A friend of mine who knows how pathological I am about time sent me this quote, which I’ve since learnt is also Segal’s Law. “A man with a watch knows what time it is. A man with two watches is never sure.”
It was a joke about how many clocks and watches I have. But the day I received it, I also saw in its wisdom a point about information overload.
Between a client assignment and two brainstorms I helped colleagues facilitate over the past few days, I’ve realized again how teams are remarkably good at gathering information, but less effective at figuring out what all that downloaded/emailed/photocopied information means.
The flow from data to information to insights to ideas is a fairly easily process to understand. The problem is helping people understand a lot of information does not necessarily translate into action. In fact, it usually translates into in-action or paralysis.
My young team on Thursday night had done exactly that in their week-long sweep of everything necessary to know about dental care. On a conference call over Skype, they began our conversation by launching into a discussion of everything they could get their hands on and eyeballs focused. About five minutes in (and increasingly worried how long the call would take), I finally nipped our discussion short: “So what’s all this information telling you? What’s it mean?”
It’s such an easy question to ask. But, I don’t always follow the advice myself. I have a huge new curricula assignment in front of me, and I’ve pulled at least 12 books from my shelf to read. (This, from a man with four books on his night-stand that are gathering dust.) I realized after Thursday’s Skype call that I should follow my own advice and ask myself the same question. Then, I realized there were many variations.
- What does all this information tell me?
- In ten words or less, what’s the wisdom to learn?
- If I took a step back from the sheer breadth of it all, what’s the simplest path?
- Is there a priority order here?
- What’s the 20% that will give me 80% return?
- If I had just ten minutes, what would be the first and last thing I’d do?
- If you had to put it into one sentence, what’s the one thing it means we should do?
What other variations would you add?
It’s one of the most complex skills in problem solving – or more so, in leadership – I think there is master. To transcend the cloud of information, to zero in one the key ingredient (also known as the insight), and to make a decision to move forward.
If you can do that, it’s irrelevant what time it is.