The thing about WikiLeaks is, yes, the purloined cables are embarrassing to the State Department and thus, in some sense, to the U.S., but more to the point of professional mastery—our constant subject here—they illustrate how hard it is to cull connected, focal insights from a deluge of information. Who among us doesn't have this problem to one degree or another? How are one client's interests related to another's in a constantly changing world?
True, the purloined cables represent a surfeit of information available all at once. Except they're really not available en masse. "To give you an idea of the trove unearthed," writes Jeremy Wagstaff in a December 8 post on his loose wire blog (that's it's lower case name), "WikiLeaks has released about 1,000 so far, meaning it’s going to take them nearly seven years to get all the cables out. Cable fatigue, anyone?"
Definitely. We have difficulty organizing insights we gather in a couple of days of roaming the Web. The WikiLeaks cables go back years (we forget how many). But Wagstaff is making a profound point here. Not only is the tagging system the State Department uses to relate one cable to others antiquated, the silo of information is also next-to-useless on a world-scale geopolitical basis. And isn't it the State Department's role largely to be bringing geopolitics together over time?
And so, on a much smaller scale, goes the role of a successful public relations practice. We get lots of insights, but how do we bring them all together usefully over time? How do we grow professionally from them?
Wagstaff recalls a conversation he was part of recently in a Kabul pub: "I was talking to a buff security guy—very buff, in fact, as my female companions kept remarking—who was what might have once been a rare breed, but are now in big demand in Afghanistan. He was a former marine (I think), but was also a computer guy with an anthropology or sociology degree under his black belt somewhere. This guy knew his stuff. And he was telling the NATO forces where they were going wrong: data management. The problem, he explained, is not that there isn’t enough of it. It’s that there’s too much of it, and it’s not being shared in a useful way. Connections are not being made. Soldiers are drowning in intelligence."
Fortunately, those of us practicing hometown PR aren't drowning in information, but likely aren't swimming very well in our own data ponds either. We need to discover, recall, connect and maximize the insights that matter. Isn't that what it's all about?
Wagstaff is apparently a fan of a computer program called PersonalBrain, which we use as well to make fluid connections, to a point. It's helpful in seeing things closer to whole, that is, altogether.
One thing we do know: insight management and retention require discipline. Using Personal Brain, for instance, needs to be done regularly (daily, actually) with intelligence and forethought; making linkages is a thinking problem, not merely note-taking. That's increasingly so as the data piles up, however accessible it may be. Patterns start unfolding, but what needs/purposes are they rooted in? One tends to forget, sadly, where one's been. We've got to keep that with us.
Read the Wagstaff post thoroughly and then consider where you stand in putting everything important to your professional practice together over time.
Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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