Multitasking is a Myth

This post introduces a recent essay on the dangers of multitasking and the importance of deliberately choosing priorities and focusing attention

The world seems determined to manipulate our attention and encourage us to click, buy, like, forward or watch. These actions do more to spark emotions than to create value, meaning or a sense of accomplishment. How can we better flex our mental muscles?

Attempts to multitask degrade our mental performance and reduce personal productivity. Previous research describes the impacts as equal to a 10-point decline in IQ or about the same as pulling an all-nighter. In short, multitasking reduces our intelligence, energy and ability to get things done well.

Click here to read the essay.

We All Lead by Example

This post introduces a recent essay on four imperatives for living and leading by example

When we smile, others smile back. When someone enters an elevator, we move to make room. When audience members stand to applaud at an event, we often join them (even if unmoved to).

Why is this important? It reminds us of our own role and sway in shaping lives at home, at work and in the community. Each of us is a walking, talking bundle of values, preferences and habits. I am what I do and read, how I act and react, and who I spend time with. And so are you. 

We have several ways to make the most of this superpower we have to influence others.   

Click here to read the essay.

Average is the Enemy

This post introduces a recent essay on the danger of using averages for making decisions or evaluating performance

Mathematically, the average tells us the arithmetic mean; it gives a sense for where the middle lies within a group or between extremes. But averages, like stereotypes, are incomplete and dangerous as a basis for decision making. Rather, when making decisions or evaluating performance, embrace your natural curiosity and dig in. 

Move past the false shortcuts offered by averages.  Embrace variability. 

Forest management expert Dr. Barry Shiver once told me that the motto of intensive forestry is, “identify variability…then exploit it!” We add value by investing in the best soils and highest performing trees on one end, and through dealing quickly with mortality and disease at the other end. When it comes to managing or buying an asset, we want to understand both the forest and the trees.  

Click here to read the essay.

What is the Question?

This post introduces a recent essay on mobilizing teams and making decisions during difficult times.

When faced with ambiguity and uncertainty, we seek solid ground for making decisions. For novel and contentious issues, following our “gut” or simple frameworks may prove insufficient. What can we do to filter distraction and organize thinking in ways that move us forward? 

When uncertain, define an answerable question. Then answer it and take action.

In difficult situations, I often start by clearly defining the question. Good questions clarify our context, risks and options. Through shaping “positive” questions we build a process for developing new information and next steps. These questions help us distinguish the important, relevant and actionable from the unsubstantiated and uncontrollable, while balancing the desire for insight with the need for action.

Click here to read the essay.

Managers Manage Well, Even During Pandemics

In my roles as a business advisor and as a team leader, I have the opportunity to continually discuss and test ideas on managing and making decisions, especially in turbulent times. The intensity and urgency of these conversations increased with the arrival in 2020 of COVID-19 and another economic recession. Here I summarize observations shared more fully in a recent Forisk blog post.

Good managers manage well, even during a pandemic

A few times over the past several months I’ve gotten up in the morning, looked in the mirror and thought, “how do I help today (given that I don’t know what’s going to happen)?” I hear the same from clients. At the end of the day, good managers and colleagues do what they say they’re going to do and communicate in advance if complications arise. Just as they would during normal times. Along the way, they share information and updates which helps others support the problem solving and decision making. 

Leaders have more freedom to decide up front when less information exists

While counterintuitive, less information offers more flexibility. The onset of the COVID pandemic and the responses by corporate executives highlighted where decisions made in the “fog of war” actually helped or hurt. We have known from the first weeks what data we needed. Regardless the success or failure of getting this data, the forest industry, for example, demonstrated discipline. Conversations with managers and executives centered on (1) supporting employees and reinforcing safety; (2) “right-sizing” production to support and keep clients and customers; and (3) managing cash. The thinking was clear and focused on dealing with the current situation given limited information. 

Effective teams share common values

Leaders require a core set of beliefs and values against which to test ideas and make decisions, especially during uncertain times. Consider the context. With no data and little clarity about the future, how does one choose a course of action? With common values, clearly communicated over time with a team, decisions have, at a minimum, a source of validity and rigor.