Handling Information Overload

Posted on July 26, 2010


Depending on who you talk to and your own biases toward data and learning, information in the year 2010 can be a really great thing or an absolute distraction.

Information today poses more questions than answers. Not only do we have more access to information, but we have more of it. And that information creates questions that affect our work:  how to format?  How to collect?  How to access?  How to catalog for easy use?  What has value? What stays and what goes?

IBM, masters of the information world, say these days information access is not the issue, it is use of it (aggregating it, making sense of it, acting on it) in today’s day and age that matters most.  In the past, acquiring data was the main concern, now info is everywhere—maybe too much info. Productivity becomes an exercise in selective editing and managing for use. Information creation is measured against its strategic capture.

As an architect, I need to know my clients’ treatment of information and how that affects their physical environment. Data sharing modes affect individual relationships, projects, even entire company operations, which can dictate use of space, and how building organization is conceived.

Nevertheless, incomplete information is still the norm and at times may be a blessing. In design, the architect and engineer produce plans complete enough to build from, but as any project manager will tell you there is no perfect set of plans or specifications, mainly because there is no infinite amount of time to record the information to make the construction documents complete.

A design can always be further clarified; however, beyond a certain point of completeness, the functional use of the plans increases only incrementally for the amount of resources (time, research, coordination) required to approach absolute completion, a diminishing returns condition. When completing construction documents, designers must choose what is most important to document in the allotted time. In decision management theory, the measure of acting on information without knowing all of it describes the quandary of Expected Value of Perfect Information:  can I make a more accurate decision with more information in the future, and will that additional confidence outweigh the cost of acquiring the additional information? 

Much like there is no perfectly complete set of plans, there is no perfect contract either; intentions and conditions can always be further elucidated. 

Me?  I am after less. With the relationship design and construction have in integrated design-build at Haskell, our plans do not strive for perfection. Healthcare design and construction at Haskell have a familiarity and understanding. Since we are all under one company flag, the litigiousness that governs most design-construction relationships is mitigated. Theoretically, since drawings are merely tools to facilitate construction, our team could show a lot less. In fact in a completely vertically integrated company, where a company’s capabilities included design, engineering, general contracting and all subcontracting, drawings could be mere shells of perfection, containing only the very basic data required to build from. Information overload could be completely negated through absolute integration. The undeniable value of integration is proven again.

Posted in: Design Zeitgeist