Too Much Info Stifles Original Thought

Chasing Innovation

Since starting my blog in March, the amount of time I have spent online has exploded. I’ve become addicted to news and am a fully signed up member of the blogosphere. I twitter, I blog, I comment, I am LinkedIn to business colleagues and I Facebook my friends. I’m constantly reading new sources of information relating to all aspects of the web game. To put it mildly, I’m hooked.

Sound familiar?

If you’re nodding your head, I know how you feel.

Taking an active role in the online community is now an absolute necessity for anyone involved in any kind of web based business. It’s also very enjoyable.

Despite it’s importance however, it’s not without its draw backs:

  1. It is very time consuming
  2. It influences my judgement and opinion
  3. It does not help me reach my goals
  4. I use it as an excuse to postpone the really important things (I’ll just read one more blog post)

To be honest though, these are only mildly frustrating issues and nothing that some self discipline and a good dollop of time management couldn’t handle. However, there’s one more problem that all this information consumption causes and I believe that for entrepreneurs it’s the most serious. It stifles original thought.

True Innovation is Revolutionary

It took me a couple of months to confirm my suspicions but after reading the 4 Hour Work Week (kindly sent to me by Gordon Murray) I firmly believe that knowing too much information in your area of business will have a fiercely negative affect on your ability to think outside the box whilst trying to be innovative.

I started blogging with the belief that if I connected with the online community and engaged in interesting conversation while also keeping up to date on the latest news from the web industry that I would be perfectly positioned to invent the next best thing.

After 5 months of exactly this sort of activity I am happy to say I no longer believe this to be true.

Knowing the state of the art will not help you define it in the future.

This is not a new idea, it’s been discussed before:

“Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking”

– Albert Einstein

I can’t help wonder how the great man would have fared had he been glued to his feed reader for two or three hours a night.

Thinking Outside The Box

I have come to the conclusion that the only way to think outside the box is to forget what’s inside it.

If I am constantly updating my knowledge on the state of the art then I am playing a game of perpetual catchup. One that I will never win. What I really need to do is blur the lines, think outside the box and take my own approach.

Do you think that Steve Jobs spends his morning on Twitter micro blogging to his followers? Or that Richard Branson loads up his feed reader for an hour before bed every night? I doubt it. True innovation comes from independent thought and great execution.

Question The Status Quo

I constantly read news on new web startups, social media tools, data aggregators, web services, data portability, and other similar topics, but have found despite how interesting and compelling I may find all this information, that it has a large influence on my efforts at original thought.

Does my new killer app really have to integrate with the Twitter API? Probably not. Must it use open data standards? That’s probably overkill. Do I really need to leverage it’s viral potential? If it’s a genuinely great tool it won’t need to. And does it really need to integrate with my desktop calender? Maybe in version two.

Much of the ideas that I produce during a brain storming session are evolutionary not revolutionary. They build on existing technologies and use adopted standards within the web development community. Shame on me for not being more original.

So, what am I going to do about this problem? Simple. I’m going on a low information diet. I’m going to cut out as much noise as possible to help me focus on my real goals.

The Low Information Diet

In an effort to fight this constant stream of influential news and commentary I’m going to cull large portions of my subscribed feeds. I’m going to shut out as much of it as I can and cut myself off from the constant flow of information that sways my decisions both consciously and subconsciously.

By dramatically reducing the amount of news I consume on a daily basis I hope to become more productive, more efficient, more innovative and more original. As for the news that will undoubtedly pass me by, I’ll just have to live with it.

If it’s really that important, I’m sure I’ll hear about it one way or the other.


7 Comments added. Add comment?

  1. Gordon says:

    I think a good balance of ‘batter me with information’ followed by some time quite far from an internet connection works wonders for ideas and innovation.

    I don’t mean holidays, I mean time away from the desk from the usual habits, but still working on something.

    When meeting with customers for demos or training I always return with pages of notes and ideas either directly related to the meeting or something completely different.

    The other night I was in a hotel room with no connection to the net. I started to get all my notes from my phone and notebook into a couple of documents. Something I should do more often.

    Try carrying a small notebook around, Richard Branson style and see if you begin to jot things in when meeting with people or travelling.

    Jul 24, 2008
  2. Niall Larkin says:

    Your n good company: Don Knuth quit email and blogs “Rather than trying to stay on top of things, I am trying to get to the bottom of things”

    Jul 24, 2008
  3. Iarfhlaith says:

    I should also point out that this post was written offline (mid-flight), and took far less time to write then normal. Probably because of the fewer distractions.

    @gordon You’re onto something. I think a break from your normal working environment can definitely help you to break out of the time wasting habits that might have crept into your work. A fresh place, a fresh idea!

    @niall Don’t think I could go cold turkey just yet. For me, it’s still important to stay on top of the most critical stuff. But right now, I definitely want to cut out the noise. Sorting out which is which might not be as easy as it seems.

    Jul 24, 2008
  4. Gordon says:

    Now all I have to do is pencil in some regular time to pull the interesting and useful stuff out of my notebook.

    Jul 24, 2008
  5. Robin Blandford says:

    I mainly use my feedreader to keep up with people not information. I have about 3 tags in google reader I check every morning and lunch. These are my personally known tech peers, I scan through those to see what they’re up to – keeps me connected.

    I have the techcrunch, the outdoor stuff, the sport, the read write web etc. but only check that when I need to reset the head.

    An interesting method we were talking about last week at Jelly for lone workers was opening up EVERYTHING first thing and then filtering it down during your first 30mins. Gives you an information jab in the morning when you don’t have someone to share a coffee with.

    Jul 24, 2008
  6. Iarfhlaith says:

    I like the idea of keeping up with people rather then information. Like you, I’ve got a single tag in GR for all my personally known tech peers. But I’ve got tags for loads of crud as well (at least I used to have – it’s all been dumped).

    Out of all the stuff I’m subscribed to, my tech peers folder is the one I go to first. Information is more interesting when you can relate to it in some way.

    As for the RWW, it lost the toss up with Techcrunch, so it got dumped – too much overlap.

    Jul 24, 2008
  7. Bernie Goldbach says:

    A corollary to your observation is my belief that too much Twitter makes your information management skills grow dull.

    Jul 26, 2008

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