There’s a line near the end of the movie Apollo 13 when one of the engineers at flight command tells Ed Harris’ character (the Flight Director) that the capsule is a bit lower than desired for their re-entry. The engineer asks whether they should tell the crew, to which Ed Harris inquires whether there’s anything anyone can do about it. There isn’t, so Ed Harris responds, “Then they don’t need to know, do they?” It’s a great example of recognizing that there is information that, while interesting, may not be actionable and would in fact be a distraction to the people on the team.
Especially in today’s age of unprecedented access to information, it’s easy to want as much information as possible, whatever the topic. In particular, oftentimes people want to be included on something, whether in a meeting or in an email, without their being a real business benefit (translation: it’s often about our egos). But allowing people to focus, or sometime it’s a matter of forcing people to focus, is the best thing for the organization and the individual. (There’s obviously a balance point between excluding someone for good reason – because the right people are already in on the conversation – versus excluding someone who has an important and valuable perspective on a topic.)
At the same time, more information might make us feel like we understand the business better, but it might turn out that there are really only a few key pieces of information – whether quantitative or qualitative – that truly are important. If a few metrics, for example, aren’t in line, then the supporting ones may just not matter. Similarly, there can be a significant cost to gathering information – in resources, technology, time, and potential to our customers. Sometimes, we may even unknowingly detract from the customer experience in our search for better info (e.g. imagine a sales rep in a clothing store asking you about each and every item of clothing you tried on after each fitting – that would get you more information than asking after all the clothing was tried on, but would also likely be an annoying customer experience. And yet we do things like this all the time in other contexts without realizing it.)
Both of these issues – being excluded from certain conversations or looking only at certain pieces of information – require a certain amount of competence, communication and trust amongst the rest of the organization. Not everyone, and that includes you, needs to be a part of every conversation. And not every piece of info has to be present to effectively manage a business. Note this doesn’t imply that no one is doing so and that everyone in the organization is hand-off – a topic I’ll discuss in a future piece.
But assuming that the right people are looking at the relevant info and the appropriate people have entered the conversation, less may actually be more and better. And realizing that you weren’t invited to a meeting may be less a cause for consternation and in fact a relief.