Over the last few months I have been learning about a new client’s business.  This is part of my job and I have experienced this many times before.  Yet I am still perplexed by how easily I can fall into the ‘detail overload’ trap.

I set out with my usual enthusiasm to learn about the team and the business.  I arranged to meet as many of the senior team as possible to learn how they managed the business.  I spent time with the Board and the MD listening to the business plans along with their hopes and concerns for the future.  I got to understand the financial performance of each department together with how the performance is represented to the Board with a very astute finance team.  This team have also overseen a new software programme which they were keen to explain to me.  The sales team were enthusiastic with lots of ideas and energy for growth into new opportunities.  I attended the senior team meeting to understand what was going on in the factory and hour by hour I got pulled into the detail of their working issues.

At that point I felt like my head was going to explode with data!  On my way home I had a few hours in the car to think, relax and reflect; I had been drawn into the ‘detail overload’ trap.

As if by stealth the day to day business issues had sucked me in like a big electromagnet.  The day to day drama is compelling, urgent, important and intense – and is not my job.  This is a good business and the team are doing all this day to day activity without me.  My role is to identify the patterns, the underlying issues and the few key drivers that will make a positive difference today and in the future.

Talking later to Diane about my overload of detail, Diane quietly reminded me of the ‘radar analogy’ which really helped me re-focus;

When we go sailing we use radar with a screen at the navigation table and a scanner six metres above the waves on the mast of the boat.  You may have seen these radar screens in films about ships or submarines?  The scanner gathers the data and sends all the information to the screen at the navigation table.  The radar has the potential to see what is going on 360 degrees around the boat for up to 4 miles away.

The great thing about the radar is that you can adjust the detail of what you see on the screen with the ‘filter’ button.  By adjusting the filter setting onto full you can see every detail of the sea, the land, other boats, the big waves and even the rain if its falling.  The problem with this ‘high’ setting is that the screen is so full of dots it is virtually impossible to distinguish what is safe at sea or the dangers.  By tuning and adjusting the filter down you can tune out some of the detail like the waves and the rain, to the point where the screen only shows the solid objects like other boats and the land. This allows me to identify the important areas to focus on all around the boat.

Using the radar analogy I can learn to have my own filter adjuster in my head, to tune out the ‘data overload’ and focus in on the key issues on my own radar.