Useful information…

Happy New Year everyone!  Interestingly, my 11 year-old son recently asked me “What is the cut-off point for telling people ‘Happy New Year’?” My answer was “The first time you meet them in the new year.”  No need to explain that this was followed by a number of very difficult questions. I could only end the conversation by saying “It’s up to you.”

But I digress.

I have a process for delivering my blogs.  Before I embark on writing one, I decide on a title. This gives me direction on what I want to convey, and specifically, my focal point.  Case in hand, is this blog. I chose ‘Information’ as the general topic and ‘Usefulness of that information’ as my focal point.  In my typical fashion, I started to research what different people see as ‘Information’ and secondly, ‘what are the various school of thoughts around usefulness.

All that seemed hunky dory, until I remembered something my cousin told me over the December festivities. He told me that my blogs were ‘too technical.’  Of course, I wanted to defend my writing style, but instead, decided to accept his views and see what I can do about them (stages of feedback 🙂 ).  I hope he does not tune off by my references to ‘Schools of thought’, but actually goes past this paragraph!

So, what was the impact of that observation?  I decided, that instead of giving a technical or business orientation to my blog on useful information, I will try an everyday perspective.  I am not a widely travelled or an extrovert in my social circles, so my examples, may be narrow. Bear with me.

Useful information usually start by being Timely.  Every day, we are given information that is good, but is not useful. Simply because we get this information after we needed it! I remember having a beer at a pretty nice pub in Nairobi.  I got my ice-cold beverage from the waiter and poured it into my glass.  Against popular advice, I added the new beer to the old.  It was only when the ‘new beer’ became the larger portion in the glass, that I noticed an odd taste in it.  I called over the waiter and enquired about it, and he innocently said ‘Yes, I didn’t hear the normal ‘hissing’ sound when I opened the beer, but I was waiting for you to mention it.’  I looked at him flabbergasted. Anyone who enjoys a beer knows the consequences of drinking a beer where you ‘…did not hear the hissing sound…’.  Needless to say, that brought my evening out to a close as I dashed home to the safety of indoor plumbing.  Had I received that information in a timely fashion, I would have made a different decision about drinking the beer and I would have continued to enjoy my night out.  Remember, useful information is timely.

Another characteristic of useful information is around accuracy.  Someone can give you timely information, but it is not necessarily accurate.  Some time back, I was heading for a meeting. I had planned my journey down to the nigh. Then a workmate came and told me ‘You have not left?! The traffic is ridiculous (meaning horrendous).’  Seeing that he had my undivided attention, he recommended that I use an alternative route to get to the venue.  I hurriedly gathered my papers, note pad, folder, put on my jacket and made a dash for the meeting.

Using the alternative route to the venue of the meeting was, undoubtedly, a disaster. The road was pothole ridden and the drivers had no regard for traffic rules or basic order. It took even longer to get to the meeting and I was late.  Getting there, I immediately began to explain to my boss and my client why I was late, blaming it on the alternative route that I used.  My boss gave me that ‘How-did-I-end-up-with-this-bozo?’ look and said ‘Why didn’t you use the main road? It was clear all the way.’

I was about to explain further, but realised it would do little to help my case.  I kept quiet and thought – if only that information I was given was actually accurate! Remember, useful information is accurate.

And that brings me to third quality. How do you know or check that the information is accurate?  Well, useful information should be verifiable. On this one, I will avoid going into examples. Instead, I will lay something on the table and I am sure you will have an answer – what do we call information that cannot be verified?


(Longer pause)

We call it a rumour or gossip.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I do not like rumours, gossip, hearsay, canard, or whatever you want to call it. Sometimes, what people tell you is entertaining, but before you go and repeat it to someone else, make sure you can, and do, verify it.  Starting a sentence with ‘Rumour has it….’ Does not absolve you from the responsibility for alternative facts.  Be one who shares ‘useful information’, so make sure it can be verified.

Having covered timely, accurate and verifiable information, we now move to the next one. Maybe you guessed it, but useful information is complete. I am desperately trying to find a second example, but my mind keeps going back to a very basic bit of information, that most people have kept incomplete AT LEAST once in their life time. That is… their relationship status!  I’m sure I can hear many people agreeing.  For those who don’t agree, you will be happy to hear that the other thing people are very good at giving complete information about is…. Yes! Their relationship status!

Yes, sometimes, complete information works to our advantage, other times, it does not.  That is why many court rooms insist you tell the truth and the whole truth.

The last important trait that I want to touch on is retention.  I’m sure you probably don’t relate too much to this one, but it applies to everyday life. Have you ever been in a situation where you read something, or watched a funny video, or received an inspirational message that touched you?  But, at some future date when you want to refer to it; nothing? We all know that frustrating feeling of trying to look for some information that you had before but you cannot find it or remember where to look.  And it is even more frustrating if Google doesn’t have the answer.  Useful information has to be retained.

In closing, remember those core traits – timely, accurate, verifiable, complete and retained.  There are other characteristics that we could have touched on such as relevant; understandable; and cost-effective, but I think the few I have touched are enough.

The pride of the consultants at 3K&L is the ability to turn everyday lessons into business savvy actions.  Talk to us and get a better understanding of how your business can leverage off what you already know!

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