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Information overload: the need for speed

information overloadInformation overload is a significant problem in the modern world.  Back in 2003, the University of California determined that the total amount of information available in the world doubles every 36 months.  If this is proved to be true then in less than a decade, information has increased 64 fold.  Needless to say, in the same time frame the human brain has not undergone any equivalent biological advancements that would allow it to naturally keep up with the phenomenal rate of information expansion.

Perhaps none are needed, though.  The human brain is already capable of reading – and understanding – information at a much greater rate than is commonly acknowledged.  The average American reads about 250 words per minute.  With targeted speed-reading training, however, this rate can be increased to more than 1000 words per minute while comprehension levels remain just as strong.

The benefits for business

Large corporations such as Johnson & Johnson and Monsanto Chemical have provided speed-reading training for their executives in order to increase their rate of workflow.  Several different kinds of benefits have ensued.  Because executives were able to process information faster, they were more able to keep up to date with a variety of data essential for good decision-making.  From outside research bearing on their areas of expertise to company internal data, these executives had more context to draw from when they needed to evaluate or analyse new information coming in.

Moreover, the effect on their knowledge was cumulative.  The longer executives took in more information per hour due to their speed-reading skills, the better their contextual framework became.

In the case of the Monsanto executives, the speed-reading training also had a direct and measurable effect on the company’s bottom line.  According to the University of Houston Reading Clinic, which oversaw the programme, Monsanto’s efficiency increased, saving the company at least £25,000 per year.

Speed-reading research has also demonstrated that such training can have a positive impact when it comes to mood.  A joint study conducted by Princeton and Harvard researchers concluded that speed reading translated into faster thinking skills as well.  These tended to boost both creativity and confidence, further enhancing an individual’s self-esteem.

Based on findings such as these, companies around the world are increasingly providing speed-reading training for managers and executives.  This makes perfect sense – few other skills are applicable in such a wide range of domains.  Professionals as diverse as electrical engineers and stock market analysts can benefit from boosting their ability to quickly and accurately absorb the information all around them.

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