You, me, Dupree: we're all managing haystacks

Hay bales.jpg

When we read stuff, how much of it represents the relevant “nuggets” we really need to know?  Let’s take documents, web pages or books – if we were to just clip out the stuff worthy of keeping, recalling and using later, how much are we talking about?  

We’ve tossed around 2% with a few hundred people we have surveyed and interviewed, including C-level execs at household-name corporations, and have yet to be challenged.  

Whether it’s 5% or 1%, here’s the reality: documents are information-haystacks.

We love storing and managing haystacks.  We have no shortage of hayfields within which to store these haystacks:

  • Piles on desks
  • Browser bookmarks (perhaps hundreds)
  • Hierarchical folder structures in our file manager (probably thousands)
  • File cabinets, bookshelves, email attachments
  • Now Evernote & DropBox for synced haystacks across all our devices

But where are we storing the needles?  The things we learned when we dug through the haystack.  The facts, findings and insights we need to re-access and apply later.  The relevant 2%.  Our output.  The stuff we probably got paid to discover.

I have asked this question to hundreds of knowledge workers, and never once has someone said “I have a great system for managing the needles.”  The #1 answer I get: “my head.”  

The reality is that all our systems have been designed to manage haystacks, not needles.  Printing produces whole documents/haystacks, which get placed in piles or a cabinet. Evernote, DropBox and Box are all designed to manage whole documents, not extract out the needles as they are read and mange them as independent objects.  Annotation tools stick the needles back in their haystacks, by design.

Information quantity goes up another 50% next year.  We’ve got to figure this out – for our careers, company and country.  We can no longer afford to keep managing at the haystack level (100%) when we need to manage at the needle level (2%). 

What do you think?

What is your needle management system?

Is there a better way to make this work?

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