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4 Steps to Navigate the Rough Waters of Information Overload

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The entrepreneurial realm offers an ocean of opportunity. As a founder, you have the chance to imagine, create, innovate and (hopefully) monetize a new product or service never seen before.

However, with such opportunity also comes a propensity for confusion -- especially as the amount of information increases. To navigate the rough waters of information overload, here are four steps to ensure your know-how stays on track -- and accurate:

1. State your objective.

In large meetings, I like to write the objective on a white board for everyone to see. That way, when conversations go askew you can easily pose the question, "Is this [current topic] in line with our objective?" and then direct focus back to the task at hand. In other words, if you know the destination it makes navigation much easier.

Related: In the Age of Infinite Information, the Real Skill is Knowing What You Can Trust

2. Determine relevance.

Critical to building perspectives is questioning whether that information is even needed. It's easy to fall into the trap of "more information means more power," where "power" is defined as influence and decision-making rights. Not so. There's a fine line between information overload and "underload." Knowing when to say "when" is easy with a stated objective, but you still must …

3. Corroborate the source.

In the military, relying on single-source humint (human intelligence) is about as trustworthy as a plane making a transatlantic flight on a single propeller -- it may work, but it wouldn't give me a "warm and fuzzy." Instead, corroborate your information from at least two different sources. Stay up to date with current trends and news events in your industry by reading industry publications, blogs or joining social groups. Here are a few places to start:

  • Entrepreneurs' Organization: This entrepreneurial goldmine offers shared insights from other startup leaders and peers to build your information repertoire.
  • Vistage: Otherwise known (by me) as an entrepreneurial melting pot. Vistage brings together divergent industry leaders to cross-pollinate their lessons learned and best practices and share knowledge rather than hoard it.
  • Tech Cocktail is a way to socialize startup communities and serve as a reliable source for entrepreneurs to "to get informed, get connected and get inspired," according to its website. It also offers industry trends and instructional how-to's to build your startup smarts.

Related: Are You Cultivating Knowledge, or Just Consuming Information?

4. Test it.

Once your information is corroborated, it's time for the most challenging part, which is putting theory into practice.

Stephen Bungay, in his book The Art of Action: How Leaders Close the Gaps between Plans, Actions, and Results, referred to a five-year-long survey that included 125,000 managers from more than 1,000 companies in more than 50 countries. Notably, the survey mentioned how "employees in three out of five companies rated their organization "weak' at execution."

While the reasons why execution is lacking differs for everybody, one common trepidation is the uncertainty in customer demand. Here are a few sources to help test and validate existing information:

  • Google Trends: Here you can search the traffic for specific keywords over a period of years.
  • Keyword Tool: This is a free tool where you can test keyword popularity.
  • Usertesting: This website lets you crowdsource the market demand for an idea and get immediate feedback based on appeal and usability.

At the end of the day, there are myriad reasons for why startups fail, but having the right information shouldn't be one of them. Do your due diligence and build your entrepreneurial smarts every day.

Related: 4 Questions You Must Think Critically About Before Starting a Business

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