We’re becoming more like factories.
Just-in-time is a production strategy aimed at, among other things, reducing the need for excess inventory. Parts are supplied only when needed in the amount needed. While it makes a business more capital efficient, it also makes it more fragile.
We’ve adopted a similar strategy for information gathering. We’re so consumed by noise and busy work that the only time we really seek out signal is when we need it the most: right before we make a decision.
This creates a host of problems.
The worst time to look for information is when we need it to make a decision. When we do that we’re more likely to see what’s unique and miss the historical context. We’re also more likely to be biased by what is available. And searching for information at the time of need is an indication that you have no idea what you’re doing.
“Pattern recognition,” says Alice Schroeder, “creates an impulse always to connect new knowledge to old and to primarily be interested in new knowledge that genuinely builds on the old.” It helps knowledge snowball.
If we can’t connect the current situation to something we already understand, we might reason that it is not in our circle of competence and thus we shouldn’t be drawing conclusions. If we can, however, connect it to something we previously understood then we’re less likely to draw conclusions on the basis of “this time is different.”
There is merit to thinking about information gathering as a logistics problem.