The information processing view of humanity

By Ross Dawson on April 7, 2008 | Permalink

I have just returned from a round-world trip, passing through Singapore, London, New York, San Francisco and back to Sydney in slightly less than two weeks. The trip was centered on speaking, client work, and meetings to prepare for the Future of Media Summit 2008. However a fair chunk of my time was catching up with extremely interesting people such as Sheen Levine, Euan Semple, Dean Collins, Mike Jackson, Napier Collyns, Eric Best, Shannon Clark, JD Lasica, John Maloney, and Ben Metcalfe.
We now all know that the economy revolves around conversations. The insights I got from my unstructured conversations with these people was immense. Yet the nature of conversations is that they are – largely – evanescent. At the same time, the extraordinary rise of social media means that the thoughts arising from millions of conversations are now available to the world at large. In fact, many bloggers say that they write mainly for themselves, in capturing some of the interesting things they are seeing and thinking. Trevor Cook is just one example of a blogger who writes notes from all of the conference sessions he attends (including his reflections on our Enterprise 2.0 Executive Forum) for his own sake, making his blog a repository for personal reference, by the by creating something that others can find useful.
The trouble was, I didn’t find time in my intense travel schedule to blog about all of my interesting meetings and conversations. I will probably post a few thoughts on these meetings over the next week or two if I get the chance, but the reality is it’s hard to do in a very packed schedule.

With Euan Semple I made my first attempt to record a brief video at the end of a meeting, in order to capture some of the most interesting parts of our conversation. While it’s an interesting video, the reality is it captured only a fragment of the interesting things we discussed. I will experiment more with the format of a post-conversation video, as I think it can be very useful. I could capture entire conversations on audio or video, but this wouldn’t be very useful unless there was great automated tagging of the content, and even then the really valuable outcomes are the insights generated rather than the entire conversation.
All of which brings me to what is I suppose a fairly obvious insight – that humans are more than ever information processing animals, with our evolutionary success dominated by how effective we are at this. We are now deluged with essentially infinite information, and we need to sort through it all, synthesize it, and work out what action to take as a result. Blogs and more instantaneous tools such as Twitter both provide us with far broader inputs than we had before, and also a ready output for what we have processed from these vast information inputs. They are mechanisms that allow us to be far more effective at creating value from information flows than the tools we had at the dawn of this decade.
In my early 20s I imagined that my life’s path might revolve around developing better ways of recording and applying thoughts. I suppose in some ways that’s becoming true. Certainly today I am focused on getting better myself at capturing insights from vast amounts of information, and making something worthwhile from it. In 1996 I wrote Eight Steps to Thriving on Information Overload, which when posted on this blog last year became one of the most popular articles I’ve written. Today I am more focused on the technologies that support better information processing, or perhaps more accurately, using these technologies well. For example,, used with judicious tagging, is a very powerful tool. Tools such as Evernote, TheBrain, Backpack and similar software definitely have an important role to play.
Certainly the new array of social media and Web 2.0 tools can make us far better at information processing, in helping us to create something valuable from our conversations and thoughts. Which means that those who use social media tools well are strongly advantaged. I’m particularly interested in working out effective approaches to capturing what’s most interesting from conversations I have, probably by in some form taking notes as I go that I can then post online, and reference in a variety of ways as I create frameworks and concepts. I’d love to hear how other people do it. For now, I’ll develop my own approaches and share them as I go.

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