Information overload or infobesity is a term used to describe the complexity of understanding a problem and effectively making decisions when one has too much information about that topic. The term was popularized by Alvin Toffler in his bestselling 1970 book Future Shock.

Information simply overload occurs when the amount of input to a system exceeds its processing capacity. Decision makers have limited cognitive processing capacity to deal with infobesity. Therefore, when information overload occurs, it is likely that a reduction in decision quality will generally occur.

The advent of modern information technology has been a primary contributor to information overload on multiple fronts: in quantity produced, ease of dissemination, and breadth of the audience reached. Longstanding technological factors have been further intensified by the rise of social media and the attention economy.

Similar to human obesity, infobesity has many causes. For example, information overload can be found in the never-ending stream of emails and voicemails, endless reports from finance, marketing, cross-functional teams, and external researchers. Useful information creates new or enriched opportunities and makes for better decisions-making. But the torrent that flows through most of today’s modern businesses acts like so much bad business cholesterol, clogging process arteries and slowing reactions to mission-critical events and situations.

How do executives deal with infobesity and in turn improve productivity and profitability?

The key task is to generate the information required for critical strategic and tactical decisions—no more and no less! This information should be specific and be routed and accessible by the right people at the right point in the business process, in a framework designed for maximum understanding and ease of use. The analysis required to identify the appropriate information for employees working within structured organizational roles include:

  • Focus
  • Standardization
  • Timing
  • Quality
  • Source

Infobesity Workplace Impacts

Infobesity impacts in the workplace were highlighted in the Reuters report “Dying for Information”, published in 1996. In 22 years, since publishing this report,  most businesses are still experiencing similar problems with information overload. A summary of the key statistics in the report is outlined below.

  • Two-thirds of managers’ report that tension with work colleagues and loss of job satisfaction arise because of stress associated with information overload.
  • One-third of managers suffer from ill health as a direct consequence of stress associated with information overload. This figure rises to 43% among senior managers.
  • Almost two-thirds (62%) of managers testify that their personal relationships suffer as a result of information overload.
  • 43% of managers think that important decisions are delayed and of having too much information.
  • One in five senior managers believes that substantial amounts of time are wasted collecting and searching for information.
  • Almost half (48%) think that the Internet will be a prime cause of information overload over the next two years.