The Digital Signage Insider

Information Overload: Why Too Much Industry News Is a Bad Thing

Published on: 0000-00-00

Back in 2009, I wrote a short article on the Digital Signage News blog about The Trouble with LinkedIn Groups. It was nothing more than a few words followed by a gigantic list of graphic icons outlining all of the two-dozen-plus groups one needed to follow to be kept in the loop of all things digital signage. The post was mostly meant as a joke, but it highlighted how fragmented and difficult to manage the digital signage hype machine was (and still is). Nevertheless, I told myself at the time that I needed to track all of the information, or else a competitor might glean some critical piece of data that would let them get a leg up on me. I came to find out that trying to follow a large quantity of news might not be such a great idea.

Heading towards information overload

At the time of that post, I was also automatically monitoring over 100 industry news sites, blogs and related portals, filtering data from an additional 300 related RSS feeds, and using other tools like Google Alerts and Yahoo! Pipes to search, sort and cull data from thousands of other sources. A true child of the information age, I was addicted to data, and the potential I thought it held. As new sources of data (like Twitter) came online, I eagerly brought them into the fold. Unfortunately, even with all the neat little tricks and programs I was using to manage the information, simply wading through all of it was starting to eat up a lot of time.

So, one day I decided to take a look through our CRM system to see how, when and if any of the news items I had been following over the past few years led to any significant action -- like winning a deal or forging an alliance. This task took the better part of a day, but by the end I'd found out something surprising: the news has no bearing on my business. There are a couple of potential reasons for this. First, I considered that I might be monitoring the wrong news. However, given the sheer number of sources and vertical markets tracked, it seemed unlikely. Next, I thought maybe I was no good at picking out important facts, but I know from reading lots of other complex documents -- from contracts to technical manuals -- that this wasn't likely either. Finally, I thought that maybe we just weren't any good at converting important news tidbits into actions. This seemed plausible, but as I wracked my brain trying to think of an opportunity we could have capitalized on based on hearing something in the news, I repeatedly came up blank. There were a few articles here and there that set me thinking about new things. But when push came to shove, I realized that if you're using the news to set your direction, you're being reactive, not proactive. And in an industry with numerous competitors -- some of which are extremely aggressive -- reactive processes just don't work. It's like some business law of natural selection has made the notion of responding to something you read in the news useless -- at least in the digital signage industry.

Bringing down the axe

I decided to pare down my list, starting with those sources that had never produced any thought-provoking news, analysis or insight. That turned out to eliminate over two-thirds of the sources I was following. Over the next few weeks, I continued the culling until I wound up with a mere half-dozen industry sites, a single, elaborately-filtered Twitter feed, and one Google Alerts email. And while there might be some important news items that I'm missing, the extra hour or so of time per day that I've recovered more than makes up for that risk.

This exercise also made me think long and hard about how I make decisions. I'm definitely an over-thinker: I like looking over a lot of data when faced with a tough choice. In reality, though, most of the decisions I've taken that approach with haven't gone at all as expected. Some were better, some were worse, but vanishingly few took the form that all my data-driven analysis suggested they would. That tells me that I'm probably just not very good at applying the facts to the decision at hand. Or perhaps the facts that I typically have access to just aren't that helpful, since it's awfully tough to predict the future. Regardless, all else being equal, I'm probably better off making a quicker decision based on the information at hand, so I can spend more time on work that's likely to be productive, and less time digging up data for what-if scenarios.

The bottom line: different companies might have different products, resources and abilities, but we're all limited to a 24 hour day. That makes time the most precious and limited resource for large and small companies alike -- and that is something I know how to capitalize on.

Have you ever taken action based on something you heard about from an industry news source? Leave a comment and let us know!


+1 # Tim Burke 2011-05-05 21:02
You are so right. I'm unsubscribing from your blog now. :-) Just kidding. Keep up the insightful blogs.
+1 # Vincent Rice 2011-05-05 23:02
Admit it Bill, it was my blog that put you over the edge... In all seriousness the amount of press releases and 'news' that this business produces seems to be out of all proportion to its size. I guess its all those 'customer engagement' professionals. For somebody trying to make sense of it, there is an awful lot of noise.
0 # Bill Gerba 2011-05-06 02:53
Tim: I was wondering who the first person to make that comment would be. Thanks for not disappointing me ;) Vincent: I've been really enjoying your blog so far! It seems like the best stuff is coming from across the pond these days...
0 # Kelly Canavan 2011-05-06 11:00
Great point. Immediately made me think of this TED talk about the paradox of choice. Too many choices actually makes us worse off...
0 # Bill Gerba 2011-05-06 13:35
Excellent insight, Kelly, you're exactly right. Around here we call it "option paralysis," and we all suffer from it from time to time :)
0 # Vincent Rice 2011-05-06 20:58
Shucks... thanks Bill...
-1 # Clinton Gallagher virtualCable.TV 2011-07-01 16:40
Where are my comments submitted yesterday?

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