I have been musing of late on the concept I call the ‘the half-life of information’ and how it relates to the value of information within business. [Half-lives are usually associated with the decay of radioactive materials. The half-life is the amount of time it takes for half of the atoms in a sample to decay. Some materials have half-lives of milli-seconds other millions of years.]
The amount of time information is relevant (i.e. its value to a particular audience) varies depending on its nature. This relevance diminishes, or decays, over time and the rate of decay (“it’s half-life”) dictates the method of communication to its intended audience. For example; breaking news is broadcast on television, radio, web sites and now cell phones for widespread, immediate communication. While research papers describing new scientific discoveries are published in printed journals sometimes a year or so after the discovery.
Now let’s look at the way we create & communicate information in business. When the half-life of information is short (i.e. its relevance diminishes rapidly) we usually create AND communicate the information using a messaging product such as IM or email. This works relatively well when they is a small amount of information to convey, when is typically unstructured, such as news alerts, requests for information and comments.
When the half-life of information is longer (i.e. its relevance diminishes less rapidly) we create, or author using a document-based tool, such as a word processor, spreadsheet or presentation tool. These products are designed to produce, well documents, i.e. structured information in a ‘steady-state’ or complete form. We still may communicate or share the information using an unstructured messaging product or a web site or stored in a collaborative project space. That is we separate production and communication.
But what happens when the information is in flux, i.e. its changing as a consequence of a creation or time-based process, when there’s a team of people involved, when its complex? That is when communication is an integral part of production – what do we do then? Examples are: plans under construction, draft documents, proposals, research notes, competitive product radars, news aggregation, search aggregation, sales opportunity reports.
Well – most people force-fit the two approaches I discussed above. So in effect we are creating and communicating information using documents – either an unstructured ‘message’ documents or a structured ‘production’ documents. Even collaboration solutions are in effect document and message based albeit within new project-orientated frameworks. Net result it’s an ineffective way to create, collaborate and communication information because we are not addressing the ‘semi-structured’ state of information – where its value is still being assembled through personal efforts and interaction with others.
That’s why mapping – represents a whole new category of information format that is ideal for situations where:
- The information is being assembled into a ‘complete’ form
- Collaboration is important in creating the ‘complete’ information
- The information is complex or comprehensive
- It needs to be understood quickly, both its context and its details.
- The process is dynamic, real-time, interrupt driven.
- The information is from multiple sources, both human and system
Mapping is an ideal information format for this semi-structured state of information and as such makes it new and very compelling information format for team collaboration which fundamentally transforms the way people work together to create value.
That’s our mission here at Mindjet!
Chris Holmes, Vice President of Business Development