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Coping with Information Overload


Anthony Landale reports on a new reading strategy that aims to get you the knowledge you need, fast.

We have met the enemy and he is us is the great title of a new report into information overload by the techwatch company, Basex. But should we be surprised? Of course not. We are the creaters of our own data smog. It’s we who are addicted to information, to 24/7 contact and to our blackberries. We are the ones who spend most of the day texting and emailing and podcasting. There is nobody to blame for this situation other than ourselves.

But this doesn’t mean we have to surrender to the situation. Information overload is a big problem. The challenge is to tackle it head on and according to Clive Lewis, MD of illumine, this means becoming an extraordinary reader.

The Extraordinary Reader is the title of Lewis’ new book, published last month, and it represents the view that in order to deal with information overload we have to use the latest thinking technologies. At the heart of Lewis’ thinking is a new reading strategy which aims to help people navigate through the constant stream of data, evaluate and absorb what is relevant to them and find ways to recall key information once they have read it.

A three state approach
The ‘3 state’ reading strategy which sits at the heart of The Extraordinary Reader is called Inseak – the Intelligent Strategy for the Effective Acquisition of Knowledge. And it is this innovative model which provides such a practical solution to overload.

Said Lewis: “Inseak recognises that whenever we are faced with new documents we need sorting strategies and reading techniques that can help us to determine their relevance. These techniques are well known but when combined together they add extraordinary value to people who want to harvest knowledge.”

The three states of Lewis’s Inseak approach are:

  • State 1: A document arrives and assessment is required.
    In this first state, you the reader, are in receive mode. But you do not know whether the document, report, book, magazine or email that you have been sent requires your attention. So your first objective is to find out whether it needs to be read, needs to be delegated or can be ditched.
    To help with this assessment Lewis provides some specific tools – such as how to make a fast initial evaluation, how to conduct a rapid preread and how to draft a skeleton Mind Map - to establish what the documents are about and whether you need to give them further consideration.
  • State 2: You now have preliminary understanding of the document.
    Following this assessment you now have preliminary understanding. You know whether the document is relevant and, broadly, what it covers. You are still in assessment mode, however, and this will help you decide whether you need to read further and, if so, at what speed and depth.
    Your strategies in this process are skimming, scanning and speed-reading including a detailed Mind Map. The critical understanding here is that while some documents may just need a skim read you may also choose to go through others multiple times, building up greater knowledge each time. This process of multi-layering is a key characteristic in becoming an extraordinary reader.
  • State 3: New knowledge is assimilated.
    Your state when you have completed the process above is now one of knowledge assimilated. And importantly you will have generated, as part of this state, a robust review strategy (your detailed Mind Map) which will have clarified and coded all the key information you need for easy recall. The drafting of your Mind Map is also a signal that you have met your knowledge assessment objectives and have completed the task in hand.
  • Lewis said: “My focus with Inseak is specifically on assessment and evaluation of information. This is critical for managing overload. You have to remember that while knowledge and information is the fuel for career success the skill that executives need is in being able to seek out the gold among all the dross. In this context just consider for a moment ... when you pick up a document or read an email what are you looking to get out of it - factual information, learning, other people’s insights? You need clear objectives and a fast way to assess the value of the documents you have been sent. And you can be much more effective when you make this a conscious process.”

    Managing your state
    So far so good but unfortunately you can’t become an extraordinary reader just by understanding the model. You have to be prepared to practice and change your habits.

    According to Lewis this is an investment that is well worth the effort. “To become an extraordinary reader you need to be clear that you never want to fall victim again to information overload. This has to be worth your while because it won’t only relieve pressure it will give you a competitive advantage. I have always been fired by the belief that if I can teach people simple but effective thinking techniques they will become far more productive and successful. With the extraordinary reader I have brought together the essential elements of technique, attitude and belief that will help anyone to achieve this outcome.”

    A special offer is available to readers of TrainingZone.. Order The Extraordinary Reader (quote TZ1) before November 30 2007 and you will receive your copy for £6.99 (RRP £9.99). The Extraordinary Reader is published by Vale Press. ISBN: 978-1-906070-03-8. It is available from illumine on 01753 866633 or from


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