How information flows and why it matters?
The flow of information in the world, at work, and to an individual underlines everything we do. From cultural bubbles isolated by ideology and geography to multi-speciality teams working on a product. Everything you hear from people around you, read, study and absorb shapes you. Every breath shapes you if you want to boil it down to a something quatable.
This affects they way we think, the way we solve problems and how we approach conflict. For example, what we eat is etched in us by the food and information available to us in our early environment. The information we consume is usually very filtered and defined by the platforms we trust and early influences.
The internet improves information flow in theory, at least to a point. But in practice it just obscures it because most information there is crap and is produced to serve as a marketing tool. That is why Google cares so much about quality content. Because quality content is rare.
Let’s try understand information flow a little better at the individual, organizational and global level.
How information flows to individuals
From early life you consume information. First from your parents, which is very filtered and influenced by their individual life experience. Later on by more family, friends coworkers that have their own unique set of influences. Then from school in all it’s forms and with all its biases. This sets you on a path. Later on, and especially with the rise of the internet, you get marketing messages from the website you visit, the content you consume and books you read.
For some this flow you do not have a choice but for a lot of it later in life you do. And you should take careful stock of what you have consumed and of what quality it is. You should reflect and edit away some of the bad if you can and keep the good. You should limit the new flow from a few trusted sources so you can have a focused steam of quality information that helps you grow. That is not to say that you should limit your interests. On the contrary, you should explore all avenues that interest you so you can find your optimal path. And when you do – focus your efforts. And focus on the information sources you have found most reliable.
How information flows in organizations
Organizations naturally make this more complex as they are ecosystems in their own right. They have a growth cycle not unlike that of an individual but their culture and structure is dictated by usually a handful of leaders that have gone through the individual journey. Those journeys range from street smarts to formal education of the highest degree and everything in between. Randomness is hard at work here.
But still organizations attract enough individuals with similar schooling to be very much alike. Their added complexity comes from how information flows within them as they mature. Here they start to differ and that can be one of the key elements that defines their success or failure. Generally the better flow of information the better the company. Transparency is culture and can make organizations and the world a better place.
Organizations that get information flow right stand a better chance of growing exponentially. The more people know about what everyone else is doing the greater the chances of creativity and collaboration. Is that simple really. It creates an internal entrepreneurial environment that can accelerate growth. This is important! It is also very difficult to get right. This kind of culture depends of deliberate forward momentum and a support system continuously reinforced by leaders.
How information flows at national and global level
Governments and global organizations created by them manage a lot of the information flow. These two are tasked with caring for the well being of humanity and our planet.
They affect the flow of information more than anyone. They are complex organisms driven by local interest, commercial influence, and a full spectrum of ideologies vying for power. They are systems with many moving part and sub groups that have a range of interest that obscures their effectiveness. They cater to broad audiences and have mixed results in allowing optimal flow of information. Think how polarized media outlets are. Here is where commercial interests get mixed in. Marketing budgets can shape culture and often do.
Think food. Think how different social layers eat. Leave cultural and national cuisine aside. Think how the flow of information about what is good to eat and what is bad gets blurred by commercial interests. It is a storm of influencers that compete for our attention.
Abstract examples aside, let’s take a look at organizations.
Why information flow is important for companies
“Silos” get bad rep even though actual silos are an amazing invention. Informational silos within companies are talked about a lot but they are necessary. We cannot all know and process everything. Some selectiveness is needed. But creating more doors and windows in some of the silos can go a long way.
If I ruled the world, I would add a few windows to every silo.
Better flow of information means more transparency and more opportunities for creative collaboration. This is especially true for large complex organizations. There are exceptions but for the most part bringing people together is the way. That is easier said than done. It takes a lot of deliberate effort and a lot of layers.
Three main layer in particular:
The culture layer
Within a company culture influences language and communication. They in turn influence relationship building and collaboration. Collaboration dynamics influence creativity and transparency. The health of this chain of dependencies is essential to long term success. It is essential to building better products, coming up with new ones and staying ahead of curve. All this is also fundamental to smooth processes, continuous improvement and attention to detail. This improves flow of things and frees up time for focus and critical thinking one the core tasks at hand.
Workflow & organization layer
The second layer is the flow of the actual work and it’s supporting framework. Make is easy to find things. Everything from teams contact info, general rules and expectations to task instructions, communication guideline, team values and supporting resources. Put everything in writing and organize it well so everyone can find the information they may need. Maintain these resources and walk through them with everyone on regular basis. They are a foundation that creates transparency and eases the flow of information. In turn, creating room for your core work.
The core work layer
The previous two layers create the framework within which your core work happens and influence the quality and speed of this work dramatically. Everyone has two main things to do: do their best work and collaborate with stakeholders optimally. And they can do that best if they have healthy working relationships and know where to find the tools and guidelines that help them along way. Within the heat of work and creative collaboration there is a flow of information that moves fast and is kicked about by deadlines, stakeholders and unpredictable events. That is possibly the most important flow of information and also the most volatile. So if you get the previous two layer right you create a sort of insulation around it that makes it less volatile and improves responsiveness at high speeds.
This is it
I have kept this post a little more in the abstract because I think we can all relate to the information flows around us. Improving culture and this flow is not always on center stage and it cannot always be. But we can always dedicate some of our time to make it better. Results are sure to follow shortly after.