Twelve years ago this week, I left my career as a corporate lawyer and started down the entrepreneurial path as a residential real estate agent in Manhattan.
People thought I was crazy. Every “expert” was predicting that real estate agents would soon find themselves like travel agents — a casualty of this new age of “transparency.”
With all the information available online, nobody would need real estate agents.
I brushed off the warnings. In my view, I wasn’t going into the “information business.” I was going into the business of advising and coaching clients through major life transition and change. The information, or “search” component, was only a small part of my role. I never sought to compete with Google.
Twelve years later, real estate agents haven’t faded into extinction. And travel agents are making a comeback.
Yet the myth still persists that “information is power” and, more specifically, that “making more information available creates transparency.”
Every Myth Has A Kernel of Truth
Like most myths, there’s a kernel of truth in this.
There was a time when all information in any given industry was in the hands of a relatively few number of people. Consumers needed those people to get access to what they wanted. Whether it was access to see a home, or to information that could lead to a medical diagnosis, or making travel reservations, or anything else.
The web liberated that information and put it in the public domain. For a while, this created greater transparency. Professionals who previously relied on their access as their main selling point had to step up their game.
There’s a tipping point at which more information no longer creates transparency; it creates opacity.
And we are well past that tipping point.
We are now in an era of too much information, and it comes at a cost.
Two Problems With The Information Age
(1) What is Accurate?
The freedom of the web gives everyone a platform. This is a win for diversity of opinion, but is a problem when it comes to verifying accuracy of information.
When anyone and everyone can put out information purported to be facts without checks on the accuracy of that information, then we don’t have greater transparency. We have confusion and anarchy. Chaos.
How do you know what you can believe?
I can Google any set of physical symptoms and walk away an hour later convinced I have stage 4 cancer or some other random incurable disease.
(2) What is Relevant?
Even assuming the information you find is accurate, it may not be relevant to you and what you need or want.
I learned during my legal career that drowning the other side in information can be an effective strategy. When you have so much information to wade through, it’s easy to miss what you’re really looking for.
Sorting through the deluge of information to discern what’s relevant requires an investment of energy, time, and attention. It occupies precious brain space and takes you away from your more important work.
What We Need in an Era of Too Much Information
Information can empower consumers — when it’s accurate and relevant. But too much information, information that’s not specifically curated and applicable to what you need, just obscures the real issues.
Information is not power; it’s potential power. It becomes power only when verified, relevant, and applied correctly to the solve the real problem.
In an era of too much information, what what need more than ever is professionals who can identify the real problems that need to be solved, cut through the deluge of information to hone in on what’s relevant, and offer tailored guidance specific to our individual needs and situation in the moment.
What we need is wisdom.