Socialization and the Need to Take Time to Think

The Thinker, sculpture at the Musée Rodin in Paris

On May 2nd, Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry was speaking at a KM conference and told the audience that he felt that managers needed to “engage” their people. He offered up an example of failing to engage by describing managers who were walking around or riding elevators while using their smart phones instead of talking with their employees. He described that as a missed opportunity to show employees that they cared and that they actually wanted employees to speak up and share their views.

While saying that I agree completely with what John Berry said and agree that this is certainly one of those cultural issues that impact organizations all the time, I’d like to take his thought a step or two further. Sort of run with it to discuss what I think is an additional issue altogether. I’m talking about the need to take time to think.

I had this really great article tacked to my bulletin board. I’ve somehow lost it, but it was all about taking the time to think and it addressed the fact that we’re all so busy multi-tasking that we no longer seem to find the time to simply allow ourselves to daydream…to think.

And that’s a shame, because certainly there are negative consequences to not taking time to think – both personal and organizational. I’m talking about big picture impacts, the kind that result in lost innovations. Missed solutions to problems simply because you were too deep in the problem to be able to see the clear solution visible when you step back and ponder a bit.

“Each day we switch between such tasks and allow the feeling of ‘busyness’ to absolve us of the critical need for deep thinking. Evidence from leading research institutes like Stanford demonstrates that multitasking is a myth that we have all bought into and rarely question. Research firms like Basex Corporation now reveal that taking time to think and reflect accounts for only 5 percent of our entire workday. Yet, 25 percent of our workdays are spent immersed in information overload.” (Daniel Patrick Forrester, author of “Consider Harnessing the Power of Reflective Thinking in Your Organization.”)

Okay, so how does this connect to KM? Or perhaps you’re already seeing that connection.  It’s all about missed opportunities, and that cost.

David M. Levy, a professor at the Information School at the University of Washington has said (“No Time to Think”) that:

“We now have the most remarkable tools for teaching and learning the world has ever known. How is it that we have less time to think than ever before?”

All the technology available to us today – each allows us to remain more connected than ever.

We live in a world of constant tweets and Facebook updates, texting available at any moment and in any place. Cell phones and voice mail, if we are too busy tweeting to respond to those instant messages.

Nick Bontis: "Information Bombardment: Rising above the digital onslaught"

I happened to be speaking with Dr. Nick Bontis about this today – very topical as he has a new book out that directly addresses this very issue — “Information Bombardment: Rising above the digital onslaught.” [Dr. Dan's Note: The first chapter of Nick's new book is available free at his site!] And so I asked Nick what his thoughts were, and one of his own “litmus tests” would be related to that sometimes overwhelming drive to remain connected to our smartphones:


“What is the last thing you touch at night before going to bed? What is the first thing you reach for when waking up? If you answered “my smartphone” to both questions, then I’m afraid you have an information bombardment issue!”

Look around and what you see in today’s organizations are armies of folks walking down hallways and texting on the way to a meeting…and before the meeting starts…and during the meeting…and during the walk back to their desks.

If you look further you may even see someone texting on one smartphone while they are taking a call on another.   Or how about those who call to leave a voicemail that says that they just sent an email?

Sure, one could make the argument that they are in fact communicating….but is that “good” communications? Meaningful communications?

And I also have to wonder, at what cost?

How do we account for those lost “ah-ha” moments that you might have had, all because you never took the time to ponder, to reflect, to daydream? Not to mention lost opportunities for face-to-face socialization. But spending time thinking and daydreaming are now known to “foster(s) creativity and help(s) you solve problems.” (“Discovering the Virtues of a Wandering Mind”)

Daydreaming gentleman in 1912.

“While daydreaming has long been derided as a lazy, non-productive pastime, it is now commonly acknowledged that daydreaming can be constructive in some contexts. There are numerous examples of people in creative or artistic careers, such as composers, novelists and filmmakers, developing new ideas through daydreaming. Similarly, research scientists, mathematicians and physicists have developed new ideas by daydreaming about their subject areas.” (“Daydream” and “Discovering the Virtues of a Wandering Mind”)

In his book “Tyranny of the Moment: Fast and Slow Time in the Information Age”, Thomas Hylland Eriksen argues that these technologies “do not increase our efficiency, give us more flexibility, or liberate us from drudgery.” He suggests that instead, they “eat away at our precious time, leaving us to wade through useless and marginally useful information.” He proposes that this pushes us to “fast time” activities that demand our immediate attention and responses, and deny us opportunities for “slow time” activities such as “reflection” or creative thinking.  We are in a true sense beginning to condition our minds to as I like to say, “think in sound bites.”

Thought provoking, and a tad “on spot” for a prediction of where we are today given Erkiksen wrote that in 2001.

So what to do?

Get away from your desk. Start with lunch. Today. Go out somewhere, anywhere as long as it is away from your work and just take some time to think. Bonus points if you work it so that you spend part of your lunch time socializing with your co-workers, and part spending some time just thinking. And then work your way up to the point where you are on a daily basis dedicating a portion of your day as a thinking opportunity. And when you’re walking down the hall, on your way to a meeting or such, engage with the real world rather than the virtual world.

Dr. Dan's Daily Dose:
Today it’s a Double Dose:
1) Taking time to think, to ponder, to daydream, is an essential part of the creative process and provides you with the opportunity to “discover” solutions to problems.
2) Put down your smartphone and socialize with your co-workers. You might be surprised to see what kind of knowledge exchange you get out of “ordinary” conversations.
About Dr. Dan Kirsch