For Your Information

by MG

Didn’t you know: Emperor Nero received this email “Rome is burning, this is fyi.”

We watch news, read papers and listen to radio while driving and, do nothing more than participating in an adrenalin heavy – but largely inane – discussion on ‘current affairs’ at the friendly neighborhood paanwala (or equivalent, say, office water cooler or blogosphere). That’s how we handle fyi’s.  Be it global warming or spectrum allocation scam. Be it litter-on-road or office politics.

The corporate versions of fyi include ‘reports’. Typically thousands of them. As I learnt recently, a company identified some 5000 (and still counting) different reports being produced and circulated (communicated or consumed would not have been correct words) in their corporate head-quarters, and, on review, only 40 were deemed useful, that is ‘marked’ as useful by at-least one person. The fyi malaise is eminent when one looks into corporate emails.

Let’s say you receive some fyi email. It can only mean one of the following:

  • I am not sure what can be done about this
  • its not my job, maybe its one of the 17,000 recipients on this email
  • my job is to inform you, I don’t care otherwise (the journalist)
  • don’t bother doing anything about it
  • aw, hot potato
  • just wanted to ensure that I can save my ass using the shield of collective responsibility, or you are now partner-in-crime
  • not sure, what can you do about this, uhh, wait a second, what do you do here?

There are variants of ‘fyi’, having the same import as above, like, “for necessary action” (what action, for what purpose) or, amazingly vague, “for needful” (I don’t have a freaking clue about this, so let me use this Raj-relic on you.) or “review and comment” (on the thousand page attachment).

The fyi-person has little inclination to think through or figure out. He has no intention to solve the problem, and so is loathe to articulate and argue. He is happy un-named and un-attached. He is content with cheap pleasures of cribbing and bitching. He is wary of pain of creation and is afraid of scrutiny.

A person with mission does not need fyi’s. He will figure out what’s needed and get it (maybe use RTI or Google or WikiLeaks or a fanciful business intelligence tool or not-so-fancy Excel). He will not bombard people around with vague requests (“needful”) or unsolicited updates (he will have results to show). He will ask specific person for specific help with a specific request. If he is unclear, he will build candidate clarifications and ask specifically if they stand scrutiny. (Aha, the scientific method!). He will differentiate between facts and opinions, and will have his own opinions. He will be his own beacon (atma deepo bhav – as a Sanskrit blessing goes.)

He gets (in an active sense) informed and he acts.

The bigotry of passive consumption of information is spreading, permeating and enveloping us all. I have little doubt that this is cause and symptom of institutional limbo.