Ineptitude in the age of information overload

Why is it that we so often fail to achieve what we set out to accomplish in this world? Many bloggers and authors have written on the subject of failure. To err is human, mistakes are natural, failing is an important part of learning, etc., etc., etc. I agree that designing, creating and learning are not clean processes. Physicist Niels Bohr, the father of atomic theory, put it well:

An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.

But clearly some failures are “bad” or unnecessary. The worst of this lot are failures of ineptitude. Ineptitude arises when knowledge exists, yet we fail to apply it. Example: surgeons operating on the wrong side of a patient’s brain…for the 3rd time (sadly a true story from Rhode Island Hospital –

What does this mean when we have access to more information than ever before? In many cases, what used to be excusable ignorance is now sheer incompetence. It also means that those who aren’t using this resource are at risk of becoming inept.

For example, checklists and processes exist that can effectively eliminate medical mistakes like operating on the wrong brain lobe. Given that the supporting research, resources and processes can be found on Google with little effort, there is no excuse for the ignorance of the Rhode Islanders. They are the poster-children of ineptitude.

While consequences of failure in business are incomparable to those in medicine, we are often equally guilty of ineptitude. Many businesses simply aren’t taking advantage of the massive store of knowledge available through the web today. The results are missed opportunities and unnecessary failures.

For example, a 2009 study by Hoovers found that 75% of businesses weren’t using social media for competitive intelligence. My experience suggests improvement has been marginal outside of Silicon Valley since this study was conducted (RIM is just one company that comes to mind here). In an increasingly competitive global marketplace, up-to-date competitive intelligence makes the difference between leading and chasing the competition.

Glenn Gow did a good job of summarizing just one of the benefits of social media intelligence (

By obtaining a real-time window into issues and problems facing your competitors, you have the opportunity to proactively respond with timely messaging or programs targeting the customers or products affected and capitalizing on the specific problem. If a competitor is having supply or quality problems, offer a targeted upgrade program. To quote Ray Kroc, “If I saw a competitor drowning I’d put a live fire hose in his mouth.” While launch messaging often takes weeks or months to tune and perfect, the social media grapevine enables you to leverage a changing environment, especially competitive missteps, to your competitive advantage.

If businesses don’t react to opportunities in real-time, you can be sure that their nimbler competitors will. The ability to rapidly detect and react to the unexpected offers a significant opportunity leapfrog the competition.

Qworky is one software company that realized that opportunity. By monitoring their primary competitor’s online moves (blog posts, e-mail blasts, Twitter messages and LinkedIn profile changes) they suspected that a product launch was imminent. This gave them the opportunity to quickly launch a limited version of their product, getting the Qworky name out in the market before the competition (

In the 5 minutes it took to read this blog, the store of knowledge and information available through the web grew significantly. In this time:

  • 1,273 Wikipedia pages were edited
  • 175 hours of new videos were uploaded
  • 170 new web pages were created
  • 5,000 professionals joined LinkedIn
  • 191 new blogs were created

What’s more, the number of new content channels increases every day. So how do we keep up with this vast store of knowledge? In many cases, it is impossible to remain current and still have time to get things done. Few of us can afford to spend the entire day on the web. According to a recent SAS survey, more than 50% of executives at mid-sized companies feel they’re drowning in data. At the same time, executives viewed data as the most underused resource in their companies.

Over the coming weeks, I will be exploring ways to reduce information overload and effectively use the information available via social media and the web. Hopefully, I can avoid joining the ranks of the inept.

Please let me know if you have any solutions or ideas that can help!


2 thoughts on “Ineptitude in the age of information overload

  1. 1000poems says:

    Hi Wayne – didn’t know you blogged but will bookmark you. Here’s a link to something I thought relevant to this post:
    (it’s Julian BTW) -Julian

  2. Thanks for the comment Julian. Good link!

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