Eclectic Thought Samples From Larry Burns

How to Deal with “Overwhelmnent”

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One resource is shared equally: time. There are 24 hours in a day or 1440 minutes, and we ought to be sleeping some 400+ of them. So much in our “westernized” lives attempts to entice and capture our time that we need substantial vigilance to prevent getting lost in seemingly endless streams of “stuff.” One Google search can easily lead to hours stolen in the pursuit of more information. So many people are “moving so fast” that they “don’t have time for anything else” and yet, while everything is amazing, few are happy.

The human brain was simply not constructed, or has not yet evolved, to handle the information saturation that we experience daily in technological cultures. Our input senses are well and truly overwhelmed, and the human animal really does “stress out” when overwhelmed. Many of us experience this sense of underlying informational “overwhelmnent” every day. [ Yes, I make up words and spelling, but unlike some politicians, I freely admit to the practice].

Ultimately, it is all about the fact there is only so much time in life to digest all the data and information that we are exposed to. A great quote that has lingered in my unconscious comes from an older blog post written by @reshadt: “It is not content that is rare. It is not compelling content that is rare. It is time that is rare. Who can curate, combine, and help us discover this content so that we can make the most of our time? Who can get us things at the right time, just not real time?”

Perhaps the crux of the problem of this “overwhelmnent” lies in our very nature as humans. Hence, our newest adaptation challenge is summed up as “ what to do when insatiable curiosity meets infinite information”. It’s no surprise that we struggle. By definition “multi-tasking” is not a legitimate strategy, and evidence abounds that attempts to “multi-task” unequivocally reduce productivity. So, if you are one of millions who are adopting this strategy, you are simply fooling yourself in the long term. Are we then supposed to sacrifice sleep time? Studies continue to indicate that is what many people are doing. So, let us get this clear, we are losing sleep time, while in reality we all actually have a need to process MORE data/information in our dreams each night than ever before. There is so much hitting us on a daily basis that I am not surprised the pharmaceutical industry is so busy treating all kinds of stress related maladies including depression.

So is this just ongoing natural evolution of how humans deal with information? At various times humankind adopted ways to ‘handle’ information. Kings, perhaps wizards, even philosophers have served as keepers of information. Religion played an enormous role, as Churches, Monks, Priests, Rabbis, Imams, etc. offered ways to deal with (and suppress) knowledge. We’ve had Craft Guilds, academics, and all kinds of other information inventions in our societies including bureaucrats who, along with many others, have participated in dictating what was shared and who received it.

Now that the “Google it” data pump is always available, the way people “learn” has radically changed. Unfortunately, we often neglect to note that just because you get an answer to any question (in nanoseconds), that doesn’t necessarily give you a context to understand that answer and add to your actual knowledge. You ask a question, get back a bunch a data and just GO! The data may say “turn left,” and you just turn left, and keep going. In fact, the information should have said, “Turn left, unless…” with another 20 conditions in which you should turn right, go straight or not go at all, but you didn’t get the context so your quick choice is potentially unwise.

People think they are somehow a lot “smarter” now because of access to all this “stuff.” Is there not danger as people treat superficial fragments of data or information as “truth” and run with it before digging any deeper for comprehension? I sense that people are starting to realize that they are adrift in all this “stuff,” and what they actually long for is some meaning. Sometimes you make a good decision picking a path and sometimes you don’t. I’d propose at least a small bit of thought is not a hindrance to “just getting on with it,” rather it can actually enhance our ability to move at “Internet speed.” (Do you remember that now quaint term?) It is a tricky balancing act as urgency and speed are prerequisites today as well.

The format of information for consumption we encounter is in fact just the next evolution of information delivery. So what do we, as stewards of brands trying to help people connect with them, actually DO? How do brand owners work to integrate these new realities into their “plans?” Is it even legitimate to attempt to do so?

Here is an idea- First since nobody should be expected to know everything, even about a particular area of expertise, as it is simply no longer reasonable or even possible let that notion of knowing “everything” go. Next, relax, breath, take time to delight in being alive and our incessant “data pumps” will continue their flood, and so what if you miss something? We as humans are generally lucky enough to have this notion of choice in our genetics – so take a bit of time to ponder and then choose wisely, for yourself, what really matters. And by all means choose to reject “overwhlemnent.”

Photo by Robert Scoble

Then get on about determining what you can do with your brand so that people want to choose it. HINT: it’s likely neither the latest/greatest “reach vehicle,” nor the newest social toy, nor the opinion of even the “highest ranking” person in the room nor even an award winning campaign. It’s pretty simple: the way the brands essential expectations are set and then delivered upon yields sustainable value. In the long run, it will only be brands that offer humans a real and genuine reason to “choose me” (across their entire enterprise, regardless of what tool, venue, channel chosen) that will survive this latest information torrent as well. Nothing will crumble faster in our new data/information delivery world than a marketing facade that does not pay off in the brand’s performance.

… and for goodness sake if you do work in the CPG industry, please increase your attention on sampling because quite simply Sampling Works! Personal experience is a key step to belief in brand performance. This belief can then spur action, purchase, and change.

Thanks for listening.

Categorised as: Media

  • jlarryburns

    For another take on this topic I refer you to:  
     … which I had not read until now – and frankly I really enjoy the questions being posed  in a different way around a very similar theme……