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Curation – the art of selection in an increasingly selected world

The connected world in which we live and work provides us with incredible access and choice. Information is speared at us (sometimes simultaneously) from a variety of mediums, including the internet, mobile devices, intelligent appliances, motor vehicles and even the watches on our wrists.

This incredible abundance of information, while empowering on one level, is also troublesome on another. We’re probably all familiar with the term “information overload” which refers to the sheer volume of information that we face. There is even a single word for it now …. infoxication! However, equally as problematic is what I term information intrusion, which is the automated and sometimes unwelcome manner in which that information is thrust at us, all day long.

Both information overload and information intrusion are arguably controllable but the reality is that for many of us, they have snuck up on us by stealth over the past so many years. The information deluge we are now contending with hasn’t come about through a flood event, but rather drop-by-drop, and perhaps now what we have on our hands (whether consciously or not) is a classic Chinese water torture phenomenon.

Naturally, shutting off isn’t the answer. In many respects, information (like knowledge) is power. It can be the lifeblood of our businesses and it is essential to our daily lives. Rather, the key lies in curating the information we face, thereby delineating as best we can meaningful data from mere white noise.

Curation means using acts of selection and arrangement to “add value”. So how does one introduce curation into their personal and business lives? In reality, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions, but there are some principles you can follow to guide the journey. In no particular order, here are the five principles I try to follow in curating my daily life:

  1. Be ruthless and constantly re-evaluate. Look at the information you are dealing with on a daily basis and critically ask yourself the question: “Is this adding value to my life?” You will be surprised how much information you are dealing with (even if it is just by deleting it) that is not value-adding. If information is not adding value, make it go away.
  2. Select among similar offerings. Excessive choice saps mental energy. If you don’t believe me, walk into an ice-cream store offering 50 flavours and note how taxing your decision is. There is every chance you are receiving information on a regular basis from two or more sources that are saying much the same thing. It could be two daily news bulletins, two weekly tax updates, five daily social media digests. Whatever the case, look at what similar content you are receiving from multiples sources and make a conscious decision to whittle down those sources, ideally to just one of each kind.
  3. Celebrate contrast. Excessive information blurs. It creates a sea of sameness. Once you have a greater appetite for being selective, different styles of information will take on their own identity. Curation enhances these contrasts and starts to make the world look different again.
  4. Channel your focus. Information is now seemingly infinite. Human attention is quite the opposite. To best harness yours, you need a focus. Your focus and acuity will be sharper if you are passionate about curating the information that is being thrust at you.
  5. Be strategic about the information medium and your circumstances. Once you’ve curated the information you want, think strategically about when and where you are best placed to digest it. For example, if you have a podcast to listen to, don’t play it while on your computer as you multi-task with emails and interruptions. Instead, play it in the car or on public transport when you can be single-minded about consuming the content. Similarly, if you have non-urgent (albeit important) emails to digest, deal with them when the hustle and bustle of the day is behind you, or block off a dedicated timeslot each week for their consumption. Once you’ve gone to the trouble of curating, the final step is to do the process justice by consuming the curated content in the right place at the right time.

Setting principles and finding strategies to effectively deal with the great maelstrom of information is essential for our own state of mind. However, the importance of this extends to our clients as well. Simply supplying a client with more and more information (whether it be financial statements, reports, budgets, analyses, etc.)  is not the answer. The solution lies in cultivating an approach that lets a client avoid data deluge, and instead access the information that really matters to them. Indeed it may be the case that a subtly different approach is needed with each client.

In the fast pace of today’s world, a client’s time is limited and their attention span arguably even more so.  For professional advisors, this means that your ability to supply relevant information is only half the task; your ability to effectively curate that information is just as crucial. Get this wrong, and you end up with clients that are, at best, overwhelmed, and at worst, disillusioned. Get this right, and you have delivered real value to your client which they will know and appreciate.

Start with your own lot in life first. Curate your own way. Learn what works. Then as you get good at it, put yourself in your client’s shoes and attempt to carry those same principles across to the products and services you deliver to them.

26 Apr 2018
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