The impossibility of staying up to date

I’ve started work on my next book, the follow-up to Making the Matrix Work. I’m researching some of the topics in more detail and here is a photo of a stack of the articles I printed off that I found interesting over the last few weeks.

As soon as I start to research a particular topic, such as the impact of big data and decision-making I find many reams more – and a lot of it is interesting stuff.  The volume and availability of this kind of information has accelerated hugely since I wrote my first book Speed Lead in 2007.

As a consultant, trainer and writer on matrix management, virtual teams and global working, my area of focus is reasonably niche (although as a client once said “global” is a pretty big niche). I also have the advantage of having focused on this niche for over 30 years, so I am just keeping up-to-date rather than going back to 1st principles. It’s also part of my job as a thought leader to stay up-to-date and consider new developments so I allocate time to it.

However, the reality is it’s no longer possible to stay fully up-to-date. I also have to run a business, work with clients and have a life. And remember this is in a relatively narrow niche, if I was looking more broadly at general management of the business world in total the challenge would be even greater.

We are all aware that the volume of data and information being produced is increasing exponentially. We know that big data and the increasing connectedness of everything are going to massively accelerate this process.

Just today I watched some videos produced by the Economist intelligence Unit and Microsoft that tell me that by 2020 there will be 25Bn connected devices globally and that data volumes will grow 10x by 2020.

It’s an often quoted statistic that the sum of human knowledge now doubles every 12 months. According to IBM, the “internet of things” will lead to the doubling of knowledge every 12 hours.

I think we may be confusing data with knowledge, but that’s another blog.

If you’re a busy manager you have much less time to spend on keeping updated on developments. When I was in my corporate career I relied on airline journeys to catch up on my external business reading. I meet many managers who almost never read or study the craft of what they do beyond doing the job on a day-to-day basis.

So on some level, we are all being left behind. In theory there is probably knowledge out there that can help us do our job better, in practice we don’t know about it and therefore we can’t apply it.

The great advantage of the knowledge economy is that, whatever your niche, there are dozens of people out there thinking about it. It’s easier than ever for them to publish and share their ideas. However then it becomes more difficult for anyone to stay up-to-date with all of the ideas.

For me personally it is both a challenge and an opportunity. It’s a challenge to be able to identify the truly useful and original you work that leaders can apply. However, it makes the job of niche specialists even more crucial because we can organise and make sense of the mass of information out there and turn it into something actionable.

I’ve written before about the leadership perils of big data. I’m sure that technology will get better at helping us to process and make sense of the mass of data that surrounds us; however I don’t think that this will replace the importance of having people with business acumen who can ask the right questions and develop real insights from an informed and even sceptical analysis of the information that comes back. In fact these are likely to be some of the most valuable management skills of the next 30 years.

In the meantime, my niche focus and the fact I’ve been doing this for a long time helps me to quickly scan and identify useful new ideas and information and as I do so, I know that patterns will emerge that will help inform our thinking and bring new tools that we can use with our clients.

So far there doesn’t seem to be a technological solution to this problem – maybe by the time I’m writing book 5 in the series in about 10 years’ time there will be?

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