Managing information will soon be a key competence

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While informations is becoming more and more important in everyone’s day to day job, we always ear the same things : “too much information, not enough time, impossible to manage it”. This looks like a paradox as people don’t seem ready to embrace what is becoming more and more essential in most of us’ jobs. Yet, as mentioned in a recent UNESCO survey, we’ll have to learn to deal with that. Managing information is about not not remain a constraint anymore but to become a key competence.

What is it about ? The issue is clear : find, extract, evaluate, and make an efficient use of information.

It’s also interesting to observe these requirements in the eyes of the supposed qualities of the digital natives. I’m not sure they’re more able to manage multiple information flows than their predecessors. The only difference is that they were exposed to information younger and learned to consider it as flows and not as stocks. So it’s rather a matter a context than a matter of generation and I know older people who are very easy with this approach too.

Remember what we heard is the past considering what changed the relationship between people and information at work. “Make people use computers ? You’re kidding !”. “Managers will write their mail themselves ? You’re not serious !”. “You don’t even think employees will learn how to use internet ? “. In short, the very reasons which made me write this note will be a matter of laugh in a few years.

But things are not so as easy as they seem. As some survey shows, the new generation has a gift for receiving lots of information it seems they’re far from previous generation when it comes to make a relevant use of it. So the present generation has to transmit its competences if we don’t want newcomers’ qualities to be useless.

Otherwise I think it’s rather a matter of a change in attitude toward information.

Find : people will have to learn to find infomation together and not alone anymore. Organizations wil also have their role to play by making those collective efficiency practices possible.

Then the attitude of people toward information as to change. Today people are flooded by useless information. Things will have to be done in order to make it possible to pick what’s usefull and use only direct messages for specific purposes. The problem is not the mass of infomation, it’s the amount of relevant information (what I need to know to do my job now) in relation to the global quantity. Before reducing the information flow we have to improve the signal to noise ratio. I’m not bothered when I recevive 100 emails a day. What bothers me is that only 5 of them make me think “I really need that”. In opposition, the information I receive through RSS feeds because I wanted to follow it, because it comes from well-targeted search agents, because it’s filtered by my network, is enormous in quantity but provides me with real benefits. It takes time for me to manage it ? It saves many people’s time in my company when I publish things and bookmarks on our intranet, or on the internet when I publish my bookmarks.

Extract and evaluate ? I partly treated this point above. Social information processing will be essential. Individual critical sense  will be requested : being able to select what’s useless and what’s worth. We’ll have to change from a system when people are subjects of informational bombing to system where people build and manage their own information supply chain. To a system where people take time to receive and time to use. Where people don’t throw themselves on their Outlook every time they hear a “beep” and wait to finish their ongoing tasks in ordre not to lose their contration and have to re-mobilize themselves.

People often think the multiplication of incoming information sources parcels work out and decreases productivity. That’s wrong. What has negative effects is to be dominated by information : information is supposed to support people’s work, so people have to override it and understand some have to be digested quickly and some can be postponed, have chanels for each kind of information and check the right chanel at the right time. And be able not to check anything (except the “red alert chanel”) when doing something that requires their whole attention.

In fact the gap is not generational : it’s between those who dominate information flows and those who are submerged by them.

It’s not only about organization : it’s also about education. Good reflex have to be learned at school and the educational system has its part of the responsability. How many business school train their students to manage information ? Tomorrow, being able to manage one’s informationnal supply chain will be as evident as using a word processing software today.