Why getting staff to do nothing can be good business

Here I am again, this time on Qantas QF31 from Singapore to London listening to Jeff Buckley (Grace) whilst looking out of the window at a marmalade sunset disappearing beneath a froth of white cloud.

My information purging experiment has been interesting. I have not looked at a newspaper for 3 weeks and my television viewing and internet use has been close to zero over the same period. As a result my data deluge has evaporated and my thinking about various issues has shifted.

I have suddenly had more time. I have become less distracted, more relaxed and more reflective. I am also more alert to people within my immediate vicinity and I seem to have become a magnet for serendipitous encounters. In short, interesting information and ideas have found me without me deliberately searching for them.

If you speak to management consultants they will use words like granularity to illustrate the importance of detail. This might be a good idea if your ambition is to fine tune a well oiled machine operating in a stable environment, but there is the danger of getting lost in detail and my recent experience would seem to suggest that what we might need is much more of the opposite, especially if your aim to build new machines to operate in unexplored and uncertain terrain.

What we need to do is focus more of the big picture, those tectonic plates that lie beneath our feet, but which have become largely invisible due to our fixation with daily minutiae. For example, in my view the media has become too obsessed with immediacy and ‘news’ over careful analysis. There is literally no time to think, or to create the conditions in which people will be forced to think, when we are plugged into live news feeds, status updates, friendship requests and Google alerts 24/7.

One of my serendipitous conversations last week was with someone in Sydney who observed that holidays were once places where people switched off and relaxed. This in turn enabled people to return to work refreshed. However, what seems to have occurred recently is that people are being forced to use their holidays to catch-up with work and to do the kind of deep thinking that is increasingly impossible at work. As a result people have next to no down time. They are tired all the time because they never switch off or disconnect and this is impacting not only the quality of their thinking and decision-making but also their relationships.

So what’s the solution? In my case a mixture of control, alt and delete.
I am going to get rid of various alerts, subscriptions and favourites and focus on a few select sources, most of which will be on paper in order to slow things down a little.  I am also going to continue with my policy of being unavailable at certain times and of frequenting certain places where mobile communication is either not allowed or is blocked. Some people will call me a Luddite for doing this, but at least they won’t be able to call me up to tell me in person.

As for organizations, I think that they will eventually see the dangers inherent in too much busyness, especially Too Much Information and Too Much Connectivity. They will slowly see the importance of sometimes doing absolutely nothing and it will dawn on them that policies will need to be developed to either limit the amount of work that employees are allowed to take home or mandate a certain amount of vacation time.

Looking out of more windows might help too.

This entry was posted in Digital culture, Thinking spaces, Too Much Information. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Why getting staff to do nothing can be good business

  1. Kaaren says:

    Thanks Richard. Maybe we could start a movement? lol.
    I posted this link to my FB status update today
    http://blogbarefoot.com/if-it-steals-your-time-it-is-stealing-your-money-too and then I unsubscribed to every list, newsletter, blog & group I belong to for a two week trial. I need thinking time. I need some time to do some work too.

    I think Genevieve Bell the fascinating anthropologist from Intel has started discussing this notion of boredom being good for our souls too. I can’t post the link to her TEDex Sydney talk on that topic yet as they are due to upload it this week but do keep a lookout for it if you missed it live.

    I feel en – lightened already. My FB feed is still coming to my inbox – that will be next. Oh and how to deal with Twitter? Any suggestions gratefully recieved. lol. Apart from being a Producer I’m also a Social Media & Online Marketing professional so this is a big step for me. Maybe we ought to treat this like ‘Dry July’ and just have designated time-outs?
    Would love to hear how you go with yours, but oh that would mean subscribing to your blog and reading the news coming in 🙂
    Oh dear.

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