Nuggets in the network: Tom Peters On excellence

PETER COCHRANE, British Telecom's research lab director, has a vision of tomorrow's university in which inefficient campuses and libraries will be replaced by friendly electronic networks. He says the scheme will help people cope with an information overload that forces them at present to spend 80 per cent of their time finding information. Far too little time is left for decision-making.

Mr Cochrane is one of a growing gang of technofreaks (with the likes of Nicholas Negreponte, head of MIT's Media Lab) who want to help us tailor data to our narrow-band needs. What rubbish]

As an hour-a-day on-line user (addict?) I know the value of the information highway. And its limitations.

Consider Mussie Shore, a software designer at Lotus Development and, according to Industry Week, one of the best 'graphical user interface designers'. While working on a spreadsheet design, Mr Shore got to musing about a placemat he had seen at a diner in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. 'It had a sort of co-ordinate system across the top and down the side,' he recalled, 'with an aerial view of Portsmouth. It had little numbers on sketches of some of the buildings, and circles with callouts showing a magnified version of the church or the old general store. I saw that this placemat was communicating far more information about the lay of the land than I've ever been able to communicate with these high-powered computers.'

Shore's vignette reveals the wellspring of most creativity - the unlocking of dilemmas through insights gained in unlikely places.

I know it works for me. Ideas about corporate renewal come from spring barn cleaning in Vermont. Routine trips to the grocer provide more data on customer service than reading trade journals. Watching kids at play offers inspiration about self-organisation.

And on it goes. American football coach Bill Walsh got his ideas about ball-control passing from watching basketball. He observed that teams putting the ball into play from the sidelines complete 90 per cent of their passes. Why not the same in football, he mused. Soon his quarterbacks were completing an unprecedented two-thirds of their tosses.

But what about facts - cold, hard statistics? Guess what? There aren't any. Been following the US health care debate? The principal players can't even agree on how many of us are uninsured - estimates vary by millions. Ditto the new jobs debate: some confidently proclaim, with (literally) a ton of supporting evidence, that most new jobs pay well; others confidently point to slave wages for most of the new positions.

Immigrants? Robbing us blind with their excess use of social services? Or making us rich with the taxes they pay? It depends who you ask. All are armed, of course, with reams of 'incontrovertible' hard data.

Lynn Payer, in her book Medicine & Culture: Varieties of Treatment in the United States, England, West Germany and France, says: 'Often all one must do to acquire a disease is enter a country where the disease is recognised.' Germans have a thing about the heart and many conditions diagnosed by doctors there as heart ailments would be ignored or diagnosed as something else by US medics. For the French, life is food and drink: many problems classed as stomach or liver disorders in France are labelled differently in the US.

Given such confusion, we probably should be spending 90 per cent of our time collecting information, not just the 80 per cent that worries BT's Mr Cochrane.

Don't tell that to the business schools. I've long thought their heavy reliance on case studies is a fatal flaw. Cases provide students with all the information, then the classroom debate centres on the deciding. Truth is, deciding is a cinch. The real art in business lies in digging up oddball information that casts a new light. Trusting some 'knowbot' (an information-seeking robot) to do the job for you is loony. The results are likely to be about as effective as the attempts at computer-created novels.

Business is poetry. It's former Gannett chairman Al Neuharth's passion for USA Today, and damn the research that labelled him a fool. It's Ted Turner's insane 1980 commitment to an 24 hour a day all-news TV station - known these days as CNN.

I eat numbers for breakfast. I gorge on facts, of all flavours. Yet, I know that anything I come across has at least 100 plausible explanations; moreover, anyone can produce convincing evidence that will completely negate the 'hard' data I'm now devouring.

I also know, like Mussie Shore of Lotus, that inspiration is more likely to come from a placemat in a diner than from my next 10 hours on-line or a three-day conference of experts that I pay dollars 2,000 to attend.

TPG Communications

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Carlton Senior Appointments: Private Banking Manager - Intl Bank - Los Angeles

$200 - $350 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: Managing Producer – Office...

Carlton Senior Appointments: San Fran - Investment Advisor – Ind Advisory Firm

$125 - $225 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: San Fran - Investment Advi...

Sheridan Maine: Commercial Finance Manager

Up to £70,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...

Sheridan Maine: Regulatory Reporting Accountant

Up to £65,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas