We have all had to write reports, prepare information and documentation, either to meet ad hoc requests or as a regular submission. Have you ever noticed that it usually takes far more time to prepare that information than it ever seems for the recipient to read it, or for any action or follow-up to emanate and drive activity?
I have always held that reports and information provided are pointless unless they inform a hypothesis, or serve an action or a decision.
I was explaining the delights of Occam’s Razor once again last week. For those who have never heard of it, according to an English 14th Century Franciscan friar, when presented with options we are always better off selecting the simplest. That discussion gave me over to considering the volume of pure waste created within industry from preparing information that was not required. Picture it – Alps of real or representational paper, the frozen detritus of misrepresented requests, unchallenged requirements or habit. As Roethke put it:
Ritual of multigraph, paper-clip, comma,
Endless duplicaton of lives and objects
For the sake of argument, let’s call it guff.
I am as guilty as the next person, both of producing the guff without challenging the reason, and requesting others produce the guff and then not reading it properly, or at all.
It’s because in organisations, much as we loth to admit it, the need for information is almost always over-specified.
So how about a calculation to apply to all requests for information – the Guff Quotient:
Of course the Guff Quotient isn’t ever likely to be a real measure – but it takes a step towards understanding the sheer quantum of wasted time and effort involved.
If we all considered as both requestees – asking why information was needed – and as requesters – asking why we actually need the information and what might happen if we didn’t have it – we could possibly make an enormous contribution to collective organisational productivity, and free significant time for more worthy, valuable and creative activity.
What will you do next time you are faced with a guff decision?