Lean Thinking

26 June 2018

TL:DR - Information Smoothies

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I have had quite a few comments over the years that I have been running this blog along the lines of - "OMG! Wall of text" or "What's the takeout here?" or "Why don't you make this an easy to read list? " or "Can you summarise into a few bullet points? " or just the basic "TL:DR". This worries me a bit. Not just because people aren't reading my stuff, but because I think this points to a much deeper problem. I think this points to the reason people and organisations find it so hard to change.

My posts are always between 800 and 1200 words. That's not exactly a wall of text. If you print it out, it's about a page and a half. The reading time is about 5-10 minutes. Maybe 15 if I really make you think. That's not a large amount of time. But yet many of us feel unable to invest that amount of time to read something. If it's hard to find time to read a short blog post, what about longer format work? An essay? A book? 200 pages? 50,000 words? I know a lot of people who tell me that they barely have time to read tweets these days. What does this say about our capacity to absorb and process new information?

We all lead busy lives. We are always connected. We are bombarded with information 24/7. In order to try to take it all in, we consume our information in smaller and smaller chunks. First books, then articles, then blogs, then videos/podcasts that we half listened to while doing something else, then top 10 type lists then tweets. We consume our deluge of information by breaking it up into tiny little, easily consumed chunks. It's a bit like taking our 5 serves a day of vegetables, bunging them into a blender and grinding it all up into a green smoothie we can chug down at breakfast while we rush around and do other things.

We consume information in smoothie form. Easy to cram in while we rush around. We can consume vast amounts of information that way, which is great, but how much of it do we really process? It's all pre-digested, blended up and poured down our throats. We don't need to chew. We don't need to process. We don't need to think.

When we consume information in smoothie form, we lose something. Just like that green smoothie for breakfast, we lose the individual character of the fruits and vegetables. The crispness of the apple, the bitterness of the broccoli, the sharp citrus tang of the orange. It all becomes a homogeneous, green mass. Easy to consume but lacking texture or challenge.

Consuming information in micro form leads to micro thinking. We pour the information down our throats without needing to chew. Without really needing to think. Just do these 5 simple things. Use this one amazing trick. Implement this fantastic framework. All will be well. We want the conclusion without the effort of us having to conclude.

When we consume information in pre-digested form, we lose the texture, the nuance, the rewards, the risks. We lose the context. We lose the understanding of why we are being told to do this or that. We just do it. Or, if it looks too hard or we just don't like it, we reject it out of hand.

If we consume without thinking, we do things because we are told to do them. We don't understand why. We never really change our way of thinking, we just change (often very temporarily) our way of doing.

This is why many of us in positions where we are trying to drive change, find change so hard. If people are just consuming information in smoothie form, they aren't really able to process it properly. It (like green smoothies) tends to pass right through, essentially unchanged. We can't change the way someone thinks if they don't spend any time thinking.

When we see a new piece of information, we need to stop, think and digest. Give it time to percolate through our mental models. Give our brain time to process, challenge and accept or reject it.

Obviously, with the deluge of information coming our way, we can't do that with everything. But we should spend a second or two with each new thing that comes our way to think "Is this something I should think about?" If not, if it's just another amazing, list of the top 10 ways to be amazing, and then fine, consume it and move on. But if it does make you think, make you wonder, make you question, why not stop, sit down and really take the time to understand it? Look it up. Read something longer on it. Compare and contrast different points of view. Make yourself an information salad rather than an information smoothie. Enjoy the texture and taste of each new piece of information you add.

I'm going to set you a challenge. Set aside 20 minutes a day, just 20 minutes, to read something a bit longer and really think about it. Make yourself a quick information salad. My blog only comes out once every 2 weeks so that's plenty of time to consume other things. If it's something really interesting, why not think about it over a couple of days.

Try that for a couple of weeks and see if it makes a difference to the way you think about things. I'm sure it will. Salad is much tastier than green smoothies.

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