Tag Archives: Information management

Revisiting a Question

We back away, brush our hands off and think, ‘whew, that’s done now on to the next thing’ – problem solved, to-do checked off the list.  File it away.  Next.  But what if it isn’t?  What if in a few weeks, or months, or even years something happens to make us have to go through it all again; possibly even come to a different conclusion?


The medical community has revamped the protocols for cholesterol and statin use and that seems to have knocked people for a loop.  That question was resolved, we all thought anyway.  But life is cyclical, we learn new things on some other topic and the ripple effect can alter the decisions that seemed set in stone just a short while before.


“That is the one thing that I’ve learned, that it is possible to really understand things at certain points, and not be able to retain them, to be in utter confusion just a short while later.  I used to think that once you really knew a thing, its truth would shine forever.”

~ Lucy Grealy


It seems a bit like Lucy and I aren’t coming at this issue in quite the same way, but I think that we really are.  Where she mentions retain, it might be about keeping the knowledge fresh in our own memory, but it could also mean keeping it solid in light of new information or experiences.  Almost anything that we think we know is based almost entirely upon the context in which we know it.  If the context changes, our understanding of the thing can be thrown into confusion.


It might seem as though we are moving backward in revisiting a question, but if we are looking at it with fresh eyes and understanding then it is actually a good thing.  When the elements that went into the original answer have changed, then the nature of the question and the basis of the solution might be wholly different.


It isn’t a retread at all then, but a deepening and broadening of understanding.


© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved


Intellectual Calisthenics

Some weeks just seem to be overfull of mental obstacle courses – over this wall, through that muck, around the barrier, dodge the danger zone, swim this channel, start this next obstacle course.  And again.  Oh my.

photo credit: Wikipedia, Marine Pull ups

photo credit: Wikipedia, Marine Pull ups

The brainy neuroscience folks like to tell us that this is good for our minds, keeps us sharp.  Hmm, I feel more like I have a puddle in my head after a couple of days like this and can’t be trusted to decide what’s for dinner.  I don’t really care in those moments that I might be lowering my risk of dementia.  In fact I tend to feel slightly demented after too many days of intellectual calisthenics.

One good puzzle here and there and I agree, my brain is the better for the exercise.  For instance in the calm quiet as I write this, it has been a good challenge to remember how to spell calisthenics.  (My fingers don’t want to spell it correctly and resent that I keep using the word.)  It’s when there is a relentless string of exercises that things get wearing.  Like I’m in my own extended, real life version of a disaster movie.  How much more can be piled on?

(That last question is rhetorical, I don’t really want to find out.  I thought that I better put that point out there, just in case some force wants to explore the answer.)

Well, the sun is shining and that is a November feat not to be ignored, so perhaps I should take a break from intellectual exercise and go get some of the physical kind.  The leaves need to be raked, so I’ll think about that as I take a walk and soak up some sun rays.

How have you exercised your own mind lately?  And how do you feel about it?

© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

The Power of the Right Word

We learn to speak without understanding the power of language.  We just know that we start to associate specific combinations of sounds to the result that we want – combining sounds to produce ‘juice’ gets us a sweet, cold beverage that slakes our thirst.  So we say it again when our mouth is dry and we need liquid.  Other sound combinations get results too – uttering ‘mommy’ or ‘daddy’ gets lots of wonderful attention, hugs and kisses.  Score!


Somewhere along the line we experience the pain of words too.  A casually repeated word like ‘dummy’ gains a lecture about not hurting others perhaps.  But do we really understand the power of words yet?


Learning that certain words have specific associations to a place – the playground has looser rules than the classroom – teaches us a level of appropriateness, but not necessarily understanding.  We have just enough to know how to be hurtful without knowing why we might be hurtful.


I love words – their sound, combining them for just the right effect – I love to read them and to write them.  I want to understand them, not just use them.  When I am trying to make a point with people who don’t have the same intense relationship to words I like to use an example.  If you need a group to listen you can say different things – examples run from ‘Be quiet’ to ‘Shut up’.  These are essentially the same command but they have very different connotations for the listeners.  If you would like to show authority, but not disrespect toward the group, then your option is clearly ‘be quiet’, ‘quiet, please’ or something along that line.


I know that I cannot expect others to love words as I do.  But this example usually helps to gain understanding.  In English, we have many options to say something, to get our point across – all valid – which makes choosing the right option for the circumstance an important step.  What do we intend to convey?  Who is our audience?  What is important within the message that is also important to the audience?


There is so much that should go into word choice, too much for one blog post.  I need a reminder now and then that words have alternate meanings, even regional meanings sometimes, and that the point of combining sounds into words and words into sentences and paragraphs is to communicate.  Communicating isn’t just about what I want to say, but about how the person or group who will receive the message will perceive it.  The right word has great power, and the wrong word – well, there is usually a long list of trending social media topics about the famous folks who chose the wrong word at the wrong time.


© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

The Business and IT Convergence

The differences between the way that business sees an issue, a system and the way that IT (or IS) sees the same issue or system is usually termed a divide.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  We are seeing two sides of the same coin, and the coin needs both sides.


I have to admit, I never much thought about this intersect; I am a user of the systems that IT finds, builds and supports.  Sometimes those systems drive me mad because they don’t do what I expect them to do.  IT should fix them, fix them now because I can’t complete my tasks.  But then, as I was waiting for a diagnosis, I started to ask why and how and other questions.  I changed from being irritated to curious.  And then I was the business owner for the order process in an SAP conversion.


photo credit: Wikipedia, Makati intersection

photo credit: Wikipedia, Makati intersection

Like most intersections, we don’t much think about them – they just are and we drive through noting only what we think pertains to us.  Time after time.  We tsk, tsk at the dysfunction that we see exists there, but it isn’t our place to repair it because we don’t own it.  The thing with an intersect is that there is shared ownership, though.


For any user to be successful with a system there is a how and a why within the procedure.  The ‘how’ is the way that the system works and owned by IT.  The ‘why’ is the business need for the system and owned by business.  A successful intersection require collaboration and communication between business and IT from the moment that a system solution is identified.


Looked at a different way, IT owns the system itself and business owns the content, the data.  If the data isn’t clean, the system won’t work as intended.  The system will be termed as broken.


Creating powerful collaboration and communication between IT and business means a smoother intersection.  Defining ownership at the start is the key; it doesn’t prevent the system from acting up, but it sure cuts down on the acrimony.


How do IT and business get along in your office?


© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

The Clutter in my Mind

Do you have those days when you have meeting after meeting – and the ‘action items’ that always seem to come after – and then you get back to your desk to find you have more voicemails than time to get back to the people plus a line of team members who have been lurking in hopes to see you between meetings to get an answer or follow up on previous action items?  And then you go home and don’t have time to make dinner plus eat it before there are other activities to do/attend/lead/prepare for?  And then fall into bed and your brain laughs at you – sleep, I’d love to, but you haven’t given me a moment to myself today so I have a lot to mull over here and this is the first moment that you’ve given me so we are definitely not sleeping yet.

photo credit: Wikimedia Commons, Interior of a storeroom

photo credit: Wikimedia Commons, Interior of a storeroom


Whew, hope you followed me through that long, run-on paragraph.  Most of us would rather be busy than idle, particularly at work.  Idle time at home is often bliss, but at work it is frustrating.  Crazy busy is a completely different level – the one that leads to stress diseases and burn out if it is sustained.  I’ve been bouncing up into the level between good busy and crazy busy.  (Glad I haven’t been crazy busy since an SAP implementation project a few years ago now.)


I don’t have a name for this level but I find that it leaves a lot of clutter in my mind – the half formed idea to resolve an open question from a meeting two days ago that died because I didn’t get back to it in time, indeed I piled other half formed ideas on top of it from other meetings.  Now the desiccated idea is just taking up space in my mind.  Alongside a hyperactive to-do list that changes every other minute.  And barely formed thoughts on future tasks that are strewn about like Legos waiting for an unsuspecting barefoot walk through the room.  (For those of you who have never lived with a Legomaniac, this is like stubbing your toe only it is the bottom of your foot.)


In Toastmasters contests, there is a minute of silence while the judges think about the just completed speech and write their notes before the next speech is introduced.  Imagine how nice it would be in the office to have fifteen minutes to a half hour to at least start to flesh out thoughts and ideas that come out of meetings before your load in something completely new with the next meeting?  It would be refreshing, yes?


I finally get the point of study hall in high school – I thought it was supposed to be social time (and I never was lucky enough to have any of my friends in the same study hall hour), sometimes doing a bit of work but mostly just pulling out a book and reading.  Now I get that it was time for students to make a bit of sense, organized our thoughts around what we had learned that day.  Make it our own, connect the dots.  Prevent this clutter in our minds.


Wouldn’t it be nice if we got study hall time at work in between meetings?  As for home, we are each on our own to manage that clutter in our minds.  Share if you have a good method.


© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

The Details of the Day

(I recently enjoyed reading The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, so a nod to his title that I’ve played off of here.)


It is the details of a thing that either serve us well and move our plans forward, or that trip us up.  Back in school, if we answered that the civil war happened sometime in the 1800s we most likely were marked wrong on a test and asked for more detail if it was a class discussion.  While vaguely correct, the level of detail needed for accuracy is missing in this broad answer.


Impressions stick with me – the patterns of a process, reactions of a person or a group – but not details.  When I need to remember something, I search in my memory for any placeholders such as what day it was, who might have been there, where I was located.  If I can recreate the scene to a moderate level of detail, I have a better chance of retrieving some specifics.  I rely upon notes to dig deeper and bring back greater, finer details.

Claude Monet's 1882: The Church at Varengaville, Grey Weather, photo credit  Wikipaintings

Claude Monet’s 1882: The Church at Varengaville, Grey Weather, photo credit Wikipaintings


In my family, I am the de facto keeper of memorabilia – all the physical prompts that open the flood gates of ‘remember when’; the pictures and trinkets of our past.  These are talisman to bring up those impressions of large, small, important, and mundane activities and moments of life.  What we each produce of this memory and then share can become a more complete recreation of the original since we each have different sensibilities which trigger what and how we will remember something.


In business, I have honed the note taking that I learned in school (and diverge from my regular method at my peril) to develop a pretty good practice which records the right level of detail for retention and reference later.  The notes help me to get from that overall impression level of detail into more complete who, what, where, when, why particulars.  When I am really on my game, I sift back through the notes as soon as possible to develop the next level of associations – what goes with what.


I have a habit of writing call notes that has served me very well in personal as well as professional business.  I learned this habit the hard way when faced with retractions or changes to agreements and could only go back to my own impressions of the previous interactions.  Now when I can say that I called on this day and spoke to this person and was told this specific thing would happen, I am more likely to get the result that I expect.


Impressions of events are fine when sitting around at a family gathering and bringing out the old pictures to indulge in ‘remember when’.  But we all need to have methods of retaining finer details when it comes to moving our plans forward and keeping them on track.


© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Truth can Mean Pain, Discovered Avoidance will be Excruciating

Sometimes post ideas come from the most fleeting of thoughts and I have to be quick to get the essence of the idea down in a notebook that I carry.  (I was just at a conference where they reminded us all that science has found we forget about half of what we hear/see within 24 hours, and the forgetting just goes on exponentially from there.)

I meant to write down the occurrence behind this post idea, but it is lost.  Certainly this is a lesson that I tried to teach myself many, many times in my younger years.  I was steadfast in my practice of avoidance for too many years.  Foolishly, ridiculously so.  Until I finally saw the pattern.  And realized that truth can have power.


The movie quote, “You can’t handle the truth.” (Most men I know can practically recite the whole movie.  This quote is Jack Nicholson’s character in A Few Good Men) seems to sum up the way that many of us relate to the truth.  For whatever reason we create all sorts of alternate reality scenarios and often these get tripped up in one way or another and we are faced with myriad consequences.  Mostly unpleasant ones.

On the other hand, when people expect defensive behavior on your part you can regain control of a conversation when you tell the truth.  It has taken the wind out of more potential rants than I have kept count, people were actually disappointed because they had clearly practiced words for a protracted argument.  My simple, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t realize my action x would lead to issue y for you.  How can we fix it?’ stopped them up.  Of course, even better is to go to them when you know something might affect them, and I learned this too, finally.

Your right now self might be tired, but your future self has other things to do than to clean up after you.

© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

What am I Supposed to Do with All this Information?

We are bombarded with information wherever we go, look away for just a moment and another ton or so has been added to the pile.  All of it vying for our attention.  Whew, how to figure out what is important, what is useful, what is filler?

Coping methods abound, but should they really be broadly applied?  And most of them seem to deal with the mechanics of organization as opposed to the how-to of information processing.  Weighting, sifting, categorizing, pattern recognition – information triage.


I remember along about when my boys hit middle school realizing that they didn’t seem to know how to study properly – what to put into notes, how to organize those notes, how to weight importance of the lessons provided.  I looked around for additional assistance, a tutor or program, but all were focused on improvement in the direct skills – math, reading, etc. – that my boys were quite capable of learning on their own.  I could not find anything that would help with the soft skills of study habits or information organization.  The people that I contacted seemed to be confused about my request.

At work, I have encountered people who need assistance deciding how to prioritize the pile of work in front of them.  Sometimes this is because there is simply too much of it, but sometimes it is the same issue as for my boys – how to process information effectively was not part of any curriculum they had encountered.  There seems to be an assumption that people will naturally know what to do with the information provided and therefore the focus of teaching has been on providing the information.

I wish that I could say I remember how I was taught to process information – because I am certain that I had lessons on this skill along the way.  Perhaps it was in such small increments, here and there, that I can’t pinpoint any moments.  My ‘aha’ moment has been that this is something that I can share with others, not how I acquired the knowledge.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that I don’t have places in my house where piles of information await my attention.  (Good thing my dining room table has a sturdy pedestal.)  And I wish that it meant I had a magic method of whisking away extraneous information without having to take time to look at it!  Plus there is always the brand new information that takes longer to sort because I don’t know the identifying factors yet.

How have you decided to process all the information that comes your way?

© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Tree Blight & Managing Information

The trees in the parkways for many blocks around my house seem to be affected by some awful blight and look quite bedraggled.  I love trees and find this terribly distressing.  Crews have come through some parts of the neighborhood and removed trees – leaving gaping emptiness where once there was shade, green beauty and a home for squirrels and birds.

In the past, my village has seen fit to mail out announcements about street work or tree trimming or various other activities that residents might worry over.  There is also a regular newsletter.  But not a peep about the state of our trees or the plan to improve the situation.  I feel neglected and confounded.  The activity so far doesn’t seem to have any logic applied.


I am sad for the whole neighborhood, which will have a very different character – but want to know particularly what is being planned for the 5 trees in the parkway right by my house.  I realize that this is a costly correction, but surely some sort of notice is warranted.

It often amazes me that communication somehow goes right as often as it does.  There are so many components to communication, and the person initiating it only has control over their own end.  What should be conveyed, what is the best method to convey it, who is the target recipient?  How much background should be provided?  How much of the solution’s detail should be included?

I don’t usually deal in wishful thinking when it comes to managing information – but my preferred outcome this time would be to turn back time and prevent the blight.  I am saddened at the plight of these trees and reminded of this every time I go along the streets of my neighborhood.

Would you share a moment of poor information management that you have witnessed?

© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

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