Information Relevance – The Key to Business in 2005?

I just read a very interesting post that was skeptical, but hopeful, of the success of the More Space Project. It contained an interesting equation,

(blog) content > attention (time) available

that has me thinking. I am teaching an Information Systems course in the College of Business at the University of Louisville this semester, so my brain has already been crunching on ideas about information and its importance in the business decision making process. Now Rich's equation has made me realize something.

Over the last few decades, information has been one of those things that could separate the great companies from the mediocre ones. More information on buyer preferences and habits, local tastes, production efficiencies, financing options, and every other area of business have enabled companies to squeeze more and more out of every dollar spent. But we will eventually hit a wall. Human brains can only process so much information, yet it is human brains that must make business decisions. When we initially face information overload, it is no big deal. We simply spend more time analyzing the increased information. But what happens when we reach a point of exhaustion and can't do that anymore? Well, we start to consider information relevance.

Many of you probably already do this. You scroll through emails and web pages with a quick glance to see if anything strikes your fancy. I know from my own site statistics here that only about 25% of visitors stay long enough to read anything more than a few sentences. This means that there are tons of people who sometimes find something very relevant on this site and sometimes not, so they check every day or two and maybe once every week or ten days they stop and read an entire post. But that said, I think most people are still very poor at determining information relevance. I wonder if the key to business success in the future will be finding managers who can quickly separate relevant from irrelevant information, and if it is, shouldn't we teach people how to master that skill?

My initial guess is that people who are 1)very fearful of missing something or 2)extremely detail oriented aren't quick to determine information relevance, or if they are, they still have trouble discarding irrelevant information. This means that over time, if I'm right, people with good skills at determining information relevance will migrate to the top of organizations. And that won't include very many people of type 1 and 2 mentioned previously. That's bad because to run a company you need many different types of people, and if there are not cautious or detail-oriented people at the top, it may lead to poor execution of what may be very viable strategies. This is one of those things I'm working out while I'm writing, but I see it as a real potential problem in the future. My only hope is that schools will somehow help prepare the business leaders of the future to deal with this. At least, they will do so until we figure out how to modify our own brains with neuroceuticals and/or electronics such that we can augment our own information processing capacities. But that is still a long way off.