INFORMATION: THE NEW PRODUCTIVITY CURSE

New skills, jobs and technology to counteract information neuroses

McKinsey & Company today announced radical measures to help employees suffering from ever-increasing information overload. Symptoms have included fits of aggression and anxiety attacks – often directed at management, colleagues and clients.

Information Fatigue Syndrome and Information Addiction are the new buzzwords in the corridors of strategy consulting’s high priests.

Poor “information literacy” is cited as one of the key causes. Even with state-of the-art knowledge management systems, their workforce has become less productive and less effective.

Technology has also helped create a sub-culture of being “Always On”. Information seems to cause a dopamine-like ‘rush’ in some people and they become addicted. Attention spans, creativity and focus suffer as a result. When “Not Connected” withdrawal symptoms often surface.

McKinsey’s solution includes traditional education, new technologies plus the hiring of information coaches and counsellors world-wide.

The problem appears to be spreading, especially in the service, financial and other knowledge industries. Dr. Stan Hallowell, an associate professor at Harvard, and John Ratey, a psychiatrist focused on attention deficit disorder will be the project leaders of an in-depth study into this problem.

McKinsey, Harvard and Microsoft will provide the needed funding. Open-source software vendors are contributing their energy, if not their money, to address the urgent need for solutions.

(Read the full story in the detailed Analysis/Synthesis section – for subscribers only)


ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be

Background:
We are drowning in information, and it’s only going to get worse. We must find ways to deal with information more effectively and efficiently. Our dilemma is that we have created technology to produce and massage massive quantities of information. But, our capacity to deal with all this information has not kept pace. Our filtering systems have become overloaded and confused, and our brains are suffering from overload.

Information Literacy, in the widest sense of the phrase, is gaining momentum at academic and business levels as the basis for future knowledge management and organizational learning programs. It is also being identified as an important ingredient of general ICT skills. The skills needed to survive in future are continuously morphing. Workers will require new know-how, skill sets, and relationships. Employers, training institutions, and higher education are struggling to keep pace with the changing job and life skill requirements. They struggle to assess required skills and knowledge.

Knowledge management was seen as the solution to the information glut, but the exclusive focus on technology has added to the problem, not alleviated it.

Research and existing technology has highlighted some of the basic problems regarding people’s information skills. It appears that the required new information skills may be intuitive for some, at some level. But not for all, and not at all levels. We have to find ways to bridge the gap.

2004: The rising Information Curse
Many people are showing signs of Information Fatigue Syndrome and/or Information Addiction. Common symptoms are failure to concentrate, a loss of motivation and morale, increased irritability, chronic anxiety of the undefined kind, digestive problems, hypertension and high blood pressure, sleep disorders as well as negative effects on personal and sex lives

2005: Diminishing returns on knowledge management systems
A follow-up study by the UC Berkeley’s School of Information Management and Systems – ‘How Much Information? 2005’, summarizes world-wide production of original digitally stored content of information (based on 2002 numbers). Information inventories are now estimated to be standing at about 4 million Terabytes (upper estimate for digitally-scanned information) and about 2,4 million Terabytes (lower estimate-compressed). According to the report, stored information (scanned/uncompressed) is growing an average of over 30% per year.

Companies are seeing diminishing returns on their knowledge and information management systems. In the age of innovation hype and rapid turnaround, decreasing productivity and efficiency is the last thing they can afford. Many are cutting knowledge management budgets and are frantically employing more human resource in an attempt to spread the information-processing load.

2006: Information Literacy – the new formal discipline
In wide ranging discussions about the nature of information and communication technologies around the world, the International ICT Literacy Panel concluded that the concept of ICT literacy should be broadened to include both critical cognitive skills as well as the application of technical skills and knowledge. These cognitive skills not only include general literacy such as reading and numeracy, but also critical thinking and problem solving skills.

Schools and tertiary education systems are revising their curricula to encompass what is now being termed ‘a fundamental life skill’, Information Literacy. Basic literacy and computer literacy are not viewed as sufficient anymore.

The new productivity and skill benchmarks are the ability to identify what information is needed, knowing where and how to get it, separating info-nuggets from info-garbage, analyzing it and then being able to synthesize it into new inventions or concepts.

It has also become essential to assess the validity of information, and these skills are now starting to be taught in schools.

2007: The rise of the Information Literate classes
The new ‘Information Literate’ are becoming an important class of employees, much sought-after in companies. As an extension to traditional skills development, training in Information Literacy is gaining momentum. These trainers and information coaches are being viewed as necessary insurance against information overload and addiction and the sustainable health of a company, and the individuals within it.

Many HR managers and practitioners go ‘back to school’ or step aside for the more qualified.

2008: Booming Information Literacy business sectors
Not everybody has learned the new Information Age skills, especially many amongst the older generations. Information Literacy has become a popular and very necessary course at secondary and tertiary educational institutions. New private Information Literacy training centers are popping up everywhere. Continuous learning has become crucial for survival. The young and old, the wealthy and the poor are ‘back at school’.

Information Literacy coaching is a booming service sector. McKinsey & Company has coaches in all main centers to train and maintain their workforce. They have expanded their services into city center Information Literacy Colleges, open to the public.

Suppliers of Knowledge Management systems have either evolved, or have folded. Many clients that had invested millions in these systems are attempting to squeeze value from their existing systems. But, research shows that the value is lost without the essential ingredient, Information Literacy in the workforce.

Human Resource institutions and associations are tapping into various academic institutions to develop tools and systems for the assessment of people’s Information Literacy skills.

Microsoft and various open-source developers collaborate on software tools aimed to make information processing more intuitive and simple.

And last but not least, Information Syndrome counsellors have never seen their private practices so full. Whilst undergoing training, people are regularly tapping into them to maintain a reasonable level of mental health and performance

Warning: Hazardous thinking at work

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