Boiling Down

In the book on Lincoln that I'm currently researching and writing, I've bumped into a thought on information and leadership. I'll call it the “boil-down” effect.

A leader is supposed to take information and reduce it to its most meaningful essence. That's a vital challenge for us in 2014 because we get so much that passes for information–stuff that's really garbage but which a leader needs the ability to sift through, trashing 98% of guesses, rumors, and falsehoods and keeping the necessary and urgent 2% of actual information. So, we want to be able to boil it all down. Right?

Sure, right. But let me caution you about something I've encountered in my current book.

A leader can develop the habit of boiling everything down to the same statement or symbol over and over again. Everything gets funneled into the same tube, the same point. I'm talking about something different than the old adage of “when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

No, I'm driving at a separate point for you in your leadership. I'm referring to using a good skill–the ability to sift and sort data to get to the real information–and yet that skill becoming a habit that you might use too quickly or hurriedly. When you do something very well you tend to race through the errors and hesitations that afflict the rest of us. And when you boil down data skillfully, you might get into a situation where you do it so fast that you aren't even aware that you've lapsed into the leadership equivalent of myopia, or tunnel vision.

I'm seeing this right now in my work on Lincoln's 96 hours. I want you to benefit from what I'm seeing. Boil things down, absolutely, but be sure that you don't develop a repetitive tunnel vision and simply see the same thing issue after issue.