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Is information overload derailing the human project?

By Barry Spinks - posted Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Are the societies we have created so complex that we cannot effectively develop them? Have we stalled in a morass of information that is so vast that we no longer have the means to examine Information to make sound decisions?

I offer my "Information" hierarchy as; Data is everything that is captured in books, computers and any other recorded form that can be accessed. Information is Data that is grouped by context and relevance to a specific topics, and Knowledge is Information used to create actions.

A bit like a cake recipe. Trawling "Data" gets us to the ingredients which are "Information", but the "Knowledge" is in cooking instructions that convert the mixed ingredients into a finished cake.


So just how much Information do societies have to deal with and what are we able to convert to sound Knowledge?

During my years in corporate I mostly used a hybrid model to analyze very large and complex company structures. This model reduced all human activity down to the lowest common denominators into which all human activity exists.

These are the six domains of Social, Political, Economic, Religious, Ecological and Scientific issues. (S.P.E.R.E.S factors). It is these six categories into which all human development, knowledge and skills can be subdivided. Grossly over simplified of course, but necessary for provisional analysis.

Each domain is a pyramid, the further down each pyramid the interrogation progresses, the more the volume and complexity of information and the more the issues. More critical still is the fact that each pyramid overlaps other domains as the pyramid broadens towards its base. This adds complexity because it creates cross dependencies with entities from ostensibly non related Information pyramids.

By way of example, a large multi-national corporation with 125,000 employees, operating in 35 countries and gross sales of $$35bn would naturally be complex. At a strategic level, top of the pyramid, only some thirty or so entities would be monitored as primary indicators at executive levels. These might include mission, goals, products, services, regulators, financials and so on.

The next layer down might include departmental entities such as marketing, logistics, HR, production for example, these might well run to many hundreds. At the lower levels of operational and asset management we could be looking at millions of entities.


Now extend this to 330 nations, millions of companies, 7 billion humans, tens of thousands of government departments and agencies of every description, infinitely variable social services, complex and rapidly changing geopolitical scenarios, accelerating scientific and engineering progress, thousands of NGO's, disparate economies, environmental impacts and over 30,000 religions.

More alarming still is the fact each of these domains has spewed a staggering range of "rules" onto society. Humans face an ever growing range of rule based restrictions on what we may or may not do along with penalties for non-compliance. The "rules" with which we are expected to comply across all domains are orders of magnitude greater than even the entities within each domain.

It would be no surprise if humans are failing to effectively assimilate information related to all these entities. It would also be miraculous if anyone could avoid garbage in- garbage out syndrome in decision making. One has to wonder just how effectively our societies are being "managed".

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About the Author

Barry Spinks worked for corporate multi-national organizations before branching out to consultancies and running his own business, he is now retired.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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