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What if we thought of information as food?

March 29, 2017
Clare Brown

We need food to fuel our bodies. This food must be of sufficient quality and contain the right nutrients to nourish us appropriately and efficiently. Information works in a similar way - it needs to be prepared properly in order to fuel our businesses. So, what if we thought of information as food? In a 2012 TED talk, Technologist and Deutsche Bank’s Chief Data Officer JP Rangaswami posited just that.

“What would happen differently in your life if you saw information the way you saw food?” (JP Rangaswami, 2012)1

From Hunters to Farmers

We started out as hunters and gatherers of information, much in the same way as we did with food. Information was, for the most part, free to obtain and could be taken without permission. We had to seek it out and could use it however we wished.

These days, the process is somewhat different. We are seeing intellectual property battles with information farmers complaining that content has been taken from their ‘land’ without permission. Information must be referenced and attributed to its source. It is owned and often must be purchased for financial reward. Hunters of information want to freely roam and take content as they choose but the fences have gone up.

Preparing to Consume

Where it really gets interesting is when Rangaswami starts talking about the consumption of information. To really benefit and be efficiently fuelled, information must be distilled and its value extracted. It must then be separated and served up ready to consume. Sound familiar?

There’s a vast quantity of information out there. Trying to consume it all at once is not only downright impossible but seriously unproductive. Imagine the holiday season, when a big feast is typically a tradition. We (over)fill our stomachs and then lie immobile on the couch to recover. Hardly an efficient use of energy. In the same way, consuming all the information we came across would leave us so drained we’d be unable to make an accurate decisions.

Watch the webinar on demand: How to Use Current Awareness Technology to Gain Competitive Advantage

Instead, we need to source the most healthy and nutritious information we can find - the kind that is going to fuel us to achieve our best work. Fake news has shown itself to be the junk food of the information industry. It might look good from the outside, and it certainly offers quick satisfaction, but ultimately it has no value. It provides insufficient and inefficient fuel.  

To find the information with the best value, we need the help of experts. Much in the same way as chefs, Information Specialists enable us to reach the information that will provide us with the best fuel - through the deep web. Here you will find the harder to access information ‘stores’. Yes these might be more expensive as you encounter subscription sources and yes, you might have to shop around or visit multiple sources before you find exactly what you’re looking for. But this is where you will discover the information that will truly spur your business on and make you stand out.

What’s more, information needs to be within its sell-by-date. Information that has ‘gone off’ or is ‘past its best’ is not only irrelevant to businesses but could actually make them sick. Publically acting upon inaccurate information can ruin an organisation’s reputation and, depending on the severity of the ensuing mistake, could force them to go under. In short, outdated information could be lethal.

So we know that information needs to be of a high quality from a reliable source and within within date. But it also needs to fit with the tastes and preferences of the person consuming it. There’s no point giving baby food to a fully grown adult, or feeding a vegetarian a steak. Just like there’s no point giving an attorney information about UK copyright law when their remit is the US. Information must be tailored to its consumer. It must fit the requirement of the user and their daily needs, otherwise it is simply superfluous. It must be targeted.

What we really need is a filter to separate the bland and unappetising scraps from the delicious nuggets. We discuss all this, and plenty more, in our 'How to Use Current Awareness Technology to Gain Competitive Advantage' Webinar which you can view on demand below:

Watch the Webinar Recording: What if We Thought of Information as Food?

What would you do differently if you thought of information as food?