Some of the greatest challenges in business today centre around keeping people motivated, productive and loyal. However, we live in times where a plethora of choices and digital distractions makes this more difficult than ever before. In response to this challenge, game designers have been developing incredibly powerful ways to get people to learn, stay attentive, collaborate, and stick with the task until it's done with excellence.
Is formal education the surest path to health, wealth, happiness and societal progress? I think it's important that we start looking directly at what is working for people who we consider successful today.
With the unprecedented rate of technologically driven change in industries and jobs, along with a super-abundance of information, perhaps being educated is no longer a matter of having completed a degree once upon a time. From what I've seen from the most successful people that I know, learning is a lifestyle and the most learned people are not bookworms, but "pracademics" - part doer (practitioner) and part researcher (academic).
As I see it then, being educated in in the age of Google and the web is now a matter of:
1) Being Curious and Humble
The greatest threat to the sustainability individuals and companies are that their current processes and technologies become obsolete. Instead of falling back on what you know, you should nurture a curiosity about what is possible. Once you know what problems are worthwhile solving, the answers are easier to find than ever before.
"Perplexity is the beginning of knowledge." Kahlil Gibran
2) Learning fitness
There should be an expiry date on most degrees. Knowledge is dating at a faster rate than ever before - from web marketing to medicine - industries change as science and technology progresses. The ability to discern fads (quickly dated tastes) from trends (slow-building, sustainable and significant changes) will help us align our learning to what is likely to be most valuable to society.
"The future is already here, it is just not evenly distributed yet" - William Gibson
3) knowing how to access and store information (web user skills + knowledge management)
The answers to your questions are out there, but to find them, store them, and access them when you need them takes some skill. Do you know how to determine the credibility of a web resource? Are you savvy in Boolean operators for search? Can you use Google Fusion Tables to analyse data on the fly? Do you use metadata to help you save and sort relevant articles in an online app? There are a host of tools that can radically enhance our intelligence, capacity, and research abilities.
"Access is better than ownership" - Kevin Kelly
4) Connecting with the people who are involved in doing what you're learning about (networking)
Knowing the right people leads to opportunities for continued success and learning - this happens through conversations, introductions and collaborations. I've personally found that the best way to meet and connect with these people is a combination of participating in online networks, and attending conferences and courses that are topically related.
Support, mentoring, and coaching is also a key element of this value factor.
"Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu" (A person is a person through other people) - Zulu Maxim
5) Keeping focussed (goals and analytics)
The most useful part of a university degree is the paper you get at the end of it, but not for the reasons you might think. The paper (the degree) is an end-goal that motivates you to finish what you started. The best preventative measure to this distraction is to have goals, milestones, metrics, and an accountability system (once again, mentoring and coaching can play a key role here) that will ensure that you get to a significant depth of understanding and praxis.
"There are literally millions of potentially interesting things in the world to see, to do, to learn about. But they don’t become actually interesting until we devote attention to them." - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
6) Maintaining energy, health and wellbeing (exercise & nutrition)
The modern corporate lifestyle is almost by defined by traffic, desk-bound work, technological dependence, high stress, regular air-travel, junk-food, and stimulants. If education's role is to improve the lives of the educated, then it's incumbent on educators to embed healthy practices that enable clear thinking, creativity, and well-being.
Take care of your body with steadfast fidelity. The soul must see through these eyes alone, and if they are dim, the whole world is clouded." - Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
7) Philosophical Engagement (Mental Models and Ethics)
Perhaps the two surest ways to sustain success and build momentum in the long run are: a) having philosophies, mental models, and paradigms that that allow you to zoom out of the day-to-day activity of your work and see whether what you're doing is truly worthwhile to yourself and others, and b) A good reputation, gained through years of ethical practice.
"The sacred is all about unconditionals; the profane is all about conditionals." - Nassim Taleb
What do you think? Would you add or subtract anything here? How can we move closer to making this vision a reality? I'd love to hear your views.
Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and the like are agents of mass distraction.
If your time on these sites is starting to affect your performance at work, getting in the way of exercise, or impinging on time spent face-to-face with friends, then you may have allowed yourself to slip into a pattern of addiction.
If so, then I've got some lessons to ensure your social media is as healthy as it should be:
- Don’t leave your networks open in your browser all the time: You’re begging to be distracted - tabbed browsing is not your friend!
- Shut down applications like Tweetdeck while you’re working: Those pop-ups will lead you astray!
- Singletask your Social Media: Focus as if you’re dealing with people face-to-face and you’ll get more value from your social-media time
- Know why you’re there: It might be for creative inspiration, relaxation, to laugh, to get business insight or to learn. All of these are positive motivations, but if you ever feel anxious while using social media then rather get back to work or do something else.
- Set a time limit: Even if you’re popping over to social sites throughout the day, decide before-hand how long you’re going to spend in total, and stick to that no matter what.
Social Media can be incredibly powerful personally and professionally, but I do think that we need to be mindful about how we use it.
Can you use social media and still be productive? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this
So much of what drives social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook basically comes down to social gestures by people who want to connect with others, or add value to something bigger than themselves. From product reviews to wiki edits, millions of people are benefitting from this mass of small social gestures online.
It's interesting for businesses to note that massively complex systems and information empires can be driven by something other than money. Very few social media sites pay people to participate. People use online platforms to build relationships and contribute to communities. Essentially this is a new form of economic production beyond the two classic pillars of economics, the firm and the market. Yochai Benkler calls it "Peer Production".
I’ve noticed that my social gestures over the years - blogging, chatting, uploading, editing - have accumulated into a kind of Social Equity. The result is more exposure, higher trust, more business, and ultimately financial reward.
Thus each social gesture becomes an investment.
Many businesses are already benefitting from the social equity of their employees. I think it’s important for businesses to recognize these people within their ranks and enable them to continue rather than shutting them down.
In short, it comes down to a sense of frustration I'm having with the amount of information I seem to have to deal with before anything actually gets done. As an example, besides spam, I get around 80 emails a day, all of which seem to require an urgent response. This is not good for someone who spends most of his time out the office working with groups. It basically means that most of my time in the office is split between dealing with email, and reading news so I can stay in touch with industry trends and innovations. This leaves very little time to spend working with my colleagues (at Huddlemind, Creative Commons and Muti) on important stuff like strategy. All this information feels like it's paralysing me!
In fact, this sense has sat with me for a while, and it's the primary reason why I've been so drawn to the study and practice of "Attention Economics".
So, regarding my blog...
Someone Has Already Said It
Perhaps the main reason I haven't been posting is because, quite honestly, everything I can think of saying has already been said by someone else online. And its not often that I have felt I could say it better.
For those who are interested in what I recommend reading, or what I find interesting, I would like to introduce you to my Diigo links which you can see in the sidebar on the right. There are some superb finds there, and they're all sorted by topic/tag.
I feel so full up with other people's information that there's barely enough space for me to form my own insights and share them.
Experiences vs Information
Maya Angelou once said: "People will forget what you tell them, but will never forget how you make them feel".
For people, like me, who believe that our Attention is increasingly scarce and valuable today, there is a cost attached to each new piece of information that we consume. Information consumes Attention. Despite my knowledge and understanding of "Attention Economics", I've been spendthrift with my own Attention. Now I have a bit of a deficit to deal with - each waking moment is currently spent processing the information I've amassed, at the expense of the experiences and interactions I could be having.
Information, by the way, is inherent in everything. It's just that we have come to prioritize encoded information - in the form of writing, sounds, and video - over real-world, information - in the form of experiences.
Reading and Writing
When I first started blogging, I enjoyed the sense of personal discovery through public disclosure. However, at some point the blogging became more about building an audience than about sharing ideas.
I can say the same about live chat, email, and meetings. My initial experience of these filled me with delight in the process of sharing ideas. They all now seem more like an obligation than a priviledge.
So in my attempt to reclaim my own sense of daily delight in my work and online pursuits, I am cutting down on all these attention traps, drastically. In their place, I hope to clear some space to experience and to reflect more, and to allow my own insights to emerge.
As my esteemed friend, Joe Botha, has said: "The true breakfast of champions is a low information diet".
If so, you're not alone - a lot of work is going undone.
There seems to a looming Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) emerging from the debris of the Facebook explosion in SA.
Here are some of the symptoms of organizational ADD, as outlined in the book The Attention Economy by Thomas H. Davenport and John C. Beck:
1. An increased likelihood of missing key information when making decisions.
2. Diminished time for reflection on anything but simple information transactions such as email and voice mail
3.Difficulty holding other's attention (for instance, having to increase the glitziness of presentations and the number of messages to get and keep attention)
4. Decreased ability to focus when necessary
Despite our hunger for new information constantly, the fact is, having too much information to process often keeps us from doing what we need to when we should.
If we believe that humans work best when they have some time to reflect before acting, we need to assess how much room we have for concerted attention and reflection. If you run an attention deficit too often or too long, there will eventually be serious psychological and organizational consequences.
I wrote a Thought Leader article, entitled The Business of Free, on this subject a few days ago because it's concerning me greatly right now.
I think the issue is not so much around how much information we take in, but rather how much irrelevant information we're expected to process in order to take action.
Of course, many of us are already sifting out the most obvious culprit - Online Advertising. Especially where it seems intrusive. According to a recent Business Week article, as few as 4 in 10,000 people (0.04%) who see ads on social networks click on them, compared to 20 in 10,000 (0.2%) across the web. Simply put, people are using social-media for connection, not consumption.
We need to rethink the way we communicate with people. As Uwe Gutschow puts it:
Brands should be helping people connect and share things better. Provide tools.
I'm still working out ways to manage my organization along the lines of Attention rather than Time and Information. I'll let you know how it goes. In the meantime, please have fun in the comments and suggest some ways to refine your focus, and filter out irrelevant information.
p.s. We've just put up the new dates for the Nomadic Marketing programme at UCT GSB, where we explore solutions to this problem with the leading Marketing minds in SA.