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The real price of the excess baggage of cognitive overload

Updated: Nov 29, 2023


In the late hours of May 31, 2009, Air France Flight 447, an Airbus A330, embarked on a fateful journey from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. Little did its passengers and crew know that this flight would tragically demonstrate the profound and perilous impacts of cognitive overload. As the aircraft cruised over the Atlantic Ocean, it encountered a series of minor technical failures and environmental challenges that accumulated and severely tested the pilots' cognitive capacities. The subsequent investigation revealed that the overwhelmed pilots, inundated with conflicting data and alarms, made critical errors. This disaster, resulting in the loss of 228 lives, starkly underscores the dangers of cognitive overload, defined as "a state where an individual's working memory is overwhelmed with information or tasks to the point that their performance and decision-making abilities are impaired." This is a phenomenon not just confined to the high-stakes environment of aviation but prevalent in various facets of our daily lives.


In response to this aviation disaster, significant changes were made in airline procedures, particularly in the way information is presented to flight crews. Enhanced clarity and reliability of data, along with improved cockpit interface designs, were implemented to prevent overload and ensure pilots could make better decisions more easily. We’re doing the same for sellers and sales leaders.


Cognitive Overload in Everyday Scenarios

Cognitive overload isn't just a high-stakes issue; it manifests in everyday situations. Modern workplaces drown employees in a deluge of emails, meetings, and multitasking demands. This constant bombardment of information and tasks leads to reduced focus, increased stress, and burnout. In education, for example, students transitioning to digital learning environments struggle with a plethora of platforms and resources, leading to confusion and decreased learning efficacy. Sound familiar? Sellers are asked to juggle multiple demands and priorities as well as multiple roles – business consultant, thought leader, trusted advisor, solution expert, industry authority and entertainer! Sellers are poster children for cognitive overload. They’re also the poster child for its denial!


Why the Hesitation to Confront Cognitive Overload?

Admitting to or confronting cognitive overload is hindered by various societal and personal factors. In professional settings, there's a pervasive belief that admitting to feeling overwhelmed is a sign of weakness or incompetence. This is compounded by the glorification of 'busyness' as a symbol of status and commitment. Additionally, there's a general lack of awareness about cognitive overload, with many mistaking it for general stress or a temporary phase. Personal pride and the fear of appearing inadequate in a competitive environment further discourage individuals from seeking help or acknowledging the issue. This reluctance to confront cognitive overload often exacerbates its effects, leading to a vicious cycle of stress and decreased effectiveness. In other words you can't be crushing it and living the dream AND be overwhelmed at the same time!


Shining the Light

It seems counter intuitive to promote another technology as a cure for all these other demands (many of which are actually caused by the addition of technologies), but nevertheless we will. Why? Because Shadow addresses the essence of cognitive overload in sales. We’re not saying you don’t need some other technologies. But in the case of cognitive overload, the first thing to disappear is “order” – you succumb to mental chaos. This is followed by quickly forgetting the basics, you’re "floundering." Then you’re just "scrambling" to survive – getting through the meeting or the presentation, realizing you’re now in "salvage" mode. And the irony? The very people who put you in this situation will be the same ones that will hang you for it. So, you can either shrug you shoulders and let it happen OR …get some help.


This is why we built Shadow - a finely tuned, specialized, generative AI to provide fast, contextually cogent, reliable insights & advice for sellers. Shadow is the result of recognizing the burden of cognitive overload.


Shadow's great strength lies in three main areas:

  • First, Shadow's advice is based on our unique abilities to combine generally accepted selling best practices with our latest modern neurological, social and psychological sales thinking to create uniquely nuanced insights & advice.

  • Second, Shadow is fast - if you only have fifteen minutes before a call, you can get Shadow on the case and Shadow will give you concise, salient advice in the nick of time - so you're always ready.

  • Third, Shadow makes things simple - Shadow is taking a lot of complex information and contextual input. Shadow is combining that in a few seconds to give you straight forward advice and action that helps you achieve situational fluency. You're better prepared, with less effort, faster. You can use Shadow to help when time is short or you can “discuss” an account, sales strategies & tactics or specific aspects of selling over a cup of coffee!

Management & Leadership will continue to demand more. If you just try to work “harder’ you’ll end up like the flight crew of Flight 447 - overwhelmed. While the consequences might not be as tragic as Flight 447, there is no good outcome unless you recognize and confront this problem of cognitive overload.


We’re not arrogant enough to believe that Shadow is the only solution for this…but it’s certainly in the top one!

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