Specifics the secret to uncovering valuable information and best practices

March 28, 2016
To get through more baloney faster and stay saner, Editor Jim Montague recommends not lingering over obviously useless material.
About the author
Jim Montague is executive editor at Control and Control Design magazines. Jim has spent the last 13 years as an editor and brings a wealth of automation and controls knowledge to the position. For the past eight years, Jim worked at Reed Business Information as news editor for Control Engineering magazine. Jim has a BA in English from Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., and lives in Skokie, Ill.

When researching stories, I check out the literature online for the state of whatever topic I’m covering, and sometimes pull up promising examples—only to discover that I wrote them. What the heck?

I tell sources that I’m so focused and topped off with the details of upcoming assignments that prior stories get pushed off the metaphorical loading dock and hard drive in my head. Unfortunately, I suspect the problem doesn’t stop there. Over time, I’ve noticed that when I try to think of what to cook tonight or what YouTube video to watch, my mental list usually shrinks to the point where I almost don’t know what to do next.

Now, Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia could be just around the corner, but I think this may be something else. I think there’s so much input continually coming in that I don’t have the time needed to process, store, percolate, synthesize and reuse it in some form going out. As all salmon, firefighters and process engineers know, it hard to fight against a strong flow. Sadly, this is likely a cognitive, occupational hazard faced by many people in today’s always-on Internet world.

Also Read: Buying online blurs the line between suppliers and distributors

So what’s to be done? Well, just as I toss junk mail, try to limit spam emails, and avoid almost all celebrity news and reality TV, some severe filtering and prioritizing is needed on all other incoming material. A tall order, but it can be filled with awareness, discipline and practice. For instance, while I gained lots of useful knowledge from attending ARC Forum on Feb. 8-11 and covering March’s “Who will serve?” article on distributors and suppliers, there were still many parts I could have skipped with no loss in insight and much time saved.

In fact, the majority of interviews I do and presentations I attend consist mainly of vague generalities about exciting initiatives, partnerships and synergies, and precious few specifics on actual efficiencies gained and profit achieved—not to mention lessons learned and best practices for others. It seems unavoidable that everyone seeking help and answers has to plow through mountains of baloney just to find and grab onto a few useful nuggets. This is the way of the world because blather, platitudes and fuzzy thinking are easy, and talk is cheap, along with much of what’s written, printed and broadcast.

Consequently, when I start reading an article that tells me what I already know, such as “Cybersecurity is important. We need more cybersecurity,” I gag slightly, move on fast, and vow to find material and produce copy that’s more helpful. For example, during ARC’s recent event, Eric Feldmeyer, global operations technology (OT) cybersecurity leader at DuPont, and Keith Dicharry, process control, automation and electrical director at BASF, described how their organizations perform traditional defense-in-depth and network-segmentation tasks, but then go further by conducting security-focused risk assessments (RAs) in the same way process manufacturers have long conducted safety RAs.

They also segment their networks, establish patch management programs, and employ information technology (IT)-based scanners and other tools, such as Rapid7’s Nexpose software, which have more experience in alerting users to unusual network activity and protecting them from intrusions and attacks.

To get through more baloney faster and stay saner, I recommend not lingering over obviously useless material, but also telling your sources up front that specifics are required. You don’t have to be impolite, but you may have to risk being a bit less diplomatic. In searches for good input, it’s also crucial to ask more specific questions because fuzzy questions always lead to fuzzy answers.

Finally, hanging out near the exits of potentially less useful presentations will allow you bail less noticeably when they turn out to be unhelpful. Good luck. 

Homepage image courtesy of zirconicusso at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

About the Author

Jim Montague | Executive Editor

Jim Montague is executive editor of Control.