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Tweets, Divination, and the Modern Executive:
A Stratagem for Mastering Information Overload

Our 24/7 connectivity and its continuous assault on our intellect and senses has created information overload. Today’s leaders and solopreneurs must find coping mechanisms or drown in a sea of too-muchness. Fortunately, our ancestors had techniques that still apply.

My wife spent her childhood summers in isolated mountain villages in Lebanon, where elderly maiden aunts taught her to read coffee grounds. Faced with an unpredictable world torn by world, they used coffee divination to find signs of an underlying order. Other traditional societies read entrails, or chicken bones, or flights of birds, or yarrow sticks. Even today, many turn for guidance to readings of the zodiac or tarot.

What if they’re not nuts?

I was struck by this thought recently when I realized that when my wife stares at the bottom of a cup for a while and then makes a bold prediction, she’s right more often than not. Meanwhile, I, with my well-constructed arguments premised on a deluge of data, have a lower batting average. Infuriating, but there you are.

I don’t think Carl Jung would be surprised. He, like many spiritual masters, saw a synchronous world, where the interconnection of all things means that the entire universe exists in everything, even a coffee cup. In other words, a skilled pattern seeker can find whatever answers he seeks in any book.

But is that something to bet a business on? Until today I would have answered no. But I just had an insight that causes me to question my biases.

Like so many of my colleagues, I’ve been trying to find ways to cope with information overload. I monitor several Twitter accounts, lists, and keywords from my HootSuite console. I have become increasingly bothered by the fact that I need to scroll far, far down any given column of tweets to find some sent even a few minutes ago. I am extremely selective about who and what I follow, but my screen is continuously refreshed with a fire hose of info. If I wanted to stay on top of it all, I would need to stay in tweetland all day…and still would fall behind.

Today’s insight is this: it doesn’t matter. The shamans and crones were right. Turns out the whole universe is packed into any random minute of tweets. So if I just review recent activity once or twice a day, I get as clear a picture of what’s going on in the twitosphere as if I were glued to my screen continuously. In fact, clearer – because I’m not overloaded and have time to process what I found.

That is consistent with an observation I made long ago, while living abroad for several years, when I discovered my restricted access to news about the U.S. allowed me to make far more accurate predictions about, for example, political moves or economic trends that I can make when I am living in the middle of the 24/7 news stream.

Because when it comes to information, less is usually more. The question is how to set up a system that gives you just enough, no more. Meaningful snapshots, not two hour blockbusters. To which I humbly suggest: pick any method. Coffee grounds. Dog droppings. Twice-a-day HootSuite reviews. Then keep your mind open. Accept what comes to you in brief bursts. Allow the seeds to be planted below your intellect. Then unplug and see what flowers bloom.

Wise executives I’ve worked with already know this on some level. When they ask a question, they just want a point of view with two or three support points. What they don’t want is copious background and caveats and data analysis and options. They know their team has hashed through all of that, so they just need the topline, which they then probe selectively. They avoid the trap of too much info, and make better decisions because of it, while keeping their team engaged by empowering them with trust and autonomy.

You can too. I Ching, anyone?

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