It seems reasonable that the Information Age should eventually lead us to information overload--and it has. From voice mail systems that can't accept more messages to in-boxes that are cluttered with unopened emails to executive summaries that bury us in statistics and detail, our worlds are flooded with information. Access to and the availability of information are no longer problems for most professionals. Knowing how to use that information to solve problems and make decisions is an on-going challenge for many of us, underscoring Warren Bennis' comment that "There is a profound difference between information and meaning."
The ever-increasing speed with which information is communicated and transferred creates the expectation that the speed with which we personally process information and then use that knowledge to make decisions should be improving as well. But without a process for evaluating and focusing information--a methodology for critical thinking--the abundance of information rarely improves individual or collective performance.
William Pollard reminds us that, "Information is a source of learning. But unless it is organized, processed, and available to the right people in a format for decision making, it is a burden, not a benefit."
One of the dangerous myths leaders embrace is believing that having information is all that is needed for good decision-making. Critical thinking engages us in looking at information in the context of the system in which it exists and then knowing how to distinguish facts from inferences, assumptions, and guesses. Like a series of actions in a cause and effect scenario, information doesn't exist in isolation. Failing to recognize the connections between multiple data points is frequently the cause of problem solving focused on the wrong problem, solutions that don't fix anything, and decisions that create no lasting change.