It would seem that we are in the age of information. After all, they say information is power.
But do we really make better decisions with more data? Does it really change the way we live?
I'm really not sure.
On the one hand, if you had data on historical stock trends and could use it to make predictions on which stocks to invest in, that would be good. Right?
Or if I had access to a book on child-raising that would be helpful for me as a parent. Right?
But, on the other hand, on the same shelf are 10 other books with competing strategies for interpreting the same stock data or for raising children. So is that helpful? Which does one believe? How do you choose?
Does the mere fact that more information is available to create an additional requirement for more information on how to interpret and choose? I'd say yes.
Let us assume for a moment that more information is a good thing.
Consider how businesses are run.
The ultimate evolution of a business process is that it becomes iterative based on feedback. So...it uses information about performance to improve itself.
In theory this is a way to test your interpretations of the data. You analyze it, you discuss it and you make a decision. Then you watch and see what happens. Results are really the only true objective response and once achieved, you throw out all the other books that said otherwise. Then you adjust and repeat. Seems simple.
But like many things in life, theoretical processes that should work in a perfect world fail miserably when the one key ingredient missing from theory is added.
Emotional, competitive, unpredictable humans.
You add them to a scenario and sprinkle data on top and you see what happens.
Usually its chaos.
There is a cultural metaphor involving monkeys and information that goes something like this:
5 monkeys are placed in an enclosure. There is a platform, with a ladder leading up to it. On the platform are bananas.
Naturally, the monkeys being the clever animals that they are immediately climb the ladder to reach the bananas.
Thus the experiment begins. Each time a monkey attempts to climb the ladder, they are sprayed with cold water. This is repeated until all 5 monkeys refuse to climb the ladder.
Then, 1 monkey is replaced with a new monkey that knows nothing of the water. As soon as it tries to climb the ladder the other monkeys will stop him. In this way, he learns never to climb the ladder, although he does not understand why.
One by one all 5 monkeys are replaced with new monkeys and you are left with 5 monkeys that will never try and climb the ladder even though none of them have ever been sprayed.
Thus, tribal knowledge is passed down that is not necessarily true. The water hose being long sense removed is no longer an impediment, and yet perfectly good bananas go uneaten, and nobody questions why.
This is how business culture works. This is also why it is so hard to change.
So what then are we to do? As a business owner, I want to minimize risk to my business while capitalizing on opportunities.
There is always at least one individual that has worked somewhere forever and knows all the ins and outs. This is a risk because if he/she leaves, the business loses all that knowledge.
So task 1 is to download tribal knowledge into useful and repeatable forms. This reduces risk.
But at the same time, are there opportunities you are missing? Are there bananas and ladders at play that influencing your decisions without you being aware? How much of this key tribal knowledge is the absolute truth?
The only way to know is to continually test.
Then task 2 is to encourage innovation and allow failure. The only way to grow is to "climb the ladder".
How then does one accomplish both of these things? Especially if there are large groups of people operating within a culture that does not want to change?
Naturally, there are endless books on these topics. Theoretical models and processes that can be applied and so on and so forth. This naturally brings us back to the "parenting problem". Which book is right?
The answer unfortunately is that they are all right. Some work sometimes with some people, while others work sometimes with other people.
Ultimately you just have to try something. Use the information and knowledge to implement a strategy and then watch what happens. Then iterate and try again.
You need both input information, and output information. Some from others, and some created by you.
Information is out there, but using it to your advantage is much more complex than it may seem. Few people figure that out. Fewer still can organize others to interact with information strategically.
That is why we need...an information Overlord :)