Adam Davidson recently wrote “Making Choices in the Age of Information Overload,” for the New York Times magazine where he explained how consumer choices have changed in the Information Age. With so much data about a potential purchase—from price comparisons to reviews by ostensibly objective consumers—we are drowning in a sea of information. Consumers often feel overwhelmed by the mounds of data they have to sift through. This would be the proverbial “information overload” we assume is unique to our information age, but which media historians point out has been a constant throughout media revolutions.
Does all this information help shape our choices? Well, not really.
Davidson explains that in order to make a decision, consumers routinely tune out all this noise and instead rely on “signals”—cues that companies use to indicate their market prowess—to make their decisions. For example, endorsements by high-profile celebrities send the subconscious signal that the product must be in high demand because otherwise the company wouldn’t be able to pay the celebrity’s hefty endorsement fee.
As business Professor Hemant Bhargava explains in the article, if you don’t have the time to research a product or just can’t make heads or tails of all the information you can find out about it online, then you can set all that aside and trust the product’s signals instead.
In other words, consumers aren’t drowning in information overload because they’ve found a way of effectively and efficiently filtering out the information they don’t need. As media analyst Brian Solis of Altimeter Group recently explained in his blog, information overload is a fallacy. That feeling of being overwhelmed by information is nothing more than a failure to filter, an unwillingness to really focus on what’s important. We all have the ability to filter out the information we don’t need and instead focus on what’s most significant to us before making a decision.
This is certainly the case in fact investigation. The odds are that if a client has hired an investigator, then the information they need is not readily available, or there is too much information and they don’t have the time or expertise to sift through it all. Sometimes our searches lead us to scores of facts that we then have to analyze. Sometimes the facts don’t provide us with what we need, but they get us close. Other times we uncover information we weren’t expecting, but that after more digging turns out to be useful to our client nonetheless. The process is not linear, and it’s often more time-consuming than our client anticipated.
We have an obligation to work as efficiently as possible, and the right filters ensure maximum efficiency.
For example, we recently did an asset search on a man who had declared bankruptcy but who we had reason to believe might have hidden assets. At first glance, there weren’t that many facts to sort through: The man had been savvy enough to avoid hiding assets in his name or via the various corporations he ran. But there was no shortage of people associated with him. This man had a number of relatives and associates he’d been in business with throughout the years. Might he be hiding any assets through them? Investigations of his family and his most recent business partners were fruitless. So then we investigated the spouses of his ex-partners. Sure enough, the wife of his most recent partner had incorporated a business less than a month after the partners had shut down their latest venture. And our guy was linked to the business via a trademark application filed by the new company. In this instance, filtering through the dozens of people linked to this man had yielded just the sort of information our client was looking for.
The next time you feel like you’re drowning in a sea of data, remember, there is no information overload. As an investigator it’s all about coming up with the right filter. Take a step back and make sure you have the correct filters in place. With creativity, experience, and trial and error, it’s possible to dig out from underneath all that data and find the information your client needs.