how swiftly we need to act). Some of the information we receive demands action from us; much is background and context setting.
  • If information is going to be meaningful to someone, then a suitable level of detail (facts) and analysis (implications) must be presented.

He concludes with three actionable ideas: (a) stop reading / listening to shallow sources of information; (b) find good people who can filter the crap and highlight good information; and (c) have a way of tracking important information.

The key takeaway for me? Consider the implication(s) of the data/information you are sharing through the eyes of those with whom you are sharing it. What does it mean for them? What could it mean for them? You won’t be able to answer that in its full glory, because you are not them, but you should have (a) some sense of what it will mean, and (b) a willingness to deeply engage with them in order to understand from their perspective. This could equally be called the “so what?” test.

Source: Dave Pollard, The Impotence of (Most) Information, June 2, 2006
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