ABOUT 3,000 years ago, the wise King Solomon wrote: "Of making many books, there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh."
I suspect that if most modern executives could send a message back to Solomon's time (and don't bet that modern technology won't find a way), they would say: "Your Majesty, you ain't seen nothing yet."
In truth, today's executive is in the centre of an information explosion, and bringing order out of this chaos would tax the wisdom of Solomon.
More than 1,600 daily newspapers spew out 62.3 million copies a day in the United States alone. The nation's top 100 magazines produce about 240 million copies per issue.
But this is only the beginning. Almost every office has its fax machine, spouting messages throughout the day.
Computerised databases offer libraries of information that can be tapped with a modem plugged into a telephone jack.
Much of the exploding information is highly useful. A great deal is worthless to you. How do you separate the wheat from the chaff?
Equally important, how do you organise the information and put it together in a meaningful pattern?
Here are 10 suggested strategies for coping with the explosion:
1 Have a plan
The plan should provide a concise statement of the information you need to fulfil your corporate mission.
It should designate individuals who are responsible for gathering, processing, updating and making available the required data.
The plan should also provide a practical system for key people to gain access to the information quickly and easily.
2 Focus on action
A useless report is a dead weight. So before you request a report, ask yourself: "Is it necessary?" If it is not, save the staff time and expense.
Some corporations have reports to explain other reports, meetings to figure out what happened at other meetings, and vast databanks of information they have never used.
The first step in simplifying is to focus clearly on your objectives. Decide what you want to accomplish.
Then make sure that the only information that comes to you is what you need to make rational and solid decisions.
Teach your staff to prepare reports and data that are simple and easy to understand.
Do not tolerate jargon. Show that you value clear, precise language that everybody understands.
Let staff know that they do not have to cover every possible detail, contingency or outcome.
You qualify information by deciding whether it will be useful to you.
Ninety per cent of the information you wade through will be useless. Selecting the 10 per cent becomes a challenge.
The secret: Look for the specific. Discard all generalities and focus on the particular information that might have practical application in your business.
6 Systemise the routine
An executive should not be saddled with routine, repetitive tasks. Delegate them to your staff.
Teach your staff the most efficient and cost-effective way to accomplish such tasks, and get them to follow the routine regularly. This leaves you with more time for creative thinking.
7 Process papers
Do not just lay papers aside and "come back to them later". That is paper shuffling. When you go through your mail each day, do three things:
* Decide whether each letter is something you will act upon or to be referred to someone else for action;
* Write notes on all letters you want others to handle and distribute them immediately; and
* Respond to all mail you want to answer. Then file all those you have a good reason to keep and discard the rest.
When you have finished this process, you are ready to get on with other meaningful projects.
8 Update, then eliminate
The sharpest executives I know keep their files and databanks as lean as they keep their payrolls. They do this by updating, then eliminating.
Each time a book, magazine, report or other communication falls on your desk, ask yourself: "Why might I need this and how might I use it?" If you cannot think of a specific answer, throw it out.
9 Constantly synthesise information
Synthesising data means pulling together all its parts to form a whole system of information and ideas you can act upon.
Synthesising involves three important considerations:
* Accessibility - everyone who needs the information should be able to get to it quickly and easily;
* Categorising - the categories in which the information is arranged should make sense to all who will be using it; and
* Cross-referencing - the information should be cross-referenced so that it can be accessed in all relevant contexts.
10 Educate staff to control data
People in middle and lower management positions need to be freed of the paper burden just as upper management does.
Teaching them to manage information will result in more productivity and more creative thinking.
The experts tell us that human knowledge is doubling every 32 hours. That is a lot of information to keep track of.
You can keep track of it more easily if you determine what information you need and make sure it is available when you need it.