We live in an on-the-go society, where every waking moment is packed with things to do, people to see, programs to watch, and goals to achieve. We are task-oriented, and we value being busy. We are measured by what we produce. The focus is clearly on activity.
Because we are so driven to produce results and complete activities, we fill up space that would otherwise be used for thinking. We fill it up for one of two reasons – either to “maximize our time” or to get some badly needed down time.
Take a look at your drive time to and from the office or from one appointment to the next. As you drive, you may be listening to music to get a little mental distraction from your day. Or perhaps you are listening to business books on tape or a second-language course because you feel that drive time is a good time to pack in some learning.
Now consider how you spend your time waiting – for the plane to depart or in line at the grocery store or while in the doctor’s office. Chances are that you’re on your cell phone. You’re catching up on e-mails and calls. Or you’re enjoying a round of Angry Birds as an escape from the stresses of the day.
What about the time you spend on your daily workout? On the treadmill, you may be reading a celebrity gossip magazine. While you run, you may be listening to your favorite iTunes downloads. Or maybe you’re like the sales manager I used to run into at the local Y – he practiced his daily team pep talk while he lifted weights, out loud and with lots of gusto.
We multitask all of our thinking time away. When we take time to think, it is an indulgence and we feel a little guilty for the apparent lack of productivity. See what happens if you sit in your cubicle with the phone and computer turned off and without any pen in your hand – when someone asks what you are doing, tell them you are thinking and see what kind of response you get. It probably won’t be a positive one.
The assumption we make when people take time to think is that they are daydreaming or that they are somehow a little slow if they need to think without doing anything else at the same time. We don’t place a high value on pure thinking. Why not?
For starters, I think it’s because we place an imbalanced value on action over thinking. That leads to reactionary outputs, band-aid solutions, and repeated problems. We have a “time is money” mentality that results in reactions that are focused on the short-term rather than inviting strategic, big-picture, long-term thinking.
This affects our decision making, too. When you put the value on action and results together with the value we place on cooperation and getting along, we end up with decisions that are doubly compromised. Group members don’t think through the decisions being made and what their long-term implications might be. No one takes time to consider the unintended consequences, the possibilities beyond what’s always been done, and the farther reaching impacts of decisions made. When those thoughts creep in, they are often suppressed by a desire to avoid “rocking the boat” or slowing down the team.
Another barrier to spending time on thinking is that we may not know how to think. Deep thinking requires discipline as well as time. The discipline of thinking requires examining ideas from multiple angles, peeling back the layers to identify what is behind the initial thoughts, weighing options, and introspectively considering personal motivations and limitations. This is not always a comfortable process, so we shortcut it and plow ahead with our early ideas. We allow ourselves to get attached to the early ideas without thinking them through because that is faster, easier, and appears to be more productive.
The cost of not thinking is considerable for a team. The untapped potential within any one person is a loss. When you multiply the untapped potential of every member of the team, it’s greater still. It may feel good in the short term to produce results and move forward, but that celebration ignores the lost opportunity cost of what could have been.
The cost to individuals is that we all begin to feel like cogs in the wheel instead of like fully ennobled contributors. We think less and less and do more and more. When what we do becomes more valuable that what we can uniquely contribute, we feel commoditized and marginalized.
The cost to our society is downright dangerous. If we’re not the ones doing the thinking, who is? Who are we entrusting the essence of our humanity to? Some would say that it’s the political pundits and talking heads on news programs. Others would say it’s our religious, political, business and community leaders. For others, it might be celebrities or athletes we admire and emulate. If you think this doesn’t apply to you, then take this simple litmus test – ask yourself these three questions about a belief you already have and don’t settle for short answers. Instead, look at these questions objectively and from every angle.
1) Why do I believe what I believe?
2) Who was influential in helping me form this belief?
3) Beyond those influencers’ inputs, what do I also know to be true about this belief?
You’ve just completed an exercise in thinking. It wasn’t so bad! You may have been tempted during that exercise to suppress beliefs that challenged your own. Did you proceed to examine those so you could be informed from every angle? Or did you dismiss those thoughts because they were disharmonious and/or time consuming? What did you discover about the roots of your own belief? Did you validate it? Or did you raise doubts because, perhaps, it never truly was your own?
This is the kind of thought process we all could use more frequently. We need to take time to think. Not someday, but now. It’s time to think.
As a leader, it’s imperative to understand why and how to show ever person that you care about them. Learn more about how you can CONNECT2Lead. And be sure to subscribe to the CONNECT2Lead Blog for weekly tips and techniques on leading with a people first approach.