Of the many great speakers we have had to my Vistage CEO and Key Executive peer groups, probably more than 300 since the groups were formed, several stand out as truly memorable.
One of these was Herbert (Herb) Meyer who had been a journalist, an author and, later, special counsel to Bill Casey who was Director of the CIA during the Reagan administration.
For perhaps obvious reasons, Herb was a genuine specialist in the assessment of information and he ran a superb session on the Information Overload.
Herb made the point that the availability of information is growing exponentially but our ability to absorb all this growth is extremely limited to say the least. Search engines, led of course by Google, have made it very simple to find what we are looking for and this allows us to be selective in our searching and consequent absorption of the information.
The question is, however, when we have the information, what are we going to do with it? Google is so all-encompassing that even a simple search will bring up literally millions of web pages and then what?
Research shows that our attention span is so short that unless what we are looking for appears on the first page of the Google search and even more, in the top three, then we ignore the rest.
What is needed, then, is the ability to transform the raw information into knowledge that possibly requires more “drilling down” research. And then what?
Herb made the point that information and knowledge is no more than interesting and the real value lies in our ability to transform the knowledge into intelligence.
In other words, what is the added value that we can derive from the research? What outcome are we seeking from the research? Hence, what action can we take as a result of the research?
In the intelligence community this is the most important factor. It is a comparatively simple exercise to gather a vast amount of data from published sources and then filter it to give us the broad basis of the information or knowledge that we are seeking.
As a matter of peripheral interest at least 80% of all information gathered by the security services is published in formation in the public domain with the balance being gathered from private sources.
I would guess that as the use of social media has grown to an extraordinary extent that 80% is probably an underestimate now.
The transformation from information and knowledge to intelligence is of paramount importance then and that takes a good deal of thought and imagination to determine just how what we have discovered can be used to its maximum value.
It is the area that causes more indecision and soul searching than any other but it is crucial if the value of the research is to be optimised.
In the days when I was involved in pan-European market research studies I found it very sad that companies would pay large amounts for the research studies and then metaphorically file them without doing anything more.
However, without action, the research has been interesting and possibly even valuable in the long term but all in all it has been just that, interesting and that is all.
If you don’t take action, then time, effort and money has been wasted.
The really important factor then is to understand what we have discovered, refine it into intelligence and then take the appropriate action. Then it has been worthwhile.
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