Information overload

You’ll likely be familiar with the concept of ‘information overload’ – that an overabundance of information can hamper our ability to think clearly, and thus our ability to make sensible decisions. It can even prevent us from taking decisions or actions altogether.

The evolution of the digital world has led to an exponential increase in the volume of information; widespread internet access, the speed of communication via e-mails, text messages and social media, and the ease with which information can be duplicated and distributed. There are estimates that we’ve created more information in the past ten years than in all of prior human history.

Despite being clearly identified as a problem, information overload is becoming increasingly common in both our personal and professional lives.

Financial Services

We decided to look at how this phenomenon impacts upon the work of boards and committees in the financial services sector, for our new thought leadership report, Information overload: effective boards and committees in financial services.

The length of board packs has increased significantly in recent years – making it difficult for board members to thoroughly read, absorb and if necessary challenge, the content.

We interviewed non-executive directors, company secretaries and executive management with responsibility for preparing and providing board and committee packs, as well as companies that electronically manage board information. We reviewed in detail what information board members currently receive and how board packs are prepared.

Undermining boards

We concluded that the increasing volume of information has reached such a scale that it is undermining team work, the ability to make good decisions and prevents boards from becoming more diverse and inclusive.

Specifically, it also exacerbates tensions between collective decision-making and individual responsibility.

Change is clearly needed, and we have assembled a detailed list of proposed actions for boards to consider, in order to improve their governance in light of this threat. The proposals work within the context of three overarching principles:

  • Boards must define their needs and communicate and pursue those persistently;
  • Responsibilities for board packs must be well defined;
  • Non-executives must be vocal about their need for good board papers.

I encourage you to read the full report and consider our findings and recommendations.

Information overload puts people off engaging in areas where it pervades, and can obstruct the ability to develop a holistic business strategy. Those who learn to manage it effectively may acquire a huge advantage.

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