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Lids Down

One of the downsides of working in tech isn’t just that you are surrounded by seriously distracted people, but you become one over time. Nearly every tech company I’ve worked in bears one common management practice that needs to change – the constant presence of managers distracted by devices during crucial conversations.

I’ve struggled with the notion of banning laptops from meetings. They are such a powerful tool when used well – but they rarely are. The glow of the screen has roughly the distraction power of a tub of ice cream, or, as Clay Shirky says more ominously – second-hand smoke.

I’m now convinced that any meeting can improve if computers and any other digital distraction is removed. Print the agenda before going in. Produce minutes in the 10 minutes following – bash them out. And if time doesn’t allow, allow the first five minutes of any meeting for prep, and the last ten for reviewing the minutes. Meetings with Bezos start with everyone reading the papers for the meeting ahead.

Statistically you will do better. Take the impact of banning laptops from the classroom.

We found that participants who multitasked on a laptop during a lecture scored lower on a test compared to those who did not multitask, and participants who were in direct view of a multitasking peer scored lower on a test compared to those who were not. The results demonstrate that multitasking on a laptop poses a significant distraction to both users and fellow students and can be detrimental to comprehension of lecture content.

Focus on the conversation not only increases, but how we are interacting. The presence of devices not only dulls our ability to process and contributing to the conversation – but also our ability to determine how we should best react to the conversation.

Improving the quality of decision making doesn’t require we completely banish the computer – but rather we put it to good use when and were we need it, and then recognise the conversation can’t happen with its glow present. Or at best, the quality of the conversation wont be what we want. Clay points to a brilliant analogy:

Jonathan Haidt’s metaphor of the elephant and the rider is useful here. In Haidt’s telling, the mind is like an elephant (the emotions) with a rider (the intellect) on top. The rider can see and plan ahead, but the elephant is far more powerful. Sometimes the rider and the elephant work together (the ideal in classroom settings), but if they conflict, the elephant usually wins.

So, which conversation are you going to focus on in 2015 – the one in front of you but not present, or the one in front of you and present.

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