Too much communications?

Is there such a thing as too much communications? Just like so many things in an organizational setting, you have to look at it from (at least) two different perspectives: the organization as a whole and the individuals that make up the organization. From both perspectives, I think the answer to my question is a resounding, “Yes.”

From an individual knowledge worker standpoint, I think that it is reasonable to try to have as many potential means of communication as possible. However, from a practical standpoint I think that individuals need to limit the number of actual communications channels they have open and/or pay attention to at any given time. One reason is information overload, another is the fact that at some point you have to stop taking input and giving feedback and actually accomplish the task at hand.

From an organizational standpoint the problem is organizational entropy, which I wrote about a few months back. Simply stated, the problem is that as an organization gets bigger and the number of connections between members of the organization increases, the ability of these members to make efficient decisions decreases, unless steps are taken to decrease the entropy.

Again, a good model in which to see this in action is the brain. There you have a whole bunch of individuals – neurons – that make up an organization – the mind. Each neuron has a set number of communications channels, with specific weighted values for each, that it uses to bring in information, act, and send out information. Just imagine the chaos in your mind if each neuron connected to as many other neurons it could find….

The beauty of neuronal connections in the brain is that the number of connections is not permanent, but it is finite at any given point in time. As the mind learns, connections are formed, broken, formed again, and finally settle into a somewhat steady state. When something new is learned, new connections are formed and old ones may go away.

So it should be with organizations. Of course, the challenge is that we are trying to build an organization that is optimized, while organic things like the brain have quite a long time to grow their capabilities.