The Art of Drinking From A Firehose

The Art of Drinking From A Firehose
Photo by Jen Theodore / Unsplash

I am two weeks from finishing my rotation at the Trade Team in Enterprise Singapore. I am going to share with you three lessons on how I learned to drink from the firehose.

To drink from the firehose is to absorb and integrate an overwhelming (or even excessive) flow of information into one's workflow.

For anyone starting a new job, trying to learn on the job or become a master of their domain, learning how to drink (and not drown) from the firehose will unlock better insights for action.

Now, let's dive in.

Read Actively

Most people treat books, articles and memos like TV. They consume it passively.

In the recent book, Bold Vision: The Untold Story of Singapore’s Reserves and Its Sovereign Wealth Fund, I learned the how Dr. Goh Keng Swee, the architect behind our the SAF, GIC and MAS approached reading.

He would tape and transcribe interviews, get interviewees to correct any errors then pore over the corrected transcripts. He would underline the points that had caught his attention and scribble follow-up questions.

In doing so, he was not just reading for a fun tidbit but he was actively integrating new information into his decision-making process.

If we read passively, we will end with a helpless feeling of confusion, or amnesia. However, an active reader ends with an insight primed for action.

Curate Carefully

I confess that I have the habit of being a digital hoarder. I thought by storing all the PDFs, docs and excels in the world, I would have all the information I need at the tip of my fingers.

However, the reality is that I end up with cluttered folders and no recollection of any insights.

In the art world, the title of "curator" is a person who selects and often interprets different art works. The curator is often responsible for writing labels, catalog essays, and structuring the lay out of an exhibition.

In our jobs, we can all be curators. We can select and interpret reports relevant to our departments. We can write memos, reports and presentations to lay out the key ideas that will improve our team's performance.

I have learned that by curating the slides and decks, distilling what I think is vital for myself and writing my notes - I am better able to organise my thoughts and ideas. When I am required to participate in subsequent discussions, I will be much more useful to the team.

In the age of Google and the cloud, we shouldn't see ourselves as librarians but as curators of institutional knowledge.

Talk Shop Intentionally

The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest minds of past centuries. - Descartes

If Descartes is right, a fruitful conversation with peers is like reading a good book.

Gretha Thunberg might dismiss dialogue as 'blah blah blah' but I do not. An stimulating conversation with peers is like a tour around their intellectual palace.

We get to catch what animates, excites and interests them. In doing so, we too might extract insights which we can revisit later. I always try to keep a phone/ pocket note book on hand to catch the moments of epiphany.

It is no surprise that the Analects of Confucius and The Six Dialogues by Plato were not lectures or diatribes but compiled conversations.

To maximise our learning, it would be useful to diversify our sources of knowledge.

The Final Image

In sum, it would be wise to rethink of ourselves as tour guides of our organization. We read, curate and talk shop to our friends - enriching our lives and theirs.

May we all drink heartily from the firehose and never drown.

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