Collaboration: The $588 Billion Problem?

Information OverloadCIO Insight recently published an article outlining key findings from a Basex study entitled “Information Overload: We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us.” (You can purchase the study HERE for $199) We won’t get into all the details, but the report basically says that information overload and hyper-communication (blogs, wikis, email, instant messaging) eat up 28% of a knowledge worker’s work day, resulting in 28 billion hours of lost productivity a year, costing the economy a whopping $588 billion assuming a salary of $21 per hour. That’s a scary figure. But – before you go and shut down all the collobaration/communication mechanisms at work in your organization, think of the flip side of the story. Think about why these systems exist in the first place.

All these tools – and there are many – help people keep their finger on the pulse, and keep up with one another. Things are changing. Fast. So we need a lot of help to keep up. Yes, people will inevitably get distracted, and we’re inherently poor (as a species) at multi-tasking. But at the end of the day, conversation and collaboration – staying plugged in – help us innovate. The study states some of the obvious, and offers some tips for how to better manage time and avoid distraction (take a second to think before responding to emails, keep instant-messaging status messages up to date, etc…), though it warns readers that the information overload is going to worsen in 2008. Our beef? The report doesn’t seem to recognize the value generated from all this distraction/collaboration. At the end of the day, though “distracted” workers may not perform business-as-usual tasks as efficiently, aren’t they doing a better job of coming up with new ideas?

IBM, for example, doesn’t firewall the internet for employees. Sure, this may tempt employees to waste hours on YouTube or checking personal email accounts, but it helps employees stay better connected to the world. Being better connected means that they’ll come up with better ideas. And better ideas are good for innovation. So, while information overload and collaboration may cost organizations $588 Billion in 2008, smart organizations know that they’re making up for it with innovation.

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