Filter Failure – not just knowledge overload #WILTW

This is the 104th #WILTW

The videos from the “Health of the Nation” TedX Leicester event were released this week. A colleague, Pro Mukherjee, spoke on “Another Way”

Click here if the video doesn’t play

Pro starts his talk with the parable of the wise master and the eager, but over confident, student. The student is keen to learn but incredulous as the the master keeps pouring water into a cup until it overflows. The student shouts for him to stop and the master smiles:

You are like this tea cup, so full that nothing more can be added. Come back to me when the cup is empty. Come back to me with an empty mind

This is one of those stories you sit there and listen to thinking “I get that!” but subsequently forget to action anything about it as it’s displaced 15 minutes later by another interesting meme.


The parable is not just about factual knowledge but emotional and spiritual capacity as well. Knowledge is much more easy to encapsulate though.

“Knowledge is learning something every day. Wisdom is letting something go every day” – Zen Proverb

Letting go of overbearing emotions much harder than forgetting an old definition of sepsis or the causes of erythema nodosum. I suspect I spend a lot of time with a full, but very dynamic cup, the contents of which fluctuate on a regular basis. Choosing what, and when to let go, is probably an unconscious task and I think we generally learn to manage what comes in, rather than what comes out.

Filter Failure’ is a term coined by Clay Shirkey to describe the fact that information overload isn’t the problem – it is our inability to filter what we need the real issue. He argues you don’t get a cold sweat when you walk into a bookstore or library despite the volume of information in them being immense. It is so well catalogued you can go straight to what you need. Sadly 21st century life is not ordered in this way…

I wonder if filter failure can also apply beyond being overwhelmed by the core knowledge needed for work but also to sensory and emotional inputs. There are no easy solutions to keeping your cup at a balanced level, whether it be for professional or personal aspects of your life. Being aware that you might be near tipping point probably a good place to start! And perhaps we all empty our cups metaphorically, as well as practically,  everytime time we share a ‘drink’ with friends or family….

What have you learnt this week? #WILTW

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During the writing of this blog I asked twitter for its best sources of advice in regard to information overload (list below) fully aware that this ‘knowledge’ based approached is only part of the answer.

Drinking from the Firehose 

The path to insanity

The mind palace

Information Overload

Five strategies to effectively use online resources in Emergency Medicine

Thanks Simon Carley, Olusegun Olusanya, Seth Trueger, Janos Baombe

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