Business Overwhelms LO13085

Myers, Kent (
Tue, 1 Apr 1997 16:51:01 -0500

Replying to LO13072 --

One problem you pose is of managing attention in the face of many pieces
of correspondence. Certainly computers add to the load, but it's the same
old problem of having a stuffed in-box or a stack of phone messages.

This problem is indeed a hard one if you retain the "shucking for pearls"
model. That model always rankled me, but I wasn't sure why. I took a
moment to formulate it more precisely, and that led me to think through an
alternative that I favor.


Most oysters have no value. (There is no benefit in reading the bulk of

All oysters look alike. (The value of an email item cannot be reliably
estimated without consuming a full measure of attention.)

You can't open the whole bushel. (The number of email items exceeds the
supply of attention.)


Truffles are few, but acorns are many. (A significant proportion of mail
has some worth, if only as a stimulus to having more worthwhile thoughts.)

Something that smells bad is unlikely to taste good. (With practice, one
can delete items at very low risk of losing valuable information.)

Neatness doesn't count. (With practice, reading and classifying can be
performed very quickly. Learn to fake it where you can, and don't be
afraid to admit ignorance where you can't.)


Kent Myers

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