How to deal with data overload

I always thought I'd be immune, but I can now admit to feeling the symptoms of information overload.

I always thought I'd be immune, but I can now admit to feeling the symptoms of information overload.

My daily professional interactions are consistently filled with interactions with people trying to keep their wits about them while struggling to keep pace with nonstop torrents of data. The more I read and speak with clients, the more I realize many people are reaching their physical limits in receiving, absorbing and processing information.

In today's world, there is an oversupply of information that is overwhelming the average person's ability to pay attention. This realization is having significant implications on my counsel to clients and offers intriguing lessons for all communicators.

We have to shift our thinking around designing and building communication programs. It is incumbent upon us as communicators to spend as much time thinking about how we reach out to our target audiences as we do about what we want to say. More than ever, we have to create space.

Today's business leaders are all trying to find ways to build space into organizations and processes. As Derek Dean and Caroline Webb noted in a recent piece for the McKinsey Quarterly: “We are at risk of moving toward an ever-less thoughtful and creative professional reality unless we stop now to redesign our working norms.” Small acts can help an organization refocus its attention and re-energize its people.

Here are a few ideas for creating space and maximizing attention:

Create physical and virtual spaces for your audience's passions - it will spark creativity, foster dialogue and strengthen engagement.

Take a look at organizational communications. Ask yourself whether you are creating an environment where people can focus and thoughtfully consider and respond to issues.

Examine your physical environment. Research studies have demonstrated the impact of physical design on worker moods and effectiveness. Does your physical environment help people flourish?

Find time to collaborate, particularly in small groups. Researchers at the Harvard Business School found creative solutions were more likely to occur when focused work took place on a single problem. Encourage people to work together and seek counsel from others.

Experiment and assess how it's working. As you think about creating your communications space, have a concrete goal in mind so you can look at your progress along the way. Make sure your teams understand these goals so they can help change course along the way.

Paul Turner is SVP at Hill & Knowlton San Francisco.

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