Archive for May 5, 2008

Information That’s Not Written Down

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Blogging, skmurphy

Back in February I had an exchange with Sam Huleatt on his Leveraging Ideas blog (tagline: “Ideation on social media, venture capital and startups”) in response to his “Why I can’t Read Novels Anymore Post” that I thought I would rescue from the obscurity of the comments and post here for the half dozen regular readers of this blog (and it’s part of my natural economy of effort to rework an existing bit of writing into a blog post than finish one of the dozens languishing 90% finished in my drafts folder). I have reworked it lightly to add some hyperlinks for context and to make it a little easier to read.

First some excerpts from Sam Huleatt’s original post for context (the whole post is definitely worth reading):

I have optimized my ability to consume niche information rapidly: reading blog posts via Google Reader and applying tags (340 subscriptions to blogs on social media, venture capital and tech/economics). Daily I consume and tag 30+ websites and articles found by the 94 people whose bookmarks I subscribe to via In addition, I make use of various alerts and aggregators like Techmeme.

However, recently two things have happened:

  1. Information has become ‘commoditized’ and to “me too-y”
  2. My ability to read for pleasure has disintegrated

Information has become ‘commoditized’ in the sense that websites like Techmeme now have powerful algorithms to find niche content and expose it. This strips away any competitive advantage I felt in dutifully ‘hunting’ for information. […] It also means that all readers have access to the same information: it’s no longer a competitive advantage to be the most well read-guy in the room. Plus, because of the ‘me too’ effect, it’s less likely that really great innovative insights will emerge. How many takes can people possibly have on Facebook’s latest announcement? I now get more information out of reading a post’s comments than I do the actual article.

Also, and perhaps tragically, my ability to read for the sake of pleasure has greatly faltered. I am now trained like clockwork to scan for keywords and main points; reading detailed monologues such as those found in novels has become too boring to maintain my interest. In my new world, rather than read a book, I’m more likely to read the book’s Wikipedia page and then individually research the conclusions/topics. A book’s prose is just filler. When I do read lengthy pieces, I find myself skipping ahead in chapters to reach conclusions. For someone who write often and used to love literature, I know I’m this is not a good thing.

In re-reading this now I get a real sense of “not enough time” (perhaps an occupational hazard of a technology oriented career, and a sensation I am personally haunted by) and I am reminded of a quote by Eric Hoffer

“The feeling of being hurried is not usually the result of living a full life and having no time. It is on the contrary born of a vague fear that we are wasting our life. When we do not do the one thing we ought to do, we have no time for anything else—we are the busiest people in the world.” Eric Hoffer

A life without time for reading novels would be much less enjoyable. My response went in a different direction:

There is a category of information that hasn’t been written down (yet). You might try more reflection and focus on serious conversation to regain your balance. Ultimately gathering all of this information has to be used for a purpose beyond maintaining situational awareness. What kind of know-how do you want to develop? What is the problem you are trying to solve.

Neither Google, nor the Blogosphere, nor the World Wide Web are the world. As A.E. Van Vogt observed in “The Players of Null A” (channeling Korzybski):

“The map is not the territory, the word is not the thing it describes. Whenever the map is confused with the territory, a ‘semantic disturbance’ is set up in the organism. The disturbance continues until the limitation of the map is recognized.”

Mr. Huleatt responded

I want to develop expertise in the social media and venture capital industries. In our current era, information and knowing where to access information (quickly) is a major asset, especially in the technology space.

I agree that none of those are the ‘world’ but the way things are going, I have lots of multiple worlds and each has varying priorities.

Sam Huleatt is also part of the team that’s behind Workstreamr (tag line “Work Made Social”) which was deeply in stealth when the original exchange took place but now has a blog and manifesto. I’ve signed up for their beta. Anyway, I replied back as follows:

I am not a venture capitalist but have some experience working with them and I would think much of the key or differentiating information they rely on is not on the web. It seems to me it’s more about being able to judge people rather than encyclopedic knowledge of technology and financial trends. As an analogy: it’s the difference between knowing the probability distributions of poker hands–necessary but not sufficient–and knowing how to assess people.

The deep trends are visible in the “long nose of innovation.”
What society will do with them is harder to predict.

The latest data on developing expertise is that it takes approximately 10,000 hours (or 10-12 years) of practice, and actually requires “deliberate practice” so that you don’t experience the same year over and over. See for example

I don’t fault your goals, but I do question your methods.

His reply

The law of 10,000 hours is one I have studied. While it’s interesting, it’s not the law.

Knowing how to assess people is definitely very important, but without blogs and the internet you are not exposed to nearly as many people.

I use blogs as a ‘foot-in-the-door” to learn about new people, companies and ideas. If I find something truly scintillating, I always follow-up in person.

And there we left it. I do think entrepreneurs should engage in serious conversation in preference to reading blogs. Serious conversation with prospects and people who are knowledgeable about the technologies and markets that are relevant to their startup. And I think the deliberate practice model that Ericsson outlines is based on a reasonable amount of data.

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