I must be a cog in the wheel, because I asked Melissa to get me some links to read that answer the question, “What information is important?” and she came back to me with, “I think that’s a bad question, but here are five links.”
Which made me decide to write this test to find out how good an Information-Age worker you are.
1. Can you frame a question? Plus one point.
The first link Melissa sent is about how you are information illiterate if you can’t ask good questions:
The ability to critically evaluate and ethically apply that information to solve a problem are some of the hallmarks of an information literate individual. Other characteristics of an information literate individual include the spirit of inquiry and perseverance to find out what is necessary to get the job done.
This quote comes from a university, which is ironic since you don’t learn this in a university. In a classroom the teacher poses the question and tells you the framework for answering. Otherwise, the teacher couldn’t grade people consistently. And school is about grades, of course.
2. Can you memorize information? Plus one point.
Amazingly enough, Melissa, who has a photographic memory, found a link that says the more things you can memorize, the better you will be able to solve problems. To do that, you have to be great at knowing right away what is trustworthy and what is not. (This seems like a good time to tell you that Melissa does not read the inside caps of Snapple bottles because Snapple puts information that may or may not be true – you have to go to the Snapple site to find out. And Melissa can’t risk memorizing wrong information.)
3. Can you take action on an idea? Plus one point.
At this point I think it’s pretty safe to say that Melissa has defined a knowledge worker as someone like her, but the thing is: she’s an extreme type who mostly sorts information and matches it. (To her credit, she acknowledges this, in her secret language of links, by sending me a link that shows how ineffective knowledge is without real-world experience.)
The art of taking action is a mix of a great ability to sort information and a knack for functioning in the real world. A McKinsey study about star performers, summarized at Priceonomics, concluded that a star is someone who can transition from information processor to action taker. It’s a very difficult transition, especially if you’ve been in school your whole life where you get told how to process.
Many people think that because someone is smart they’ll be good at getting things done. This is completely not the case, and McKinsey concludes that Enron is an example of super-smart people who realized they had no idea how to execute so they started lying to cover it up. (I didn’t read every word of this article. I just read to get the gist. But one of Melissa’s links says you need to know if a source uses links in an ethical way, and really, you could say all my links are unethical, because the last time I read every word of a link I put here is maybe never. Most of you know by now to read my links before you let me change your mind on something. But take a point off your score if you didn’t know that.)
4. Can you delete your “read later” folder? Plus one point.
I was on Zen Habits pretending to read but really stealing ideas because Leo Babauta is great at information design. (Oh, wait, plus one point if you are good at stealing the way people have synthesized ideas. I think this is meta-synthesis, even though I can’t find a link that says so.) Leo wrote that one thing he does to simplify his life is delete his folder of stuff to read later.
Which made me feel bad because I can’t do it. It’s true, you should not have on your to do list to read a pile of links that you worry you might miss something in. It’s the Information Age equivalent of hoarding. Which I am doing. And which is upsetting because I’m so great at throwing things out in real life that two people have sent me a link about how the DSM is putting compulsive discarding into its own category of mental disorder.
If you can’t keep up with the information coming your way, you’re an Information Age retard. Before you get excited about clicking that link, it doesn’t actually use the phrase Information Age retard in the link. That’s my phrase. And let me tell you, it’s killing me that the juiciest link to click in this post is one that’s not going to my site or the site of one of my friends.
In an effort to clear out my piles of links that I’m hoarding, I am giving you one. Dirty secrets you didn’t know about various industries from the people who work there. I kept telling myself to delete the link, but I saved it to make sure I told you how to negotiate for a funeral.
5. Do you interpret information well? Plus one point.
I get 50 offers a day to write guest posts for this blog. I always say no because people who write guest posts are so scared of being wrong that they end up saying nothing. In the Information Age, though, you have to be willing to form a lot of opinions and risk being wrong – otherwise you’re just a computer memorizing data, and we can outsource that to a developing country. (At least until developing country is not synonymous with smart people trapped in a bad economy.)
You have to be wrong a lot to be interesting which means being wrong is probably also a sign of being useful. The Economist redefines high-potential employee not as one who can climb the ladder but as a person who can synthesize information in a new way to inform the way the company makes decisions. I like to believe this since I’ve been fired from every job way before I could finish my ascent to the top of their ladder.
How to score yourself.
Well, Melissa would only score four points here, because she doesn’t take action. And I’d only score four points because I can’t throw out my pile of links. (Wait. Here’s another: Greenwich CT is cool, Brown University is not.)
So definitely if you scored 4 you are a great knowledge worker, and if you scored five, you are better than me and Melissa – rock star quality – although to be clear, anyone who scored five should probably not have kids, but that’s a good post for another day. (Oh, wait, I’ve already written it.)
If you scored a 3 or less you are probably like my husband, Matthew – you’re doing something productive with your hands all day. And anyway, Matthew could never stay inside all day and process information – he’d say he just feels like a cog in the wheel.