Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Tweet is NOT Sweet

-- Did you watch the President's address to Congress this week? If you watched the audience of Senators and Representatives closely you saw some of them thumbing away, tweeting to their followers.
-- And your point is?
-- That's just it. There are millions of folks out there who don't find this a problem. You see, millions of folks are delusional. There are two points in that delusion that hit a nerve with me.

First point: Despite those who claim otherwise, we do NOT multi-task. What the brain is actually doing is switching from task to task quickly so it seems to our conscious minds we're doing more than one thing at a time. Here's some proof for you -- if you drive and talk on the phone (even hands free) you have the same chance of crashing as if you were drunk or stoned.

Test it out for yourself -- no, I don't mean drink and drive -- I mean watch the news on your favorite channel. Have someone else in the room sitting with eyes closed just listening to the news. As the news goes on in the central panel, you start reading the crawl at the bottom of the page. If they have one of those places that marks the time or the stock ticker, watch that for a while. If they have one of those pop ups for another show, be sure to watch that. In other words, consciously watch the way you may do it every day. After about 15 minutes, compare notes with the 'listener' about the news stories in the central panel.

If your recall is as good as that of the listener, write and tell me. But it won't be.

Those folks who were tweeting during the president's presentation would not be able to pass a simple test and certainly missed the subtleties, the flow of concepts, the rhetorical flourishes, and body language subliminal signals.

Too bad. How can you make a political or intellectual judgement or analysis if you weren't fully present....Oh, you recorded it? Sorry, it ain't the same as being there.

Point two: What sort of narcissist are you to believe that your every stray thought must be communicated to the universe. And what sort of poverty of mind do you have if you follow some one's every stray thought?
Every one's mind strays, even during a compelling situation. But people with their brain cells functioning train themselves to focus on the important. Think of hero-pilot "Sully." What if he were busy tweeting his stray thoughts while trying to land an airliner in the Hudson River? No, "nothing like the aspect of being hanged in the morning to concentrate your mind."

The framers of the U.S. Constitution were not a lot different from most of us. They knew how easy it was to lose focus or be carried away by their own narcissistic impulses. When they put together their rules for the Convention in 1787, they made a special point of insisting that no one was to write notes, read a newspaper, or talk with his neighbor during their discussions. No multi-tasking allowed. Why? They were astute observers of human nature and knew we could not do it. Period. The End.

And look what they did as they tried to tame their human inclinations. They sat on wooden chairs in the Pennsylvania State House six days a week from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. with no formal breaks, no designer water bottles, no snacks, no working lunches, no coffee breaks, no tweeting, no phone calls, no ipods, no scrolling...They did this for 4 months in a stuffy, hot, humid room. They listened to everyone -- even the windbags. They focused, they argued, they went back over old territory and reexamined it, they postured, they made good and bad arguments, they pondered, they considered and reconsidered. They wrote a Constitution that has stood the test of time for over 200 years with few amendments.

They weren't perfect. They were very much like us. They understood how easy it is to lose focus, so they worked hard to do as good a job as they could, without giving in to their tendency to be distracted.

We sing the praises of the distracted, multi-tasking, type A personalities. Are we getting more done? Are we getting more important things done? Are we creating greater significance for our own lives, the lives of others or the planet?

One of the most successful leaders I interviewed for my new book, Greg Swienton, the CEO of Ryder System, talked to me about the importance of true balance in one's life. He talked about the discipline of making real time for family, faith, community, and refreshing the spirit.

We could all learn a lesson from Greg and the framers. Stop tweeting and start communicating. Stop tweeting and start listening. Stop tweeting and get a grip on your own place in the cosmos.
(c) Rebecca Staton-Reinstein

Read more about Greg Swienton and other contemporary and historic leaders in Conventional Wisdom: How Today's Leaders Plan, Perform, and Progress Like the Founding Fathers.


samhornpop said...

Hey Rebecca:

I'm holding your book Conventional Wisdom in my hands. Whoo hoo.

Congrats on writing such an incisive book on how today's leaders can learn some valuable leadership lessons from our founding fathers.

Your book is full of intriguing, immediately useful ideas. Kudos.

Sam Horn, author of POP! and Tongue Fu!

Nanette Saylor said...

Thank you, Rebecca, for your refreshing reminder that deliberate, concentrated focus is a skill we must master if we intend to achieve our goals. As you say, in today's world, we have grown to measure productivity by quantity of activity rather than quality of results, often leading to scattered and disconnected plans.
I caution your readers against ignoring Twitter completely, however, since it is fast becoming a very effective marketing tool for certain audiences.