Turning Information Overload Into Knowledge

Overwhelmed by the data deluge? Michel Koopman, CEO of getAbstract, offers some simple strategies for transforming a waterfall of information into knowledge that you can actually use.

There’s information rushing at you from every imaginable portal, from that smartphone in your pocket to billboards along the highway. Indeed, every day some 300 billion emails are sent, 2 million blog posts are written, and more than 35 million apps are downloaded. There’s enough information consumed on the Internet to fill 168 million DVDs —every single day. Add to that some 129 million books and counting in the world (at least according to Google’s last estimate), and calling it overload is an understatement. But according to Michel Koopman it’s just an opportunity for knowledge—if you know how to consume and leverage it.

"Knowledge is very different from information," explains Koopman, the CEO of getAbstract, a global online media company that boils down business books into 10-minute summaries. He believes it’s important to cut through the clutter and suss out the facts, truths, and principles and convert that data into knowledge to bring about meaningful change in the way you approach the world and increase your impact at work.

Unfortunately, says Koopman, everyone needs help to navigate the data deluge."There is so much information we don’t know where to find things and we don’t always get it in a way we want to consume it," he points out. For instance, when your interest on innovation is piqued, but you just happen to be running on a treadmill rather than sitting in front of your computer.  

With 10 million users subscribed to getAbstract’s on-demand library of more than 8,000 business book summaries, Koopman believes he’s cracked the code on "compressed knowledge" for himself and his company. So Fast Company asked him, along with some other highly productive CEOs, what their strategies are for turning the unmanagable waterfall into a steady stream of knowledge you can actually use.

Lay the Foundation for a Learning Culture

Koopman says businesses must adapt, change, and invite innovation to stay relevant. "Executives running successful companies have strong learning cultures," he asserts. But don’t just take his word for it.

Koopman cites a Bersin & Associates study that found over 90 percent of businesses investing in strong learning cultures reported high employee productivity and customer satisfaction. 89 percent beat their competition for at least one product or service. 

He says company CEOs from Motorola to Chik-Fil-A start by using books that may not even be industry-related, to align their organizations and provide staff with a way to make quality, informed decisions. "By looking at the market differently, people will come to meetings with a [new] focus which leads to more productive discussions," says Koopman.

Sherry Chris, CEO of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate (BHGRE) takes this concept to the next level on social media. "With more than 8,500 Twitter followers, it is my responsibility to act as an aggregator, thought leader and central source of news for my diverse network of followers, and to encourage insightful conversation." 

Let Your Network Work For You

Rather than set up more monitors a la mission control for maximum information absorption, some execs rely on their networks to do the weeding for them, including Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh. "I usually find that if there's an interesting and relevant article somewhere out there, multiple people will forward me the link which will then cause me to read it," he wrote in an email to Fast Company.

Likewise, Mike Williams, CEO of the David Allen Company says, "I try to be conscious to the quality of the content that enters my channels and avoid low quality sources as much as I can." That’s why Williams says he rarely listens to the radio. "My car and my commute time is my learning context," he explains. "It's a time for tuning in to audio books, podcasts, or targeted relevant news programs."  

Get Distracted

Chris customizes her news feeds to include broader topics that encourage thinking outside the real estate box that nevertheless have potential application within her industry. "The key is to follow strategic leaders in real estate and other industries, and to join groups in which you share a common passion to spark innovative discussions and ideas." 

Rather than create a time suck, Koopman says these side conversations are necessary to foster continuous innovation. "The person or company needs to balance focus with need to find/be distracted by good ideas." He says procuring innovative thoughts from the outside can change mood of organization for the better. 

Always Be Learning

A self-confessed financial news junkie, Koopman says he sends a "huge" amount of time reading through his preferred sources for that information any time he has a spare minute, whether that’s on the treadmill or a couple of minutes in an elevator.

Williams keeps a paper folder labeled Read/Review on hand at all times. This physical RSS feed of articles, emails and information is especially useful while he travels. "I get a lot of reading done between the announcement to "power down your devices" and "it is okay to turn your devices on," or when he’s at the doctor's office or waiting to pick up his kids. 

To combat the brain drain some researchers suggest comes from gaggles of Google searches, Koopman challenges himself to search for things in new ways. "I do serendipitous finding," he explains, "When I search on a topic I don’t go to a logical source." Bottom line, he says: "It’s all about finding a different perspective.

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