Pexels fauxels 3184433

Lean Information – Eliminating information waste

Digital transformation, artificial intelligence, and social media can be positive factors in Swiss and global society. However, the resulting exponential growth of information is not sustainable. A ‘lean’ approach to eliminate wasteful information based on data quality standards can solve our information overload crisis and help us communicate more effectively.

Dieser Text ist im Rahmen des Reatch Ideenwettbewerbs 2023 entstanden. 2023 war ein besonderes Jahr für die Schweiz: Wir feierten 175 Jahre Bundesverfassung und damit 175 Jahre Schweizer Bundesstaat. Das nahmen wir zum Anlass, um nach Ideen für die Zukunft der Schweiz zu suchen. Welche Weichen müssen wir heute stellen, damit im Jahr 2198 die Menschen mit dem gleichen Stolz auf 2023 zurückblicken, wie wir heute auf die Entwicklungen seit 1848? Eine Auswahl der besten eingereichten Ideen wird auf veröffentlicht.

The Occam’s Razor principle states that the simplest solution to a problem is almost always the best.[1] Digital transformation, artificial intelligence, and social media can be positive factors in Swiss and global society. However, the resulting exponential growth of information and data is not sustainable. According to UBS Wealth Management, by 2030 the world’s data universe is expected to grow more than 10 times to 660 zettabytes, or 610 iPhones (128GB) per person.[2]

Too much and poor-quality information leads to decision paralysis, communication breakdown, and poor health.[3] Society is not only in an environmental crisis. We are also in a crisis of information overload. Until now, there has not been a common vocabulary and simple approach to this problem. Over the next 175 years, Lean Information will profide a strong foundation to solve information overload and improve communication for a thriving Swiss and global society.

1. Attributes, Common Vocabulary, and Skills

Information is lean when it is free of waste for the information consumer. In the 1980s, the Toyota Motor Corporation sparked the worldwide Lean Manufacturing movement.[4] Lean Management followed. The Lean Movement gained international recognition for improving productivity by eliminating waste from industrial and business processes.[5] In the 1990s, information scientists[6] defined poor data quality in terms of inconsistencies in information representing their real-world situations. They defined these inconsistencies, also types of waste, by using the following four intrinsic attributes: meaningless, ambiguous, incorrect, and incomplete.[7]

It should be obvius that the four instrinsic attributes of data quality also define information waste. Information is data in context.[8] Waste-free information is consistently actionable. It is easy to access, act on, share, and govern. Using attributes from data quality rather than process improvement is easy to apply, measure, and manage. Lean Information principles are universal across languages, cultures, information, and data. People only need to use their common vocabulary and information skills.

Lean Information Common Vocabulary and Skills

WastefulLeanSkills (also support Human Resource competencies [9])
MeaninglessRelevantDefine the information needed and keep it plain [10]
AmbiguousSpecificEffectively name, organise, and design information

IncorrectCorrectResearch and govern information

IncompleteCompleteMake information shareable (context sensitive) and optimal

Metrics for the economics of wasteful and lean information include time, money, and risk. For example, using lean information can save time and money through increased clarity, generate revenue through satisfied customers, and prevent accidents. It is applicable to all information, from texts and emails to documents and presentations.

Lean information is not just less information. It is the right information that the consumer needs to understand and act on, not more. Below, is a fictional example of an ‘original versus lean’ text from a coaching session (translated from German).

2. Original vs. Lean Example

Lean Information Pilot 2023, Sports Department, Bern, Switzerland

Situation - a team member sent the following text today at 13:30:

Original (ca. 10 minutes to reply)
@Lifeguards Someone1 call me today between 09:00 and 11:002 regarding the defibrillator.3 By the way, it is made in Switzerland.4

1 Ambiguous: Who should call?

2 Incorrect: The time is already 13:30

3 Incomplete: What about the defibrillator?

4 Meaningless: Irrelevant in this context

Lean (ca. 1 minute to reply)

@Ruth1 Call me tomorrow between 09:00 and 11:002 regarding the new location of3 the defribillator.4

1 Specific

2 Correct

3 Complete

4 Relevant (last sentence removed)


In 1948, Claude Shannon published his seminal work on information entropy and the binary interface.[11] However, according to MIT professor, R. G. Gallagher, “[Shannon’s] Information Theory has very little to do with information. It really has to do with data... I don’t think anybody has any idea how to deal with information...”[12]

Sample research questions:

  • Can Claude Shannon’s (and others) research be used to discover a Lean Information Theory to filter wasteful information?
  • The Shannon Limit for data integrity is the maximum rate a message can be sent without error over a specified bandwidth in the presence of noise.[13] Is the Lean Information Limit for information efficiency the minimum message needed for complete action over a specified channel when competing for attention?
  • Are Lean Information’s core attributes the most effective for  eliminating information waste – i.e., meaningless to relevant, ambiguous
    to specific, incorrect to correct, and incomplete to complete? Do sub-attributes exist and what are they?
  • What are the best metrics and algorithms to measure information value in which situations – e.g., time, volume, money, mission, risk, error, efficiency ratios?
  • For digital transformation, how can Lean Information best be employed as a common vocabulary between business and IT functions, consultants and customers?
  • How can Generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) prompts assist in rendering information lean? What are the pros and cons of using Generative AI?
  • How can Lean Information be used as an early warning system to detect breakdowns in communication and pending social crises?
  • How can Lean Information best be used to optimize collaboration and knowledge management systems?
  • What competencies help to best create, use, and negotiate for Lean Information?
  • Which functions and roles are likely to be responsible for Lean Information?
  • What can help modify behavior in people who tend to naturally over-communicate?


Lean Information can be implemented in all sectors of society. The priority would be to reach early adopters in business, non-profit, government, healthcare, education, and news. The field of conflict resolution should also be included. For business and non-profit organizations, Lean Information can be targeted to senior managers, but coached to their middle managers who are on the front lines of customer and operational interaction.[14] Short, non-disruptive Lean Information tutorials can be offered to middle managers to enhance their team’s current information skills. Lean Information can be introduced downstream, in customer or member-facing functions, and moved upstream as needed.

In government, the opposite may be more effective. Senior managers («Kaderangestellte des Bundes») can be coached in Lean Information and then define their priorities based on importance, urgency, and required effort. In healthcare, it can help patients, practitioners, and insurers. Lean Information can be introduced into various types of educational and academic systems as a supplement, or aid, to the current curriculum. In news, Lean Information can be employed to structure and design articles so that consumers can quickly absorb story details. In conflict resolution, the four Lean Information attributes can be used as a common vocabulary to identify and repair communication breakdown for multilateral agreement.


Ultimately, how we create and use information is personal. Introducing Lean Information will focus on teaching and coaching («Hilfe zur Selbsthilfe»). It is important that those responsible for creating the information maintain control and advocate for change. Resistance may come from some information owners who believe their information is already lean. If this proves to be true, these people can be recruited to help others achieve their goals. It is always challenging to change behaviors and to learn new behaviors. However, it will be worth it. Change agents such as managers, coaches, and educators will contribute to the growing body of Lean Information skills, best practices, and standards. Partnerships with Swiss and global organizations, such as Digitalswitzerland, Swisspeace, and the World Economic Forum, may also support adoption of Lean Information practices.

Switzerland is highly qualified to introduce Lean Information to its citizens and the world. Its success in multilingual communication to promote mutual understanding and cooperation is well established. In the 1950s, Swiss Design emerged as an international visual communication style. It is characterised by minimalism and, clear and straightforward presentation of information: cleanliness, legibility, and objectivity. As an example of Swiss Design, “the Helvetica typeface is one of the single most ubiquitous typefaces in the world of modern design.”[15] Could Lean Information become a successor to Swiss Design?

Lean Information is a universal approach to using information that is consistently relevant, specific, correct, and complete. Just as society needs to eliminate waste from our environment, we need a common vocabulary and a simple solution to eliminate waste from our information. Similar to language proficiency and Swiss Design, Lean Information can become part of everyday life, supporting digital and communication transformation. Over the next 175 years, Lean Information will help us better structure our thinking and sharpen our natural intelligence. It will provide a strong foundation for greater understanding, health, and peace in Switzerland and around the world.



Duigan, B.; Occam’s razor, Encyclopedia Britannica, 15 August 2023 (also known as law economy, law of parsimony)


UBS Editorial Team; How the data universe could grow more than 10 times from 2020 to 2030, UBS Wealth Management, 28 July 2023


Klein, L. K.; Earl, E.; Cundick, D. (Gartner), Reducing Information Overload in Your Organization, Harvard Business Review, 01 May 2023


Ohno, T., The Toyota Production System, Oxford, 1983


Lean manufacturing and management’s eight process wastes: defects, excess processing, overproduction, waiting, excess inventory, transportation, movement, and non-utilized talent.


Information Science is an interdisciplinary field primarily concerned with the analysis, collection, classification, manipulation, storage, retrieval, movement, dissemination, and protection of information. Stock, W.G., Stock, M. Handbook of Information Science, De Gruyter Saur, 2013


Huang, K.-T.; Lee, Y.W.; Wang, R., Quality Information and Knowledge, Prentice Hall, 1999, Pgs. 33-58


Example: “The time is now 14:00.” The time datum is 14:00 and the context is “The time is now”.


HR competencies include: trustworthy, influential, communicative, analytical, strategic, customer focused, innovative, organized, collaborative, and relationship builder.


Arrowood, J. C., Plain Language, Please, Rowman & Littlefield, 2016 («Einfache Sprache»)


Shannon, C. E.; Weaver, W., The mathematical theory of communication, Bell Technical Journal, 1948


Gallagher, R. G., MIT Course: Principles of Digital Communication I, lecture minutes 6:40 to 7:16, 2015


Hardesty, L., Explained: The Shannon Limit, MIT News, January 19, 2010


N. Rütti, Unproduktiv oder unterschätzt? Führungskräfte der mittleren Hierarchiestufe haben zu Unrecht ein miserables Image, Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ), 25 October 2023, Pg. 22


Weis, M.; What is Swiss Design?, Medium, 13 April 2017



Ron Hyams developed the concept of Lean Information while improving the quality of information in organisations. Ron’s industry experience includes re/insurance, pharma, and media. His functional experience includes information management, governance, and quality. He holds an Executive MBA from the University of St. Gallen in Media and Communication.

Die Beiträge auf dem Reatch-Blog geben die persönliche Meinung der Autor*innen wieder und entsprechen nicht zwingend derjenigen von Reatch oder seiner Mitglieder.

Zum Kommentieren mehr als 20 Zeichen im Text markieren und Sprechblase anklicken.

Wir freuen uns über nützliche Anmerkungen. Die Kommentare werden moderiert.