Information vs Understanding

by Dr. Gordon D. Booth

In Europe--especially in England--the period of time from 1750 to 1830 is frequently referred to as the "Industrial Revolution." It introduced the Industrial Age. Many of the advances that have made our lives better have come about as a direct result of the developments coming out of that age.

The main product of the Industrial Age was a process of production that was capable of meeting many of our needs. The output from that production has been useful to all of us.

Recently, the dramatic breakthroughs in technology, especially computers, have made it possible for us to get a great deal of information with ease--something that could not be done earlier. Information has become so abundant and so available that it causes some organizations to sink. Each day the amount of information that must be examined and evaluated is almost overwhelming to many managers.

This leads us to an important question: Is all information valuable? The answer that should be obvious is, no. Unfortunately, far too many users of information never make an effort to evaluate its usefulness, or its appropriateness. Much of the information we have available to us is what we might call second-hand information. It was obtained for a specific purpose, and in an effort to save money, we try to make it do for other purposes as well. While this ploy might work in a few cases, it has been my experience that it usually does not.

Just as the Industrial Revolution led to the profitable Industrial Age, we hope that the Information Revolution will lead us into the Information Age and that it, too, will be to our benefit. However, there are some differences between the two periods. During the Industrial Age, virtually everyone was capable of assessing whether or not the products of industry were good or bad. During the Information Age, I fear that few of us are capable of making that kind of judgment regarding the information we receive.

There are many subtle questions concerning the quality of information we receive. This is especially true in organizations that must make critical business decisions based on information that they have obtained. In the Information Age, users of information must never forget to question (1) the correctness of the information, (2) the appropriateness of the information to the present need, and (3) how to interpret and understand the information.

The Information Age holds great promise, but whether or not this promise is ever realized will depend upon how well we are able to truly understand the meaning of the information. This will require that we learn to evaluate the correctness, appropriateness and true meaning of the information.