The Cost of Faulty Information

Good morning America! It’s Friday – who’s excited? I’ve had multiple cups of dark tea and the caffeine is flowing through my veins. Yummy! It’s been quite the week. Work has been busy, the political cacophony is gradually whittling my patience and faith in this country down, and it’s a balmy 48 in Reno. Sad :(

I hope you’ve had a good start to 2016. It should be a time of getting back into the swing of things, setting some Big Hairy Audacious Goals, dwelling on the successes and lessons learned from last year, and coming to the realization that the year is already 9.4% over. Oops.

The housing market in Reno continues to remain insane, I still have yet to bust out my snowboard, and my bike is neglected at best. Sigh. It’s hard being a 29 year old pulled in multiple directions, but it’s also great establishing new routines with my wife – 4.8 months and going strong! AWESOME.

I deal with information on a day-to-day basis. It’s essentially my life, and the core of both my work and personal routines. I track all of my workouts, and upload them to some web software that helps me slice, dice, and analyze to my heart’s content. At work I pour over business requirements, software specifications, reports, databases, and proof of concepts documents, all in the search of the “correct” information. As you all know, information is only as good as the quality and integrity of it. Granted, not all information will be 100% accurate, and it’s how you fill in the pieces that really matters.

I had a few brushes with faulty information this week that helped inspire this blog for me. Granted, I’ve been dealing with faulty information for years, so none of this is a surprise, but there are still some points to be gleaned.

http://i.huffpost.com/gen/1402832/thumbs/o-C-570.jpg?5
Source: Huffington Post

I work at a workers’ compensation insurance provider – that’s no secret – but an article hit NPR this week that really changed my perspective on the work that we do. Workers’ comp is state mandated in a vast majority of states, but not all, and unfortunately, a Macy’s building worker paid the price when the state of Oklahoma assumed (based on faulty information) that federal benefits would be more than adequate to cover the lack of worker’s comp. The ability to opt-out may sound good on paper, but not after dealing with crushing medical bills and the resulting, permanent medical implications.

“If Macy’s had stayed in the state workers’ comp system, Schiller could have appealed the company’s denial of benefits to the Texas Division of Workers’ Compensation and to state courts, where he would have expected an independent review of his case.”

It’s tough being a part of a huge corporation, because making decisions can be obfuscated beyond understand-ability, but if only Macy’s had received the correct information about the implications of opting out of state mandated workers’ comp, perhaps the worker would not be struggling financially like he is now.

Another example: a friend of mine who works at a medium sized company was sharing a story about chasing down reports at work. As part of their current project, they are tasked with gathering almost 100 documents so that the details can be reviewed, changes can be made, and the erroneous and unnecessary reports can be axed. To their credit, most users do not truly understand how complicated report creation can be. Yes, it’s “only” displaying information on the screen, but the Devil is in the details, and reports have a lot of details. Filters, sorting, columns, pivots, calculations, various data sources, manipulations, frequency – the list goes on and on – report creation is really an under-appreciated art form and is rooted in crystal clear and well elicited requirements. That being said, my friend spent nearly 15 hours trying to track down electronic copies of these reports, so that the current reports could be used as a template for the new version, only to find rabbit hole after rabbit hole. After banging into a 3rd, 4th, and 5th wall, it was brought to their attention that a few people who were close to the project had known all along where to find some of these reports but hadn’t said anything. Needless to say, I understand his frustration – the information was accessible to those around him but they didn’t know or didn’t choose to bring that up. That was a costly mistake. Had they spoken up from the beginning, things would have gone a lot smoother.

https://zapier.cachefly.net/storage/photos/fe296cd586f22aa07cc7f8219699b210.jpg
Source: Zapier

A final example – triathlon (of course I had to mention triathlon), is a very involved and complicated sport. You don’t “just” swim, bike, and run – it’s an art to do one after the other with grace and in an energy-efficient way so that you do the very best that you can across all three disciplines not just swimming well, turning in an average bike, and then struggling for the run. It’s like a symphony, and each sport plays its own role. How valuable would it be to know that there is a monster rain storm coming during your epic bike ride/brick workout? Well, it depends how much you value comfort and time, doesn’t it? Would it be valuable to know that you need to pack layers and a weatherproof jacket? Absolutely. If you knew five days in advance of your ride, would you schedule it for a different day? Possibly. Different pieces of information have different value – based on circumstance, personal preference, and a whole slew of other criteria – but at the end of the day, the information that you receive that is correct can be nearly invaluable, and the information you get that is fault has the potential to ruin your morning, at a minimum, and can even lead to a path that should best be avoided all together.

I majored in Information Systems – the process and infrastructure of getting information to people. Thinking about information transfer may seem silly, simple, or underwhelming, but it is quite possibly the most critical task in business and non-business worlds alike. As a silly example, consider Armageddon. If any of those NASA scientists botched their calculations for destroying the asteroid and it crashed into Earth regardless, then that faulty information really was responsible wasn’t it?

I encourage you to think about how much information you come into contact with on a daily basis. Clearly, an insane amount. How much is accurate? Blatantly wrong? Do you go out of your way to validate information before sending it on? How does inaccurate information affect your life? The lives of others? Perfect information will rarely exist, but quality information is not that far of a stretch. Think about the information-packed world we live in and find ways to improve the quality of the information you diffuse. That said, don’t let the information overload consume your life either. Life is meant to be lived, and that doesn’t mean at a cube or in front of your TV…

“Our obsession with speed, with cramming more and more into every minute, means that we race through life instead of actually living it. Our health, diet and relationships suffer. We make mistakes at work. We struggle to relax, to enjoy the moment, even to get a decent night’s sleep.”

Carl Honore

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