Contextual thinking in the age of information abundance

Life was once simple:  I am hungry. I have a club. I know how to use the club. There is an animal. Whack! Now I have dinner. Move forward several eons and now: I am hungry. I know how to drive a car. The car has gas in it. I want a steak. I know a restaurant that serves steak. The economy is bad. I may get laid off. I have minimal savings. There is leftover pizza in the fridge. I can eat the pizza a save money.

That present-day decision is made in the context of a large amount of data, filtered by my ability to understand and process the data, colored by my political opinion about the competency of the current government, and tempered by my subjective desires for a steak and my objective concern to have enough resources to live through what I conclude to be the dangerous economic period.

There is an abundance of information available to bear upon the contextual target, in my silly example, satisfying hunger.  All of that information can be processed for a lot of different reasons and to varying ends, but in the context of a meal the relationships among the data points that result in a meal choice are one thing while the relationships among them that bear upon who to vote for in the fall are quite different.

Therefore, with an abundance of information available — much of it right from the web — how do we capture or tabulate the information in a way to remember it, to see the various relationships, to look for meaning in the data to answer the particular question at hand — that is the chore.

“Contextual thinking” has been pushed in the corporate and academic worlds for sometime as an improved methodology for decision-making. What is contextual thinking? See a short explanation here:

ContextThinking is the accelerated development of skilled judgment or observation by looking at the story surrounding a fact to achieve understanding, evaluate viewpoints, and solve problems.

ContextThinking develops your awareness of the requirements, capabilities, standards, and timelines that you will need to make a better decision. ContextThinking uses Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Levels of Thinking to identify where you are in your life according to sound psychological principles.

ContextThinking also uses your ability to sense what is right for you, set controls that can be measured, and allows you to respond to pressures with the right answer at the right time.

“What is Context Thinking” Retrieved Feb. 26, 2009 from http://contextthinking.com/what_is_context_thinking.php

It seems obvious that if you can enhance your awareness of the requirements, capabilities, standards, and timelines of the problem at hand, you can arrive at a better solution sooner, and one that transitions from theory, to design, to action more quickly. But exactly how you do that is the problem.

A large component of the problem is knowledge management. Gathering data from the myriad of available sources of information is only one phase of working toward a solution to a given problem. Managing that data in an analytical manner is a huge problem. We can pretty easily gather a lot of information and store it in any number of database systems, but languishing in the database, that data does not aid in decision-making.

I seem to be forever searching for solutions to this problem — this gathering, storage, retrieval and analysis of information — the effective analysis of multiple datapoints gathered from disparate sources. And understand this further complication:  I speak of “datapoints” primarily in the contextual of abstract thought in the form of laws as interpreted by the judicial system, not mathematical or scientifically measured data that can be digitized and ordered, plotted and charted for analysis.

My current experimentation can be found in the attempt to understand how to use two computerized tools:

Why is it important, if it is, to worry about this perceived problem of “contextual thinking in the age of information abundance?” Because it’s information overabundance with which we are faced. Effective contextual thinking must take place immersed in information:  information about the requirements, capabilities and standards necessary to solving any problem; and the contextual information affecting the timeline, the 4th component of contextual thinking, can be even more overwhelming.

If we don’t develop effective information management techniques at the personal level we will be devoured by information overload.

For a succinct discussion on contextual thinking, see Graham,  Joseph W.  ( January 2, 2009) Context Thinking Training for Executives.  Retrieved Feb. 26, 2009 from http://contextthinking.com/blog/?p=40.