Overcoming Information Overload

With communications coming at us from every angle it can be easy to become buried in an avalanche of information, particularly in the workplace.

In a very interesting report on what they call information overload, IABC researchers Martin J Eppler and Jeanne Mengis uncovered six creative ideas already in use in business to overcome this problem.

Tube Map to Communicate Corporate Strategy

Instead of piles of reports and presentations, company strategy can be presented on a poster containing the company’s goals as if it were a city’s public transportation system, with each line of the system being a different initiative. The stops would be intermediate goals, and the connections are where initiatives share the same goal.

The Learning Map

Essentially a big picture of a workplace, the learning map is an interactive group teaching method that replaces lecturing. Developed by South African consultancy Trainiac, the Learning Map allows for role-playing, storytelling and other activities to make learning a more hands-on experience and thus foster retention of information.

Hand Drawing Library

Used at financial services firm UBS, the hand drawing library is meant as a replacement of the endless slide presentations clients see at sales and advisory meetings. UBS employees were taught to draw simple diagrams for their clients to explain the company’s products in an effort to make the company’s products more relevant to each client’s specific needs. In this method, clients could always make modifications to the schemata being designed right in front of them.

Mood Maps

A high-tech and visually stimulating way to get information across is the Mood Map. Designed by futuristic products inventors Bashiba, the Mood Map is a method to replace complex financial charts, graphics, and statistics with the simplicity of three-dimensional simulations. Essentially a screening of a scene of ocean and sky, the Mood Map would represent changes in say the financial world through size of ocean waves, cloudiness and precipitation. The traders would be trained beforehand to know which atmospheric change denoted which real world financial event.

The idea is that workers could devote themselves to “foreground” projects while monitoring trends almost subliminally in the background without having the constant distraction of specific data.

Text-based methods: Memo Standardisation and Information Mapping

A more mundane and easy to implement solution to information overload is the standardisation of memos, an idea used by Procter & Gamble. The idea here is to limit the size (maximum 2 pages) and the form of the memos so that no matter what the topic or who the writer, the reader would always know where to find the main idea, background information, and other relevant information quickly.

A second text-based idea was the Information Mapping method of Robert E Horn. Instead of information presented in dense paragraphs, this method sees documents stripped down, with information “chunked” into small, manageable units with copious use of labelling and spacing.

The researchers noted that not all these ideas worked in every circumstance. Cultural factors, for example, come to play a role in acceptance of some of the more playful methods. All the ideas however fulfilled the goal of easing transfer of information without reducing its accuracy.

The full report (Preparing Messages for Information Overload Environments: What business communicators should know about information overload and what they can do about it) is available at the main IABC website http://iabcstore.com/IABCRFRpts/overload.htm