Too much data, not enough information

18th October 2011

I have been struck recently by how much data gets presented in meetings. I think that technology contributes to this problem, by making it so easy to connect laptops to beamers and present endless amounts of powerpoint and spreadsheets.

I ran a session on Visual Thinking recently, for a group of managers. I asked them to take an upcoming meeting and think about the:

  • outcomes they want to achieve

… and then think about:

  • the information people will need to achieve these outcomes

It was fascinating to see how their perspectives on the information changed, by asking these questions. The focus went:

  • from – reams of data to support their cause
  • to – the key messages they needed to communicate

I would liken it to the way Al Gore presents information in ‘Inconvenient Truth’. He didn’t show the audience the raw data. He showed the big picture trends that supported his argument.

The trouble is that many managers spend their working days lurching from one meeting to another, without time to prepare. Thinking clearly about the information needed in a meeting (rather than the data) takes time, putting yourself in the audiences shoes and then processing the data into a palatable format.

Another option, is to develop a process whereby the group analyses the data in the meeting. This is more of a co-create approach,and can be useful when high levels of commitment to the conclusions is required.

People are unlikely to genuinely commit to actions / decisions if they are unclear. So, think twice before sending or presenting loads of data in a meeting.