Christopher Burns is one of the country’s leading minds on modern information management. He has been a news executive and consultant to government and the private sector for thirty years, advising clients on emerging information management technologies and the evolution of the information economy. His previous positions include vice president of the Washington Post Company, senior vice president of the Minneapolis Star and Tribune, and executive editor of United Press International.
In this interview with D.J. Grothe, Christopher Burns talks about the biology of the brain, the behavior of groups, and the structure of organizations and how each can lead to people making bad decisions. He discusses the paradox that in the age of information, it may be more difficult to make good decisions. He describes “false knowledge” and how to choose the right information to pay attention to. He emphasizes the value of skepticism in making good decisions, and of trusting ambiguity and uncertainty. He uses the example of the sinking of the Titanic to explain the concept of “information errors.” He discusses how groups naturally discourage dissent, and how this harms the information system, citing examples from operating room and airline cockpit. He details ways of organizing that lead to better decision-making. And he talks about the political domain, and how to address challenges to good collective decision-making in a democracy, contrasting the Bush and Obama administrations.