4 Top Secrets to Staying on Top of Information
As I mentioned in my last blog, Google Isn't Making Us Dumber, information overload is something that pre-dates the internet. It even pre-dates anything that we'd recognise as a computer. Decades and decades have passed, and we're still trying to keep up. Technology was supposed to help solve this problem (and give us a paperless office!) but many feel that the rapid and easy access to information has only made the problem worse. So with so much information available, from Twitter to wikis to news sites, how do we manage it all? Here are 4 top secrets to a world bursting with information.
Stop trying to keep on top of it all. Yes, updates to Google's search engine, and others I'm sure, create a certain level of content curation. That doesn't mean that there are just a handful of websites left on any topic though. There's still an incredible amount of information out there and it's too much for anyone to stay on top of. There comes a point where you must accept that you're human and that keeping abreast of everything that's going on is impossible. Accepting that should be a relief, though some of you will still feel that you'll need to stay on top of everything in order to go on justifying your 'agent' status. The good news is that you don't. You really don't, because you're not in this alone.
You're surrounded by other agents. Don't worry, this doesn't mean you're going to be trailed home tonight, it just means that all of us are likely to be in fields where there are other people who know as much as you, if not more. This means that you're less likely to miss things if you keep a watchful eye on what other people are doing. A good way of doing this is by visiting their sites, their blogs, their Twitter pages...anywhere they frequent and share their knowledge, or 'agency' with the world. If you use Twitter (and if not, why not?) then you could follow them, or simply create a list of bookmarks in your browser. If you put the bookmarks in a folder called 'Agents' or 'Information Agents' then you'll have them all together. If eventually this list of bookmarks gets too long, then simply delete the ones you find you don't visit any more.
Good agents accept that there are limits to their knowledge because they're human and feel no shame because of that. Being too proud to accept you have things to learn will stand-out more than learning things ever will. Great agents share their knowledge. This isn't a zero-sum game where you can only be successful by hoarding knowledge and experience. A great agent succeeding will share the stories of their success to inspire everyone else and share the knowledge that drove their success to open the way for others. The worst thing you can do is 'kick the ladder away' so that those behind you can't climb up too. Doing that will mark you out, but for all the wrong reasons.
Don't forget that Twitter isn't just a way for people you've never heard of to share far too much of themselves. It's also a way of finding not just other agents, but curators. Every topic will have Twitter accounts that share news. In fact, you could do worse than type the name of the topic you're interested in followed by 'news' into the search bar in Twitter. Try it and you'll see what I mean. Right away you'll find a list of accounts that you can scan.
You can also do the same thing with search engines of course, but doing it on Twitter is a simple way because a common news account on Twitter will tweet something like 'Hot new spy book being released next month: link' or 'Famous author says next book will be free: link'. In an era of information overload, anything like this which narrows our focus and shortens the amount of time that we need to go looking for good information can be helpful. So even if you're not on Twitter (again, if not, why not?) you can use its search tool productively.
Nothing works all the time and it's no different online. You may find information bursting out of Twitter searches only to dry up a few days later. That's normal, just switch approaches, and try search engines, or news aggregators, or bloggers, or newspaper sites. Try something else to find what you need, just don't shut up shop, either to let the information swamp you, or to turn your back on all of it.
A good agent knows that they can't know everything because no matter how effective our own information filtering is, something useful will slip by. That's ok. You're human and there's a point at which you have to accept that no-one could do any better.
A great agent shares what they know, understanding that there are more opportunities for all the more successful people there are. With that success come new 'agents' to network with. There are also more agents around sharing knowledge, which reduces the chances of you missing something useful.
Be human and be a great agent.
How do you find and share information? If you've got a great and innovative approach, I'd love to hear about it in the comments.