Who curates the information you consume and what have they done for you lately?

I was going to write a blog about “content curation” anyway … but when I read Tom’s most recent post i knew i had to “get going.” He’s right … we need to think deeply about our information networks in a conscious and thoughtful way.  Who and what are you relying on to help you focus amid the information overload?

Over the weekend, Jonah Lehrer wrote an interesting piece in the Wall Street Journal on “Learning How to Focus on Focus.” The essence of his piece was that in an age of information overload, focus or attention is a scarce commodity.  Instead of being enlightened by vast volumes of information available at our fingertips, we often become overwhelmed.  His point is that it is possible to become more effective in dealing with the excesses of information and proceeds to describe how we can develop higher level capabilities in the area of executive focus.   This is an interesting challenge for corporate learning functions as they develop the next generation of leadership.  How do you help executives learn how to manage the flood of content in an effective way?  As I interface with c-suite executives, I’ve noticed a subtle change in the way in which they are interfacing with organizations like Moxie Insight.  As Jeff Cobb points out “there is such a flood of new content pouring through the Internet pipes these days that being aware of all of it and sorting it out in meaningful ways is simply not possible.” Yes, there are powerful search tools, social bookmarks and community review options but they are no longer adequate.  We are finding that executives tend to rely on colleagues or experts to “curate” content in areas of interest. 

So what makes a great curator?  Harvard Business School Assistant Professor Ray Weaver suggests we use the museum curator as the model … “Many museums have enormous collections, so the possibilities are endless, he says.  And most patrons don’t know anywhere nearly enough to make these decisions on their own, and even if they were armed with some relevant information, most don’t have the time or inclination to pour over it.  So while we sometimes think that particular curators have missed the mark, in general we understand the role and appreciate that an expert who functions as our decision making proxy makes for a much better museum-going experience.”  Good curators don’t randomly put “stuff out there.”  They expertly review a particular field and make choices about what to put in front of the executive.  Furthermore they educate the executive as to why they should care or why it matters in the context of their specific business. 

While there are different models of content curation, we are finding that executives are looking for their content “experts” to be capable of:

  • Aggregation:   The most common form of content curation is aggregation.  In this case the curator “aggregates” the most relevant information about a particular topic into one location on an on-going basis.  The value of aggregation or bundling comes from the act of locating information, evaluating it, tagging and easing the information consumption for the busy executive.   
  • Chronology:  In creating a chronology, the content curator brings a historical perspective to the topic or field.  This perspective is most useful when our understanding of the topic has shifted over time.  Using informational artifacts, an effective curator can bring a different level of insight or understanding about a topic by re-telling its history over time. 
  • Distillation: Executives often look to others to distill the vast amount of information in a way that only the most important or relevant ideas are shared.  To Jonah Lehrer’s point, rather than being consumed by the vast pool of information available, executives value the distillation of information because it creates a focused view. 
  • Elevation:  The most challenging and perhaps valuable type of content curation is elevation as it requires deeper expertise on the part of the person doing the curating.   In elevating content, the curator is identifying new insights or trends from the disparate the pieces of information they are constantly collecting.  Expert curators are able to create a new or unique view on a particular topic or set of topics.  For an executive this becomes quite valuable as they try to find “over the horizon” insight that will help create future competitive advantage. 

I think our (Tammy Erickson Associates) combined work in the “generations” space is a good example of all four curation models.  We have certainly aggregated a great deal of information about generations for member use.  We’ve documented those insights in a variety of ways … on-line and in person, in reports, and in books.  The work is on-going.  As the generations have moved through various career stages we’ve revisited our assumptions and insights.  This fall we are starting work on the newest generation, the Re-Generation (or Gen Z/Gen Next).  Next year we will revisit Boomers as they enter a new career stage. We’ve distilled our insights, applying different lenses, enabling members to apply the information in the context of their unique organizations.  Generations also benefit by a chronological view.  In doing so, one understands that on a global basis, generations differ by geography.  This fall we published a popular “Generations in Geography” series.  Finally, we’ve elevated our understanding about generations to create new and unique insights.  By way of example, we just finished research on Gen X and their development needs now that they are entering leadership roles; in another piece we explored the impact of Gen Y’s digital activism on the workplace.

As the amount of information created continues to explode how will you increase your ability to focus?  Are you, like other executives, relying on others to curate your information flow?  If so, who are you consciously or unconsciously relying on to sort information and share in a meaningful way?   Is your “curation” network sufficient for the requirements of your business… now and in the future?  Who do you need to add to that expertise network?  Are your curators not just “aggregating” but also “elevating” the content?  And are you actively consuming the curated material provided … or are you letting important insights pass you by because you are too busy. I think Jonah Lehrer is right; one of the most important executive competencies we need to develop is “focus.” What and to whom are you paying attention to?


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