Wednesday, 5 November 2014


I want you to do a simple task whilst driving - multiply 14 by 27. Ha! You can’t do it. Of course you can’t.  Or if you can you’ll be wound around a lamp post by now. Proof that the multitasking myth is just that: a piece of dangerous fantasy. 

Juggling is clever. It’s a skill people get to learn and get better at it but it’s pretty one dimensional. It’s a circus act.  Juggling is for clowns.

The current story is that this new technophiliac generation is being hardwired differently to the rest of us and that they can learn how to do a series of thinking tasks concurrently - like do homework, watch TV, send a text, play a video game and make a phone call. They claim to have seen it happen with their children. They speak of it in awe. All I’d ask is that they take a good, hard look at that homework.

Quite simply, although our brains are wonderful and currently beyond most of our comprehension, we do realise that they aren’t set up to do conscious tasks in tandem. The most successful people blinker themselves and focus (yes I’m forced to use that word I hate) on addressing, thinking about and completing the task in hand.

The most precious commodity in the world is probably “attention” - the capacity to engage one’s mind on a single thing. We are bombarded with messages and stimuli which are exciting and enriching but this also presents us with a big challenge.

We have to make choices about what we do first - hang on - be back in a second I’ve just had another e-mail - yes that’s increasingly our default mode. We’re constantly being interrupted and what we do is give all the attention to the most recent communication for a few seconds until something new happens. Our ability to be disciplined and concentrate will determine our success in thinking.

The psychologists describe this dilemma as being ‘cognitively busy.’ It impairs social behaviour making you more likely to make selfish choices, use sexist language and make superficial judgements.

So if you think multitasking is the sign of a dynamic executive think again - you’d be better off taking a break and sitting quietly and thinking.

How to solve problems and make brilliant decisions. (Business Thinking Skills that really work) published by Pearson is coming out on November 12th 2014

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