Do you play tennis? I used to. Badly. But I was always better when I played someone good. Sure, I got thrashed, but I did so with a lot more style than when I was playing someone more at my level.
We’re all getting thrashed at the moment. Facing a constant volley of 100mph serves. But it’s not balls flying at us, it’s information.
In our personal lives we are blessed/assaulted with more information than ever before, streamed at us across diverse channels from a thousand sources. Every one vying for a fraction of our attention. But we’re starting to raise our game. Building coping strategies for the email deluge — still a constant topic of discussion in business circles— rationing our own social media access, and sourcing opinions from the crowd about which media are worth our time.
We don’t have a solid set of good answers, but you can see the progress. There are threats and risks, and a grain of truth in the preachings of the doom-mongers of the digital world. But nonetheless, I’d argue the direction is positive.
At work we are starting to do the same, but the natural inertia of organisations means this process of adaptation is a lot slower. New organisations cope better than old, evolving as they have in a world of accelerated data. Their people, infrastructure, processes, products and services are themselves products of this environment. It’s the established organisations that face the challenge. Shifting the great weight of their embedded processes and behaviours into a new gear.
How do you begin to tackle this?
There is a natural human response. One that humans have relied on for millennia. To collate and categorise, sort and sift. It tends to start with the desire to bring all data sets into one. To build a giant warehouse for all this information.
This isn’t necessarily wrong. But it’s not an answer in itself. Often the strategy is: “Let’s get everything in order, then we can worry about what we do with it.”
This isn’t the way that those native to a high-frequency environment operate. They know — often instinctively — that there is too much noise around the signal. The waste involved in filtering the whole stream is simply to great to be feasible.
Instead you have to filter preemptively, directing your limited supplies of attention to what matters, not trying to absorb everything before you filter.
Your last ten steps
One great example of this came from Rama Ramakrishnan, SVP of data science at Salesforce Commerce Cloud, whom I interviewed as part of the Future Ready Retail programme I worked on. He points out that while many companies are busy gathering your shoe size, football team and newspaper preferences, you can personalise a shopping site to a high degree just by looking at someone’s very recent browsing history — just the last ten clicks.
Raising your game in this high frequency environment does not mean doing more of what you used to do. Collate and filter is a 20th century approach, expensive, ineffective and inappropriate to a 21st century environment.You need to push the intelligence out to the front of the process. Your supplies of attention — individually or corporately — are limited. Make the most of them.