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Leadership in a World Drowning in Bits & Bytes: Do You Need a Life Jacket?

April 12, 2010

One of society’s growing challenges is how to contend with the escalating avalanche of data. Whether you’re a manager in business, government or a non-profit organization, or an entrepreneur, blogger, Internet addict or just a regular Joe (or Mary) who’s trying to keep up with the rapid changes in technology, it’s time to chill out and step back for a moment and take stock.

I’ve personally just gone through a recent exercise in determining what’s important for me when it comes to information and what’s not. As someone who was tagged a thought leader many years ago, I’ve always found it challenging to enter new domains. Blogging was one such venture a year ago. I encountered a steep learning curve and soaked up many great ideas and loads of advice from a number of reputable bloggers. I subscribed to dozens of newsletters and blogs, to the point my head was swimming in data and information. STOP THE BUS!!

What I found after many months of reading, reading, reading… and adapting my blog was this: after a while I found I was reading the same content from the big shots. That’s fine, since there are new bloggers coming online every day. But I want a stream of new ideas and perspectives to help me with my own learning and personal growth, not stuff that’s been put back in the microwave to reheat and reserve.

I also realized that many of the top-rated blogs are essentially voyeurism, pursuits into peering into the sorry lives of people who just happen to want to share their exploits and foibles. Not this guy.

Earlier on in my entry into the blogosphere, an American virtual friend who writes several blogs commented to me that the blogs that often get heavy traffic are those that deal in emotional issues, where the bloggers open their kimonos to cyberspace. Sorry again, not this guy. I’ve raised four kids to adulthood; I don’t need to listen to others whine about their personal problems.

So in taking stock of my data overload and assessing what’s important to me and what role I wish to play with my own leadership blog and website, I started de-subscribing to dozens of newsletters and blogs. I subscribe only to high value-added online information sources that contribute to my thought leadership research, which I in turn share openly with people interested in leadership and management issues. These bits and bytes are supplemented by subscriptions to old-fashioned paper sources (so I’m guilty of killing some trees) such as The Economist newspaper, BusinessWeek, Canadian Business and the National post, plus an eclectic array of non-fiction books (usually two or three on the go dealing with economics, geo-politics and technology). Three online sites I find very useful are Strategy & Business, SmartBrief, and McKinsey & Co. Check them out.

The challenge, whether it’s yours truly, those in leadership positions or those trying to get a sense of what’s taking place in the world, is SYNTHESIS. There are no algorithms out there that will put it all together for you. For one thing, the world is much too subjective for an automated approach to figuring it all out. In fact, what we want (and deserve) are diverse ideas and opinions.

For me, I’ve been rethinking how I want to share ideas with my readers. Content is king, provided you can explain it clearly and have a relevant message. Voyeurism and repetitive information sharing that’s inherent in many blogs are something I avoid. It’s value-added that what counts when you’re in the information business, which is what blogging is essentially about.

Within organizations, trying to balance your personal information appetite with the information demands of your job is becoming increasingly taxing. A significant aggregate amount of time is spent by employees on social media sites, much to the chagrin of many employers. I find it interesting to observe where peak visits occur with my blog. It’s definitely not in late afternoon, evening or during the night, or even on weekends. Hmmmm!

This brings me back to the concept of value-added. My recommendation is to avoid the shallow and superficial and go for the depth and insightful, which is why I had to step back and reevaluate where I’m at in my use of social media and what I’m trying to achieve. And it’s not just the information we seek out for personal use but equally information we’re confronted with at work where we need to become more discerning. In short, we need to develop the capacity to assess what’s superfluous and what’s critical to mission success.

So I encourage you to reflect on what you’ve just read. If I haven’t irritated some of you then I guess I failed in this post to spark some thinking and conversation.

In the meantime, enjoy the following quotation from the late John Kenneth Galbraith. As a long-practicing economist, I believe that it’s always a good idea to remain humble.

“The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable.”

Be sure to download my new e-book:
Becoming a Holistic Leader: Strategies for Successful Leadership Using a Principle-Based Approach

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 14, 2010 12:39 am

    Good advice, Jim, and just what I needed to hear. I am drowning in online reading material. Yes, it’s interesting, and most of it has some relevance to my work, but I do need to be more selective. Time for me to start unsubscribing before I glub glub glub….

    • April 14, 2010 1:07 am

      Hey Susan,

      Glad I was able to help spur some reflection. I was getting to the point where I needed two life jackets. Right now I still need one, and am still trying to find the right balance. It will become more of a challenge for all of us to figure out what information is important to our individual needs.

  2. April 13, 2010 12:30 pm

    Thanks for adding your voice, Bret. I may get criticised by others for some of my views on this topic, but we’re steadily drowning in a tidalwave of data. It’s up to each of us to determine what information sources add value to our lives.

  3. bretsimmons permalink
    April 13, 2010 12:17 pm

    right on, Jim! I too read a lot of blogs that are just fluffy BS. I know that appeals to lots of folks, but not me and probably not you. I want to learn new things, stretch, grow. Keep up the good work here! Bret

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