One of the more popular areas I have been speaking about lately is the concept of a person creating an electronic river of information into their brain. I am surprised that more people are not defining this concept and investing energy into structuring it as a way to improve performance in organizations. Although hard to measure, I believe strongly that if you can raise the collective IQ of an organization, results are sure to follow. Helping people understand how to build their personal rivers of information can do this, and it is essentially free. The only investment is a little time, and truthfully it might be more true to say that we can shift time from lesser valuable pursuits so there really is not a conflict.
I will give you a quick primer in this blog as to how you can improve your river of information, and note that I said improve because we all have a river today – it might just be a small little creek. The outcome of building a powerful river of information is that you will have a much better command of the thoughts, ideas, and events circulating in your areas of interest. You will have a better idea of what the competition might be doing, and you will have real time information instead of learning things weeks after they might happen. There are two kinds of knowledge that are valuable – one is a robust inventory of knowledge on any one topic. The other is a timely set of knowledge about the events that have happened in the last 36 hours as it were.
The goal is to be able to invest no more than 45 minutes a day in studying this river of information, and passing on the interesting bits to the people around you. This does not need to be done all in one sitting either. I tend to send some information to my iPhone, and the rest to my laptop. I might grab this 45 minutes in pieces all day while I am killing time waiting on people, in the airport, or waiting in the car.
STEP ONE – Invest some time identifying Web based streams of information. This should include information on competitors, industry news, thought leaders, and mind-expanding influences. They can be found in blogs, newsletters, twitter streams and news feeds. You can also look to resources like Scribd.com, Youtube.com, and Slideshare.com for media uploaded on subjects you want to follow.
STEP TWO – Install and learn to use tools that will help you aggregate and filter these streams of information. There are no right or wrong ways to do this. I tend to have lots of resources sent to my email, but friends of mine love to use Google Reader. You can use tools like Netvibes.com or Tweetdeck.com to consolidate social tech streams of information. The goal is to have a system that allows you to quickly scan your river and find the important elements that you need to revue further.
STEP THREE – Once you have identified the interesting elements in your river, you have a choice. You can consume them on the spot and make a decision to save them, or you can put them in the bullpen to read later when you have more time. For me, this means putting them in tabs on my browser for the most part so I can look at them when I have time. Since you cannot always consume the elements in the river at the moment, you have to have a way to scan as a first step, and cache the interesting things for further review later.
STEP FOUR – Once you have consumed the content, there will be some pieces that you want to save for later use, or that you want to pass on to others. I have my own system for storing and you can develop something that is unique to you. There are tools like Evernote and Twine that can help with this, or you can go old school and just save things in Powerpoint, Word and in files. I tend to go old school, but that is just me.
A couple of final comments… This is something you need to get into the habit of doing every day. If you get days behind, you will never catch up and will simply miss pieces of information that might have been useful. If you are a leader within an organization, I strongly urge you to document a list of 20 or 30 streams of information that would be valuable to the people in your area. Then help them build their rivers. When you hire new people, give them this document and you will be surprised how fast they will come up to speed on what they need to know to do their job well.
As mentioned at the beginning of this post, I am shocked that organizations are not being more formal at documenting and implementing these rivers of information. It is a simple and inexpensive thing to do and will have tremendous results over time.