The 9-11 Commission stated six primary reasons for restructuring the Intelligence Community. First on the list was that information was not organized. The Commission argued that the importance of “...integrated, all-source analysis cannot be overstated. Without it, it is not possible to ‘connect the dots.’” But what were the dots? Were they data, information, or intelligence? Those dots were pieces of data with no overarching context for their collective meaning because agencies kept their type of data—and likely all their data—separated from other organizations. Because of this separation, the data never made the leap to become information.
As knowledge workers in today’s digital world, we’re constantly bombarded with unstructured information of all types in all formats–emails, news feeds, blogs, research papers, whitepapers, performance reports, market analyses, etc. And information comes at us from all angles, 24/7—from internal organizations, external sources (friendly or otherwise), public websites, and private networks. With the endless barrage, it’s no wonder the term “information overload” has become normalized business parlance in the 21st century.
In an ideal state, too much information would be considered a good thing. Analysts would have abundant data and unparalleled expertise at their fingertips to sift, sort, ingest, massage, and process, thereby creating unique business intelligence and true value for their organizations that improve productivity. But reality tells a different story. The intangible result of information overload is overwhelming chaos in our brains, on our laptops and servers, and by extension, in our larger organizational systems. The basic business result, of course, is lost worker productivity. However, even more debilitating is the lost actionable business insight that’s never created due to the inability to harvest and leverage knowledge quickly.
Whether you’re a seasoned web content manager or a newbie blogger, you’ll likely find yourself asking this question: what is the best image file format to use for my web page? JPGs are everywhere, but what is a PNG? What’s up with GIFs (however you pronounce it)? Rest easy, there’s an answer.
Managing information often results in cumbersome data sets that are not friendly to readers or the poor saps curating them. Whether working through thousands of pages of coded results from polling data or attempting to glean relevant information from lengthy, turgid reports, sometimes we let ourselves get bogged down in mass rather than focusing on that which is salient.
Enter your new best friend: graphics. Recent research found that the human brain processes images at a rate 60,000 times faster than text. The eye is drawn to visuals. Our brains crave information that is easier to access. This isn’t because we are dumb. It’s because reading comprehension is, quite simply, a more complicated task for our minds. A graphic—whether in the form of a map, chart, or infographic—is a powerful tool to convey complex data in a more memorable, marketable, and satisfying way.
If you have worked with or for any US government agency, you know that sharing “across lines” with other agencies is at best a headache and at worst out of the realm of reality. There are many reasons for this predicament, including long-standing workflows, simple access rules, and perhaps even fear of being redundant. It’s difficult. Failing to collaborate “across lines” deprives you and your partners of information that benefit the entire community.
Post-9/11, many agencies did in fact alter course to enhance information sharing practices, successfully preventing terrorism. In June 2015 the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) thwarted a plot by Usaamah Rahim to kill police officers. Improved information sharing between federal and local law enforcement played a critical role in disrupting the plot and preventing loss of life.
You’ve been there. A co-worker asks you to find a document on the shared drive. Despite some searches, you’re unable to find exactly what was requested. Frustrated (and perhaps a bit embarrassed), you confess you can’t find the file, only to have the original requestor cue it up, leaving you feeling slightly inadequate, but also curious as to why it’s so difficult to bring order to your team’s data.
This happens frequently in office settings. In our attempts to organize information we typically just hoard it all in one place, applying a loose structure, and as the months and years go by, the oft-feared shared drive becomes an untenable beast—a hydra incapable of being vanquished.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. With a few tweaks and changed mindset, getting data organized is a lot more accessible than most professionals realize. Here are three common misconceptions about information repositories that are keeping you from getting organized: