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What More Information Do I Need, Really?

26Mar 2007

Our culture is information saturated.  In fact, I would say many of us are information addicts.  We think we need to know more, or at least the latest information, before we make a decision or act.  The problem is — there is so much information available and it is coming at us so quickly, we really can’t know everything on a specific topic. 

In thinking about why we feel we need so much information, I reflect on a parenting principle I often share with families.  Children are not in control of much in their lives (especially younger children).  We pick where they live, make their meals, buy their clothes, and dictate how much of their time is used.  But people of all ages like to feel they are in control of their lives.  One way children gain a sense of control in their lives is through predictability.  They tend to do better when there is a pattern of routine in their lives which gives them a general ability to predict what is going to happen — around mealtime (when/where they eat), bedtime, a favorite TV show they watch, or what the family does on Saturday mornings.  They really aren’t in control but they have the illusion of control through predictability.  This is fine and actually healthy.

I believe a similar dynamic may occur as we get older.  I believe the rapid changes in our world create an overall anxiety in our lives — we are less able to predict what life will be like because so much is changing so fast.  Gasoline prices fluctuate, our favorite restaurant goes out of business, our son or daughter gets a new job and is moving out of town, our largest customer is bought by another company and may not continue to buy from us, there are new cell phones and service options coming out monthly, the capabilities of digital cameras increase every few months.  And on it goes.

One way we try to manage this change (and our anxiety — that is, our fear of making a mistake) is to keep informed — listen to the news on the radio, visit our favorite news website at least 2-3 times a day, read our mail/email/newspaper/magazines/professional journals, watch the “talking heads” on TV at night, search the Web for the latest reviews on products.  And, to a point, this is appropriate.

However, in working with individuals, business managers, and families, I find many people become paralyzed in making decisions or moving forward with a plan of action because they are constantly re-evaluating the situation and feel driven to gather more information.   At some point, though, enough is enough.

I think we need to be asking ourselves some questions, to help us determine if we need more information, and if so, how much more information we need, and where we will gather the information (to make sure it is accurate, an increasing problem in our information overloaded world.)

If you find yourself (or one of your colleagues) continuing to put off making a decision or taking an action step because “we need to get some more information first”, I would encourage you to ask yourself the following questions:

1) What more information do I need, really?  What specifically do I need to know that I don’t know now?  How will having this information affect my decision (or will it)?

2) What information do I need just to start the process? (Often the plan of action is a series of steps, and more information will actually be gathered along the way as you go through the process.  Usually, it is impossible to gather all of the information desired up front, because the data will change depending upon decisions made in the process.)

3) What are the risks (realistically) of proceeding with 80% of the information (versus having 90%+)?

4) What, besides my perceived need for more information, is prohibiting me from moving forward in achieving my goal? 

Potential factors:  fear of making a wrong decision, letting the “urgent” details of daily life squeeze out the “important”, really not wanting to deal with the issue, fear of conflict which may result from the decision.

Let me give you some practical areas where I see this issue raise its ugly head:

  a) staffing decisions.  Needing to hire for a new position, or more frequently, procrastinating in letting go someone who is not good for the business.

  b) long-term planning decisions.  Sitting down and starting to put together your personal estate/wealth transfer plan.  Avoiding making decisions about business succession – both ownership succession and management succession.

  c) personal career direction. What college should I go to?  What major should I choose?  Should I change career directions and pursue another area of interest?  Should I really start looking for another company to work for?  Should I get some training in another area because my current job is a dead-end?

  I am sure there are lots of other areas where this issue applies.  The key question I think we need to keep asking ourselves is:  What more information do I need, really?


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