Infobesity is all around us and it’s killing creativity. So is, in a nutshell, what one coud say of Too fast to think, the latest book written by Chris Lewis. Chris is an ex-journalist, and the founder and CEO of one of the largest independent communications companies in the World (Lewis employs 700 people in 27 countries). I met Chris virtually over Skype a few weeks ago and I had a chat with him about his book, infobesity, our quest for information and our ability – or inability – to process it and foster innovation. In this insightful video interview, and in his book, I found many lessons which could be useful to you, with regard to your own usage of digital and possibly the way one could try and manage multitasking employees. Above all, you will learn that thinking too fast, may be a really bad idea.
Too fast to think, too slow to edit
I can’t be blamed for thinking too fast, Chris will have to give me credit for that . I interviewed him on January 19, 2017 and it took me nearly 3 weeks to edit this video and a few more hours to compose this blog post. This is without taking into account the fact that 2 months were necessary for us to synchronise our diaries. That being said, I really enjoyed Chris’s point about what he called the “conceit of speed”. One is thrown into a world where communications has never been so easy and plentiful but this only gives us the illusion of communications. And speed. That takes us back to the organisation of our interview I should say.
So we take refuge in our phones and our screens but what is left of our ability to converse and truly socialise? (To that effect I also point you to a video interview of Simon Sinek which is dedicated to millennials but applies to all of us).
Tools should be our servants and infobesity is making it hard for us to think
“Tools should be our servants, we should not serve [them]” (this quote of Chris’s should be passed on to my students and without doubt it will).
My video interview with Chris Lewis, CEO (Oops! Sorry, “Grand Enchilada”) of Lewis
At the heart of Chris Lewis’s thinking there is the fact that infobesity is all around us. An endless flow of RSS feeds, headlines and breaking news to which he himself confesses being a slave. Looking for examples of bad habits in information consumption he admits that he embodies it (“you are looking at it” he said facetiously). He’s a “news junkie and a workaholic” and therefore, he can easily describe what affects our inability to analyse and, as he rightfully puts it, “connect the dots”.
Information overload, he went on, means we are trying to keep up, and as a consequence, his conclusion is that today’s “level of ideas and conceptualisation is diminishing” and that “information overload and infobesity are beginning to erode our fundamental inate ability to solve problems”.
That doesn’t bode too well. So what should we do about it?
How to manage infobesity and live to tell about it
Chris’s point is that when he interviewed thinkers, politicians, artists, journalists and even clergymen and asked them when and how they were generating new ideas, they always came up with the same answer: they had to be alone, in the quiet and certainly not multitasking. Doing one thing at a time and taking hindsight are key to being able to innovate. Doing it that way one can truly come up with ideas which can change the World. Multitasking, on the contrary, will only lead you to an impasse.
Even in the 21st-century. Even in our days of digital revolution. Even more so. Our tools have changed, but our brains are still the same, despite what most people think, and we are all very bad at multitasking.
But should we do about that then? The answer to that question is very simple according to Chris: keep off from the phone, email and social media for at least 45 minutes. Go out for a walk, take a breath of fresh air, take hindsight and ponder.
In essence, there is an interesting paradox here: the more information circulates freely, the more one has to think slowly to be able to create, imagine, and “connect the dots” to put it in his words.
Productivity and haste
“Festina lente” was Augustus’s motto (make haste, slowly) and yet, the Roman Emperor who came to power 23 years before Christ had certainly never thought of what digital had in store for us. (By the way I’d really love to be able to jump back in time and ask him what he thinks of our way of dealing with information. Would he be impressed, awed or horrified? Not such an easy question as it seems)
This stunning shot of the statue of Augustus in Orange is by Deke McClelland. Go visit his site
Does distraction require digital?
However, I am wondering whether distraction does need digital to take place. I’m quite the daydreamer and prone to walking around with a book in my hands not quite looking around me and lost in my thoughts. (This has played a few tricks on me but I can’t help it). Fair enough, chances are that the book in my hands today is an e-book. Yet things aren’t that different from what they were thirty years ago when I was roaming the street of Paris or London lost in my thoughts or Somerset Maugham’s endless volumes of short stories.
My ideas do not come when I am alone or in the quiet. Well, sometimes they do but not always. It has happened that some of the best ideas I’ve had were conceived in the din of a pub or café and the louder the better. Or by talking to friends or colleagues, watching films, riding a train or listening to, preferably loud, baroque music. (I proof read our latest book in a very noisy café a couple of weeks ago. I managed to read the entirety of its 300 pages and corrected them from A to Z in one afternoon there. None of that would have been possible in the comfort of my Home).
I therefore feel a little torn on that issue and I wouldn’t be surprised that ideas came in a variety of ways. Distraction being one of them. And digital distraction isn’t any better nor worse than any kind of distraction (it may be less polite and more intrusive when people decide to use their phones while having lunch with other people for instance. So it may be bad for your relationship but does it mean it’s bad for you? I don’t know).
But I definitely agree about the need to stay away from the phone, sometimes, and e-mail, most of the time. I think e-mail is worse than anything else because of message length (in that I think it’s a lot worse than Twitter and Social media in general). It’s not just that notifications are annoying, it’s also that each e-mail or so brings its lot of action items and worries. I personally do not shut down e-mail for 45 minutes every now and then. It’s the other way round. Sometimes I open my mail and read it and sort out all the messages I can, make notes of my action items, close my mail client and move on with my tasks. One at a time.
Strangely enough, with the volume of email I receive, doing it that way helps me respond faster, not slower. And often I don’t respond at all, I pick up my phone.
At the end of the day, what matters most isn’t the tool, but the choice of the right tool.
Read Chris Lewis’s Too Fast To Think
and don’t be afraid to think too fast when you decide to buy it from Amazon (or any other bookstore for that matter). Buying a book written by a quintessentially British eccentric Gentleman who calls himself “Grand Enchilada” or even “Large Burrito” (you’ll have to listen to the interview to understand this) and talks of the need to use metaphor to be able to foster happiness is a good diversion from the usual dreariness of Corporate Newspeak. It should even be granted an award by the National Health Service.
For a summary review of too fast to think, please refer to the Greatest Hits Blog.