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“In the digital era, we take in five times more information than before digital. It results in a digital stress affecting our cognitive abilities. Success in the digital era is not about broadcasting more information but to avoid digital stress and free up time for cognitive thinking within the organization. How does this correlate with the hype of social marketing? Do we actually need more information and engagement?”

 On my way to work this morning, I reflected over how much information and opinions I encounter. On the bus, on the radio, in the streets, and newspapers and blog posts, we are overwhelmed by information, offerings and opinions. More and more information is stored in our minds to be processes. How many passwords do we need to remember to survive in our daily life? The fact is that compared to 1986, we take in 5 times more information today! The digital stress of not being able to cope with the information overflow in the digital era, combined with higher and higher demand for productivity, is probably one of our biggest challenges today. But it is not just about information. Today we are subject to more meetings and more human interacts than ever – all leaving a footprint in our minds. In a normal week I have 35 meetings and interact with approximately 200 people.

“What is the purpose of my work? To administrate information or to apply cognitive analysis and decision-making on information?”

 The fact is that I spend less and less time with my family and friend doing things that gives me energy and mindfulness – and more time processing irrelevant information. This is the backside of new normal. The question is how the new rules of social marketing (to engage and interact) are affecting our minds and helping make rational decisions?

 “Information overload occurs when the amount of input to a system exceeds its processing capacity. Decision makers have fairly limited cognitive processing capacity. Consequently, when information overload occurs, it is likely that a reduction in decision quality will occur.” Alvin Toffler (Future Shock, 1970)

The topic of information overload is not particularly new. During the last 100 years we have seen an alarming increase in broadcasted information and offerings in many different channels (newspapers, radio, TV, billboards, sales meetings, etc.) becoming more and more sophisticated. Today there is approximately 10 times more information broadcasted than ten years ago. But how does our conscience handle this stream of information? The answer is simple – in every single moment. When we reach the limit of our cognitive ability, we simple gather a backlog of information waiting for a moment of processing in a faster mechanical way (without analytics). This means that our minds, around the clock process information mechanically, without any analytics applied. We lost our ability to think! We lost our ability to remember!

 “In 1976, there were 9,000 products in the average grocery store, and now it’s ballooned to 40,000 products. And yet most of us can get almost all our shopping done in just 150 items, so you’re having to ignore tens of thousands of times every time you go shopping,” – Daniel Levitin, McGill University psychology professor.

What is interesting is that we see today more and more people want less information and in some case want to an information-free environment where we can focus on relaxation and recovery. An environment where we are protected by the constant stream of information, opinions and offerings that in essence creates a heavy stress on our minds. A digital stress where our mind is fully engaged, around the clock, to filter out that information we need and what is irrelevant. Many of my friends and colleagues have experienced the same syndrome and question the laws of social marketing.

When I ask around (in a very unscientific approach) about the affects of digital information, there is often a sense of stress and frustration. Technologies can today, in a sophisticated way, help advertisers to probe further into our consciousness and leaving us consumers off guard. For some reason, many of those I interviewed wanted to leave the city for a small house by the sea, the forest or open spaces to find inner peace. It is not difficult to understand as the human race originally came from these environments, creating a mindful environment and ability to understand how to improve – and strive to return. However, must agree that to move to these places was unrealistic as there were no job opportunities.

“One size does not fit all in the digital world.”

So, why are some companies or employees more successful in the digital era? Is it that they have applied “the first law of social marketing” (to engage and interact with customers)? To broadcast and manage information streams better than others? No, my point of view is that this is not the case. Successful companies and employees are those that can filter the information, free up cognitive powers, analyze the situation and make the right decisions! To engage with customer is just one conclusion based on an analysis for that specific situation – and will maybe/probably not work for the next one – who have not done the homework. Today I see that almost all companies have a digital agenda to engage the customer. But very few have done it from an analytical point of view of how the market or organization actually works. To understand what is important for customer, how they will interpret the information and offering, and what decisions they can make. One size does not fit all in the digital world.

So, what does digital fatigue and stress have to do with IT governance? Well, think about how much of your time is spend processing irrelevant information and how much time is used for analyzing the situation. It is our cognitive abilities that enable the IT organization to make the right decisions and prioritizations, and to support business competitiveness and success. However, employees and managers are facing ten times more information today than 20 years ago, and many organizations cannot handle it. They are doomed to fail! Companies such as Spotify impress me – but the fact is that they try to limit irrelevant information to their employees (focus on what is important) and give them time to investigate new ideas with a creative mindset (cognitive). The fact is that a cognitive mindset will always win over information overload.

My recommendation is actually to limit the administration of information in the organization and rather focus on how to create value for customer by cognitive thinking. What you will experience is more healthy employees (less burn-out syndromes), more satisfied customers (building engagement through trust and respect) and a culture that will innovate and grow.

  • How much time is spent on analysis and creative thinking? Allow each employee to use 15% of the time to explore new ways of working.
  • Question all initiatives to raise productivity that hinders cognitive thinking and build digital stress.
  • Implement frameworks (such as Agile Governance) that forces managers and employees to analyze the situation and make prioritization.
  • Contact The Goodwind Company – we can help you!

A couple of days ago, I received an email from a company that wanted my opinion on a service they provided. “How does this service help you in your daily life – please discuss with us?” It is a schoolbook example of social marketing to engage with the customer. But what reaction do they expect? The problem is that I get 10 similar emails everyday and frankly think it is show lack of respect of my time and energy to give my opinion on such trivial topic. My challenge is not to delete this information but rather how to automatically ignore it. Because each time I see this kind of spam, I waste a bit of energy that can be used for other purposes – analyzing the situation – how to improve my life. Obviously this blog post is also an opinion that will take your energy but I hope the blog post will make you aware of the problem of digital stress. How digital stress affects you, your employees, your customers and how to free up cognitive ability – the key to success in the digital era.

Hans Gillior