The Firehose, the Bucket & The Sieve: Information & Value in the Network Era


The new network era quite evidently brings us a firehose of information, the ability to draw buckets of relevant insight and the need to sieve out relevant and quality knowledge. When we turn to value, we know it is rushing by but often we feel like we are holding an empty sieve. We need to rethink how we gain value in the network era.

Information: The Firehose, the Bucket and the Sieve

We are already aware of the impact of the network era on our access to information:

  • The Firehose: We are all experiencing information overload. The flow of data, information and knowledge is to great for anyone to follow in a meaningful way. The pace of change of that information in networks also stretches traditional techniques of gathering and using information. The hype around ‘Big Data" is a attempt to say ‘hey point the firehose here and we will find meaning in the volume’. Many big data initiatives will fail because the volume outweighs the value without clear goals and uses.
  • The Bucket: Most people cannot consume the flow from the Firehose so they resort to a Bucket. We search. We follow. We join communities. We turn the hose on and off to fill a bucket we can manage. All of these are personal knowledge management techniques to narrow our focus and draw a more useful amount of information.
  • The Sieve: Even with our Bucket, we need a Sieve to find the real insights, the actionable information that becomes knowledge and can develop into wisdom. Quantity is huge. Quality is variable. Significance can be scarce. The more efficient we are at recognising it the better. The value of working out loud is we can leverage others ability to find the significance with us.

Value: The Sieve

When individuals and organisations turn to look at value creation in the network era, it often feels like they are holding an empty sieve.  

Networks route around blockages and inefficiencies. Our traditional ways of capturing value from information often create exactly this. The information and media industries have led the way in this disruption of traditional value gates like copyright, access, etc. Getty images recent decision to let their photos be used for free in certain cases is a simple recognition that their content is already being used, reused and shared.

This disruption is already moving beyond the information industries as people use the opportunities of networks, information and analytics to route around other the methods of value creation in other industries.

Value: The Firehose

The huge valuations of a number of information sharing platforms in the network era shows the value that can be created and the speed with which revenue will shift from one industry to another. This is the firehose of value.  

However firehoses are hard to control and flick around. Some of these major players are already seen their world disrupted as the next wave of innovations arrive. The largest players need to be constantly evolving and acquiring to stay relevant in a rapidly changing environment. Like the railroads of the industrial era, some will fall behind and be over taken by better paths or entirely different approaches.

Value: The Bucket & The Sieve

Scale was the principle source of value creation in the industrial era.  Big data is an echo of the view that we should get big to reach big markets and make big value. The network may not agree.

Lean startups focus on a small bucket first. Draw a little water. Run some experiments and sieve out the insight and the value. Some of those experiments prove to scale. Many don’t.

Drawing a bucket takes clarity of purpose, an understanding of strengths and focused and aligned efforts at creativity and insight from everyone in the organisation. These are the first steps to create value in the network era.

If we stand with a sieve in the firehose and expect value we will be sore, disappointed and very wet. The test for each of us and our organisations is to understand what bucket of value we are seeking to draw and to experiment relentlessly to sieve out the new and better ways of working. We need to rethink our organisations so that they have the ability to act this way, to be responsive to the information and market opportunities around them. Scaled command and control won’t cope.

Responsive organisations that leverage human capabilities, networks and experiments are the starting place. The value creation of railroads in the industrial era was overtaken by value creation of those who used their networks to develop and distribute new products and services. The next phase of growth of the network era will see similar opportunities for value and job creation. 

People: The Firehose, The Bucket and the Sieve

Networks open up to us the exponential potential of people. We now have access to the talents of many more people than ever and the potential to create a firehose of value from collaboration.  Leadership is required to help those individuals to find purposeful domains, a bucket in which for people to collaborate to realise value.  Leaders also need to reinforce the direction, celebrate successes and help to discard the failures, creating a sieve for specific potential from all the possibility.

The transition will take leadership. Leaders will need to give up the apparent safety of scale and power to shift to a new more dynamic and empowering model. We will need new ways of working and organising people and the boundaries of organisations will be more fluid. Leaders will need to shift some focus from efficiency to effectiveness and start leveraging human potential to create value in networks.  

That is the work that will make work more human.

I am currently doing Harold Jarche’s PKM in 40 days program. This is the first post inspired by the activities in that program. I recommend it to anyone.

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