In the last few weeks, I’ve been listening to a really interesting audiobook. Entitled ‘Shoe Dog’, it is the autobiography of Nike’s founder Phil Knight. It’s an interesting story on so many levels, and I was really interested to hear how Nike (or Blue Ribbon as it was then) was reportedly one of the first US shoe companies to partner with a Japanese manufacturer.
This was five or six decades ago, long before e-mail, satellite communication links and it was even before fax machines were commonplace. When working internationally everything took longer—the author describes sending important messages by airmail, or if it was really urgent by telex. Conversations could take weeks, or even months, and sometimes there was no option but to get on a plane to resolve an issue. Looking back, this seems like a completely different world. It is easy to forget that it wasn’t that long ago that the world ran on intra-office (typed) memos, with a typing pool that banged out communications as fast as it could.
This is a massive juxtaposition with the world we live in now. We have moved to quite a different extreme where communication is easy. Communication is ubiquitous. You can’t blink without finding there are 25 new e-mail messages, 7 new WhatsApp messages, 12 Facebook updates and a whole plethora of LinkedIN connection requests. And this connected world provides us with so many opportunities; you wouldn’t be reading this blog if the technology didn’t exist.
Yet, it has a darker side too. Over-communication can become a habit—instant messengers set the expectation of an ‘instant’ response. With easy, cheap communication we are bombarded with interruptions 24 hours a day, and as much as we can switch them off, it is a difficult discipline to do so. But if we spend so much time communicating, so much time fielding and fire-fighting our multiple inboxes, what do we lose? And in particular, what does this mean for the quality of decisions that are made in organisations?
Avoiding The Knee-Jerk Reaction
Take the Nike example. If you wanted to send an urgent message to Japan, you’d telex it. This would be expensive; you’d carefully craft the message so it was concise, precise and meaningful. You’d spend time thinking about the message and the recipient. You’d also accept that a response might not be immediate—the telex would need to be routed to the right person internally. There was no expectation of immediacy; it was OK to pause, it was OK to think. There was the opportunity to consult, get opinions. There was no need to feel put ‘on the spot’.
Of course, I am romanticising to some extent. But it does seem to be the case that today’s projects and programmes are so often scheduled with dates that are completely unachievable utopian aspirations, leading to a lack of time for people to properly think things through. It is almost like thinking has become seen as some historic luxury. You can imagine a manager rallying their team: “Well, maybe we could pause and think in the old days, but things move so fast now. We just can’t spend time thinking any more. We have to get doing”.
Yet doing without thinking is a fool’s game. It creates projects that deliver solutions that solve a problem that doesn’t exist. It leads to expensive implementations that everybody hates. With our inboxes full of cc’d e-mails that we don’t need to read (and, frankly, who has time to read all of their e-mails these day?) we lose clarity of thought. We get pushed into knee-jerk reactions to complex problems because we need an answer now.
Except things are rarely as urgent as they appear. As business analysis practitioners, we ought to continue to challenge knee-jerk reactions, and work hard to navigate our way through the ‘noise’ of the distracted and over-communicating world that we live in. We should work with our PMs to make sure there’s sufficient slack and reflection time in the plan—and if we do so, everyone will thank us in the end. And if we can co-create better outcomes, there will be less ‘urgency’ in the future; because we’ll fix it once and we’ll fix it right.
And perhaps, just perhaps, we should start imagining our e-mails are telexes; and asking if they really need to be sent (and if an e-mail is the most appropriate format). 🙂
What are your views on communication, focus and distraction? Do you have any tips, perspectives or anything to add? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please add a comment below, and let’s keep the conversation flowing!
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About the author:
Adrian Reed is Principal Consultant at Blackmetric Business Solutions, an organisation that offers Business Analysis consulting and training solutions. Adrian is a keen advocate of the analysis profession, and is constantly looking for ways of promoting the value that good analysis can bring.
To find out more about the training and consulting services offered at Blackmetric, please visit www.blackmetric.com
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