By WENDY LIOW
Can you stay focused in the dizzying world of universal connectedness? Maybe start by going on a digital detox retreat – they can help you to disconnect to reconnect.
Five thirty-eight in the morning, my little Toshiba laptop screen was staring down and nagging at me with an incessant hum as if daring me to break the silence of the early dawn. My fingers were resting lightly on the keypad as I struggled to write the first sentence.
You see, I was asked to write an article. The night before, I asked my colleague what they really wanted to read, or what they wanted me to write on. I was quite sure whatever I had to say probably had been said somewhere by someone out there. He texted me saying, “Write whatever your heart desires”.
That didn’t help. I felt like a 6-year-old walking into a well-stocked candy store with all the colours and hues of candies and not knowing which one I liked best.
My mind wandered. I fought to be aware of the thoughts in my head. The word ‘focus’ played in my mind. A train of thoughts began to form when suddenly an email popped into my inbox and my Apple watch buzzed to remind me to stand up and walk. My thoughts disappeared faster than I could say the word ‘focus’.
This familiar scene is played numerous times in many different places that have an internet connection – we fritter our time over triviality and allow ourselves to be distracted.
Yes, focus – why not write about it?
What’s happening to our attention span?
We are on the brink of probably the most economically disruptive Fourth Industrial Revolution, from the Internet of Things (IoT) to the Internet of Everything (IoE), i.e. everything from smart bed to smart car to smart everything. Yes, it disrupts everything – from the way we work, to the way we relate, communicate, learn, drive and sleep.
Technology has made our lives simpler, or so it seems. It has given us more time to do more with less. Multitasking is now a lifestyle and people wear it like a badge of honour and claim that they thrive better while multitasking in their lives.
Unfortunately, technology may not necessarily help us to focus or be more productive. It may have helped us to be more efficient, but not necessarily more productive. Our lives are more cluttered now than ever as we fill our lives with Facebook, social media and all the electronic distractions that we can get our hands on. I read that an average person picks up his/her device about 100 times a day and spends about 5–6 hours browsing the web using apps. This probably account for about one-third of the time a person is awake.
By now, we would have already experienced the effects of information overflow and suffered from withdrawal symptoms – we google everything and find ourselves less able to focus.
The constant stimuli is affecting our attention span and the multi-screening behaviour is disrupting the way we work together. We become less meaning-seeking. Instead, we search for the next dose of dopamine spike as we search for the next breaking news of the people we follow online.
This explains my slow start. It’s not that I don’t know what to write; it’s more on how do I translate my thoughts into a coherent piece. I started playing with words, removing and replacing words and these pre-writings are driving me nuts – all pointing to a very distracted mind.
The price of technology
A distracted mind is also an unfocused mind. Technology has caused product development cycle to shrink and cost of production to decline. It also bridged the distance between friends and our loved ones.
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However, it has also provided us with the perfect excuse to wander and be enticed by the “entertainment” that our digital technology provides us. It has diluted our attention span; our priorities; our focus.
We now expect more from our technology-enabled device than worry about not being focused. We are addicted to stay connected and have perfected the art of what Linda Stone, an executive at Apple and Microsoft Research called “continuous partial attention” – the modern predicament of being constantly attuned to everything without fully concentrating on anything.
No matter how many times we remind ourselves that we must focus on the people that we are with, we will continue to bask in the glow of smart phones and we will choose the virtual world of uber-connectedness. I am guilty as charged. Nomophobia or some people called it smart phone separation anxiety is real and is happening to many of us.
How do we fight for the scarce and transient resource called “attention” so that we can focus on what is important?
Knowing what to focus is key
Digital is here to stay.
Chief executive officers’ (CEO) attention and focus need to be directed at developing the ability to conceptualise how digital technologies can transform their business. They must not forget that it is strategy that drives transformation, and not technology.
They must also focus on building the digital literacy and competency of their people, including their own, besides building the right culture to foster the change to digital maturity. CEOs must also recognise that there are many competing priorities that can derail their companies. Only by staying focused on their strategy which typically entails customer, data and talents, can they hope to be a digitally sustainable organisation.
Now, what about our employees? What do they need to focus on to be resilient in a digitalised world brought about by the Industrial Revolution?
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In a digital world, companies moving up the digital maturity curve will find the functional boundaries more porous and organisational structure flattened to account for speedier collaboration and transparency. This dramatic change would require employees to take charge of their learning and develop a change-oriented mindset and collaborative skills to succeed.
Like their CEOs, employees must become more digitally literate and abandon the “not invented here” paranoia. Instead, they need to adopt “invent anywhere, share everywhere” mentality. Employees need to change how they think about their jobs and their roles. They must focus on how each part of the value chain comes together to create and protect the company’s competitive advantage.
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To succeed in a digital environment, employees must recognise that soft skills trump technology in driving digital transformation. They must also focus on exercising ownership and demonstrate their commitment to facilitate learning, sharing, coping and building a resilient digital organisation.
Bringing it all together
In summary, only those who are prepared to commit to a journey of reinvention have strategic risk appetite on where they invest their time and money. For this to happen, it requires them to set strategic ambition for digital and challenge the way they think about work. These are the people who will eventually reap the full potential of the Industrial Revolution.
So remember not to be seduced by our virtual world, but to bring our attention and focus back to our purpose where real, meaningful and authentic connections can be found. It just takes practice and less “screen time”. All the best!