Do You Have Information Rot?

Andrea Belk Olson
3 min readNov 13, 2023

Every organization we’ve worked with has reams of consumer feedback. Often it is utilized to make critical decisions. Sometimes, it’s not. Sometimes, the feedback itself becomes the exercise, where study after study is created multiple times a year, and the insights are simply shared across the organization — nothing more. While customer insight collection is one thing, how companies analyze it is another. Even though we do relentless collection, leaders overlook the fact that consumer stories and insights are subject to decay.

Generally, the useful half-life of information is approximately one month. If you gather 1000 stories from consumers, only about 500 will retain their usefulness and actionability after a month. The remaining 500 stories will become outdated and irrelevant as situations evolve and contexts shift. This means that interventions and actions based on perishable data need to be timely.

We all have encountered this phenomenon at some point in our lives. Perhaps you observed something about a friend but hesitated to share it, and after some time, the observation lost its significance or relevance. Similarly, we might have a half-drafted email that lingers too long, prompting us to eventually delete it.

When companies conduct consumer research, they gather data on their preferences and purchasing habits. This is also subject to decay. As consumer preferences change over time and new trends emerge, the insights collected in previous months or years may no longer be accurate or helpful in making strategic decisions. Recognizing the impermanence and rot of information is crucial, and to mitigate it, you don’t need more studies, but disintermediation.

Disintermediation involves removing intermediaries, layers of judgment, and interpretative elements that separate the current state from decision-makers. This process fosters more direct connections between context and decision-makers, allowing for better-informed choices and better responsiveness to changing needs.

Consumer problems don’t sit still and wait for solutions, they continuously evolve. This necessitates a more adaptive, fluid, and iterative approach to identifying and responding to consumer needs, where decision-makers must engage directly with the issue, observe patterns and behaviors that emerge, and respond accordingly.

Retired General Stanley McChrystal noted a great perspective on the intricacies of changing situations:

“For a soldier trained at West Point as an engineer, the idea that a problem has different solutions on different days was fundamentally disturbing. Yet that was the case.”

Think of it like surfing or snowboarding, where one must remain vigilant and responsive to ever-changing conditions. As leaders, we need to get out of the old pattern of periodically collecting data and insights, and slowly disseminating it across the organization, hoping change will appear. Instead, we need to focus on shifting our organization’s habits and behaviors towards a fluid, adaptive, and time-bound approach to gathering and responding to consumers’ needs. Otherwise, we’ll just keep collecting a lot of insights that will eventually rot.

About the Author

Andrea’s 25-year, field-tested background provides practical, behavioral science approaches to creating differentiated, human-focused organizations. A 4x ADDY award-winner, TEDx presenter, and 3x book author, she began her career at a tech start-up and led the strategic sales, marketing, and customer engagement efforts at two global industrial manufacturers. She now leads a change agency dedicated to helping organizations differentiate their brands using behavioral science.

In addition to writing and consulting, Andrea speaks to leaders and industry organizations around the world. Connect with Andrea to access information on her book, keynoting, research, or consulting. More information is also available at or

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Andrea Belk Olson

Behavioral Scientist. Customer-Centricity Expert. Prolific Author. Compelling Speaker. More at