Information - when is enough enough?

20 Apr 2005|Added Value

I just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, Blink. I also spent last weekend crewing in a sailboat race on the Bay. And I’m working on analyzing our current operations systems processes and metrics at Cheskin.

So what do these have in common? They all deal with information and decision making – and as a result of all three I’ve been thinking very hard about what determines the necessary and minimal amount of information I need to make my best decisions quickly.

As Gladwell points out, more information doesn’t necessarily result in better outcomes. Yet going with our “gut” isn’t always the best course of action either. So how can I know which pieces of data are the right ones to focus on?

With sailing it’s relatively easy – wind direction, current and boat speed are essential to monitor. The former two help determine the best tack and timing. The later ensures that the critical decisions being made are positively affecting performance.

Certainly a boat could race without these metrics, but winning would probably be more a matter of luck or the intuition of an exceptionally experienced and highly trained crew (fortunately we’re blessed with a seasoned captain and a knot meter 😉

On the flip side, a boat could just as easily lose with all this information at hand if it’s not being filtered efficiently. Eight crew members yelling information to each other and the helmsman would be a ridiculous and clearly dangerous situation.

Managing a company is not much different. Certain metrics are essential to gauge performance and make adjustments. But too much information from too many sources only confuses and slows down the process.

When I inherited my current role, I also inherited more spreadsheets than you can imagine. I decided that if I had to spend more than 15 minutes trying to figure out the logic or if the information didn’t answer a burning question in the first week of my job, it was history. And more than a year later, a majority of those docs sit untouched in a folder labeled “old stuff.” My challenge now is to see if anything else might be more distracting than enlightening.

What are those telltales really telling me?

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