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Posted by on Mar 21, 2006

Kelly’s Theory of Personality and Zipf’s Principle of Least Effort

As regards to Kelly’s Theory of Personality, I place myself at the third stage. A variety of resources have been encountered for the first time and I am making a concerted effort to come back to them, regardless if the assignment has called for it, in order to move past the confusion and disorientation that seems to correspond with the second stage of Kelly’s theory. I am hoping with some professional experience to gracefully glide right into the fourth and fifth stages. Hopefully is the operative term there.

Generally, my skill sets have enhanced in terms of searching and even presentation. With such a large amount of data, it is often difficult to establish a presentation method that will accentuate the relevant information, yet not make too many assumptions about what is relevant and what is not. Therefore, the manner in which we are presenting our competitor profiles, in Excel or Word documents, along with an accompanied narration in the form of a report, has really allowed me to establish a structure in which to present novel information (novel to me).

My research skills sets have also improved; I am starting to place sources in appropriate categories and when research topics are mentioned, I am instantly attempting to develop a corresponding search strategy. So, the resources I have experimented with, along with past experience in Dialog and general web searching activities, has made me more confident that the base skills sets I have now are structures on which to build.

Information seeking theory holds that humans practice Zipf’s Principle of Least Effort: adopting a course of action that involves the expenditure of the least work. The Principle predicts that information seekers will minimize the effort required to obtain information even if it means accepting lower quality information. As Information Professionals what can we learn from these theories? Are they applicable in Business Reference/CI practice?

Zipf’s Theory seems very pertinent, especially to the concept which holds that those organizations which focus on cost tend to produce goods of less quality that are more expensive. Those that focus on quality tend to produce goods of higher quality at lower cost. Therefore, an organization that focuses on the cost of information being retrieved, rather than the quality of the information is doomed to suffer from this sort of internal stagnation as described above. However, this is not to give research professionals a carte blanche to pursue whatever information end they deem necessary, but rather to try and convince stakeholders that the information can produce quality and competitiveness in an organization. The information itself can open new doors to greater enhancement of the company’s purpose. Therefore, as part of the CI professional’s skill sets, the ability to persuasively communicate is most definitely high on this list.

If the information professional manages to convince the stakeholders of the quality of the information and receives some sort of operating budget that reflects that, then it is imperative that the information professional finds information worthy of that investment. In essence, this means segregating the “work-search” self and the “home-search self”. The “work-search” self should initially be familiar with the information resources available to them, in both fee or free formats. Then, they should methodically develop a set of search structures that can generically be applied to different tasks. Each of these structures should be adjusted to fit the particulars of the situation, but having a few generic search structures is generally more time-efficient (under the guise that action, even flawed, is better than no action at all). If a researcher is totally ignorant of the situation in general, then a little preliminary web searching to develop the jargon and guidelines of the industry cannot hurt. Indeed, it might be necessary to even be able to continue to more detailed searching. After a base level of knowledge has been developed, more detailed information resources need to be employed, such as proprietary databases.

However, what I find difficult to overcome about Zipf’s theory is whether or not the information I am retrieving is of high quality. If I am not familiar with the topic, then I will be relying on the repetition of terms in various searches, trade publications, insider information, a slew of acronyms and codes, and the like. These will serve to limit the possibility that I am finding irrelevant information, but it cannot eliminate it. Therefore, I imagine a solid reference interview skill set would also be useful for the information professional. This feeds back into the soft skills of communication as mentioned before.

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