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Electronic Design

Information Overload: Good News Or Bad News?

As an engineer, you're constantly bombarded with information. It comes from all directions—the industry, your company, your field of specialization, your colleagues, your competitors, your customers, your vendors, conferences, publications, radio, TV, and...did I leave anyone or anything out? A plethora of information lies right at your fingertips.

Of course, that's the good news. You want and need that information to complete your job. In an info-age economy, what you know is critical—intellectual property, if you will. What you don't know could hurt you, too. So yes, even though you're in the midst of a blizzard of facts and figures, opinions, projections, and other data, you must learn how to deal with it.

The bad news is there's so much information out there, we get buried because we don't have the time to absorb it all. We don't have a good system for organizing it, either. The key to getting the full benefit from the wonderful, rich resources available to us is turning that data into real knowledge. Once you read the data and acquire it, your brain will eventually make sense out of it all and translate it into a working knowledge. As we all know, knowledge is power. Or as I like to say, applying the knowledge is where the real power lies.

Those of us at Electronic Design like to think we're helping you, our readers, to solve this problem rather than just being another part of it. Our job is to acquire gobs of the latest information on products, techniques, companies, the industry, trends, and the like, and then condense, summarize, and boil it all down into a concise presentation that will give you what you need to know in the least amount of time. This is efficiency in the time-info space.

While we're trying to assist with the info blitz, you can do a few things to help yourself. Usually, we're all just so busy trying to accomplish our jobs, we don't have time to get organized. But if you take a bit of time to get a handle on all of that great information, you will reap big rewards in the end. Here are some things you can do right now to improve your current situation:

  1. Realize you can never have or know it all. That doesn't mean you should give up on acquiring more info. Keep at it, but relax because you will never absorb 100% of it.
  2. Identify your specific info needs. Zero in on one or more topics you must know about or track. That's sort of like setting goals. If you don't know where you're going, how will you know when you arrive?
  3. Seek out more sources. Yes, pile it on higher and deeper. As it turns out, the more sources you have, the clearer a picture you will have of the actual knowledge you're seeking. Try to find diverse sources as well as sources that summarize things to access the data quickly.
  4. Focus. As you read or scan the various info sources, seek out your target topics. After you have pinpointed one or more subjects, you will begin to see what you're looking for. Your mind is a marvelous filter once you get it focused.
  5. File your information. Set up file folders to accept article tearouts from magazines, printouts from Internet searches, catalogs, brochures, data sheets, white papers, and so on. Sort through your data sources daily to prevent them from piling up, and then let your files grow. When you really need the data, like for a report, presentation, proposal, or whatever, you can whip it out to read and organize and learn what additional info you will need.

If this whole thing sounds too simple and obvious, maybe that's why you're not doing it now. Yet it's the technique used by major researchers everywhere and every intelligence agency in the world. Give it a try. It really works.

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