Dialogue Q4 2017

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The power of deliberate daydreaming Leading in a Vuca world means embracing distraction – not avoiding it, writes Dr Srini Pillay MD

In a world where distraction is at an all-time high, it is more important than ever to learn how to protect our brains. On a daily basis we are inundated by email requests, tweets, Facebook posts, LinkedIn alerts and breaking news. This digital distraction and information overload overwhelms our brains. It shortens attention span and interrupts memory formation too. Amid such distractions, we usually choose to hunker down and focus. Although this makes sense, it is almost never enough. While focus is undoubtedly essential to productivity and taskcompletion, recent research indicates that our brains can only take so much. Luckily, there are intelligent ways in which we can unfocus too. This will make our brains more resilient to distractions.

Competition blindness

The disadvantages of focus

Innovation relies on connecting ideas, but having your nose to the ground may prevent you from seeing these connections. For example, Gillette had a toothbrush unit (Oral B), an appliance unit (Braun), and a battery unit (Duracell), but failed to make a batterypowered toothbrush. It failed to take advantage of the fact that our brains are wired to make

On the surface, focus seems like a suitable strategy when our minds are adrift. Noise-blocking headphones, to-do lists and calendar reminders will help us get the job done. Yet keeping the door shut to the outside world, or having a onetrack mind may also disrupt our productivity, innovation and decision-making.

There is a time and place for having blinkers on, but not when there is competition in the wings. Take Wang Laboratories, for example. It had cornered the market for the word processor, and An Wang, the founder, became so obsessed with his creation that he neglected to see the PC as its replacement. In remaining steadfastly connected to his own ideas, he was unable to truly anticipate a business threat developing its own power, waiting to take centre stage. Metaphorically, focus makes your brain pathways more like train tracks than an open space for flying. As a result, you become a creature of habit – a deathly result, even for good leaders.

Lost opportunities for innovation

Dialogue Q4 2017

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