As I have observed many times, there are themes that crop in multiple books. And when this happens, I think they hint at true truth. That is, the kind of truth that is genuinely important, something to pay a lot of attention to.
Here’s one that was reemphasized again this morning. My colleague Karl Krayer presented his synopsis of The Way We’re Working isn’t Working, the new book by Tony Schwartz. And the book, with lots of really useful counsel, says this about our multitasking world:
The most surprising drawback of multitasking is the growing evidence that it isn’t even efficient… Once we’re distracted by something new, we often forget about the original task… The ultimate consequence of juggling many tasks is not superficiality but rather overload.
There are so many books and articles that are making this point in one way or another. The point is this:
MULTITASKING DOES NOT WORK!
Singletasking is the need of the hour, not multitasking.
Here are some other quotes to reinforce this now seemingly everywhere-present theme:
From ReWork by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson:
Instead, you should get in the alone zone. Long stretches of alone time are when you’re most productive. When you don’t have to mind-shift between various tasks, you get a boatload done.
During alone time, give up instant messages, phone calls, e-mail, and meetings. Just shut up and get to work. You’ll be surprised how much more you get done.
From The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp:
The irony of multitasking is that it’s exhausting; when you’re doing two or three things simultaneously, you use more energy than the sum of energy required to do each task independently. You’re also cheating yourself because you’re not doing anything excellently. You’re compromising your virtuosity. In the worlds of T. S. Eliot, you’re “distracted from distractions by distractions.”
From Superfreakonomics by Levitt and Dubner:
A person using a computer experiences “cognitive drift” if more than one second elapses between clicking the mouse and seeing new data on the screen. If ten seconds pass, the person’s mind is somewhere else entirely.
I think the jury is in. Learn to singletask, really well. Work with depth and attention and focus on one-thing-at-a-time.
You can leave the multitasking to those who will be left behind by their lack of focus.
Coming for the November First Friday Book Synopsis – Tapscott’s Macrowikinomics, and Derailed: Five Lessons Learned from Catastrophic Failures of Leadership
We had a wonderful morning at the October First Friday Book Synopsis. Karl presented a synopsis of the terrific new Tony Schwartz (et. al) book, The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working: The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance.
I presented my synopsis of The Power of Positive Deviance: How Unlikely Innovators Solve the World’s Toughest Problems by Richard Pascale, Jerry Sternin, and Monique Sternin, which described how the worst problems can be solved — in fact, in many cases have already been solved – by the successful “positive deviants” found in almost any and every group.
Both books were really good, useful, challenging, books. We will have our synopses, with handouts + audio, up on our companion web site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com, available in a couple of weeks.
For next month, (the first Friday of November, November 3), we have chosen these two books. Karl will present Derailed: Five Lessons Learned from Catastrophic Failures of Leadership by Tim Irwin, Patrick Lencioni (Foreword).
And I will present a synopsis of the brand new book by Don Tapscott (et. al) Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World. (I can’t wait to read this!) His earlier book, Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything (which I presented at the May, 2007 First Friday Book Synopsis), is a genuinely significant book in this/for this connected age.
If you are in/will be in the DFW area, come join us on November 3. As one enthusiastic participant said this morning – “great content, really good food, great networking – the best event I attend each month.”
It’s 5:00am on the last day of September and I’m at the Adirondak Loj near Lake Placid, New York. Removing oneself from the regular routine of daily life and relationships is the fast and easy way to gain new perspective, to get “outside and slightly elevated.” (Yes, some call this a “vacation”.)
Here, systematically of course, my writing occurs in the very early mornings followed by climbing one mountain or another. I return exhausted in mid-afternoon. I used to come to the Loj every autumn to hike and climb but for one reason or another have missed the last six seasons. Still, I find myself among a dozen acquaintances who rendezvous here this time each Fall. It’s good to see old friends again. And it’s gorgeous here, rich and lush: The hardwoods are in full blaze, beautifully contrasted with the evergreens. It’s been wet and the streams are gushing.
Three days ago, as I started upward on my first climb of the week, I was jolted by the realization of how much my life has improved since I last visited this place. By re-inserting myself in these unchanged mountains, the magnitude of the improvement of my life suddenly umps out at me, obvious and vivid. Relationships, freedom, money – everything – my life is just what I’ve always wanted. By light years, every tangible life-element has dramatically improved, and the simple cause of it is obvious too: It’s the result of the simple head-tweak I made ten years ago. (But yes, there was a single glitch as I arrived here: The too-stressed mindset that I dragged along…which I thoroughly dispatched via Tuesday and Wednesday’s hard-core, drenched and windy climbs of Algonquin Peak and Mt. Marcy).
It’s been four days now and it’s been a good break but I am very much looking forward to Saturday when Linda and my daughter Jenny rendezvous with me in Boston. Sunday, we’ll partake in the perennial Yankees/Red Sox last-game-of-the-regular-season mayhem at Fenway, then head to NYC. After that, Jenny goes home and Linda and I will tour New England, with a jog north to Montreal. Then, when we feel like it, we’ll head back to Bend to relieve the house-sitter.
About this “bad systems-thinking” series of posts. The idea of pointing out self-sabotaging cyclical thought processes came to me months ago, back in Oregon. But in this remote hiking outpost, I’m suddenly enthusiastic about beginning the series. Over the next months I’ll tackle the bad systems-thinking issue randomly, each time describing three to five system mind-traps that used to paralyze me, keeping me far-removed from freedom and wealth. I’ll mix the profound with the trivial and as usual, the simple solution will be harped upon. Like the occasional newsletters, I’ll randomly intersperse this topic with others.
Is describing bad systems-thinking a negative approach? Yes, but it’s necessary if we’re to get to the root of things, the only place where permanent change can occur. To lay the groundwork for a mindset that will make freedom and wealth happen, we must first precisely see the dysfunctional thinking protocols that are gumming the works. Once inefficient systems-thinking is identified it can be removed, leaving room for system patterns that do contribute to life goals.
The breakthrough comes when systematic thinking patterns are made visible.
Life enhancing thinking patterns are inside you right now, patiently waiting to replace the negative ones you are about to eliminate. You know what the good ones are, and you could sit down and list them if someone asked you to do that. You’ve been learning them since the second grade (“pay attention, be kind, work hard, stay calm and patient, think-outside-the-box,” and so on). But for too many of us these positive, control-inducing thinking protocols are functioning part-time, or they’re downright dormant as negative thinking patterns ruthlessly shove them aside. Yet, it’s an absurdly simple thing, to drag our damaging system proclivities into the sunlight where they can be terminated, and then to re-energize the efficient thinking patterns that have been there all along.
Do this and, increment-by-increment and with increasing velocity, you’ll seize control of things so you can get what you want out of this you-only-get-one-chance life gift.
1. Endlessly riding the emotional horse. Plato said, “…we must use the reins of reason upon the horse of emotion.” I love that and it’s a good place to start this series because it’s so fundamental a reminder that too many of us ram through life assuming our emotional state alone will get us where we want to go. We say, if I could just maintain a positive attitude, things will fall into place! But, this is just another one of those great sounding theories that doesn’t work. Life is more pragmatic than that. Like anyone else, I wallow in both the ups and downs of emotion, but I see these sine wave gyrations as products of the mechanical results of my life, not the other way around. How to get off the horse? Deep inside, know that emotion has nothing to do with reaching goals. Mechanical efficiency does. The mechanics come first! Get them right and positive emotions will follow.
2. Frittering away time. On any one day, how many times do we see people “passing time” in mind-numbing frivolity? Useless TV, senseless text-messaging, drugs and alcohol and stupid, endless coffee-shop Seinfeld-like chatter about nothing at all. And it’s no coincidence these are people frustrated about not getting what they want out of life. Time-fritter is a horrible, systemic rut that squanders valuable life-moments that can’t be replaced. The alternative? Invest “spare” moments in making tangible advances along life-goal trajectories.
3. “Smart” phone obsession. There is no question it’s an addiction, and an addiction is a recurring thinking cycle that absorbs one’s being, leaving little room for anything else…like planning and executing strategies to create freedom and wealth for oneself and others. My ten year old granddaughter has one of these phones. So do most of my friends, some of whom pack them around as if they were sacred religious objects. It’s obsessive, to be so attached to such a device. (And, funny, they admit it.) Yes, of course communication is important, but how much, and at what price? Anyway, there are other things that are more important than endless connection. Peace-of-mind is one. A tangential and focused thought-process is another. Let your smart phone run free and it will make you stupid. The alternative: As a routine, keep it turned off and only use it when you need it. With its jarring and insidious presence, don’t let it steer your day.
* * *
Carpenter is a resident of Bend, Oregon, author of Work the System: The Simple Mechanics of Making More and Working Less as well as a prominent speaker. He has been featured by hundreds of media, including NPR, ESPN radio, US News Radio, and Small Business Television. President and CEO of Centratel (http://www.centratel.com/), the premier telephone answering service in the United States, he has a background in engineering, publishing, telecommunications and journalism. Carpenter founded and oversees Kashmir Family Aid (http://www.kashmirfamily.org/), a 501c3 non-profit that aids surviving school children of the Northern Pakistan and Azad Kashmir earthquake of October 2005. Originally from upstate New York, and an Oregonian since 1975, Carpenter’s outside interests include mountaineering, skiing, cycling, reading, traveling, photography and writing. He is married to Linda Carpenter who works with him as CFO at Centratel.
I read this book when it was first published in 1966, re-read it after an unexpected opportunity to meet Alan Watts just before he died (in 1973), and then re-read it again recently after having recommended it highly to a close personal friend. Long ago, I became convinced that the nature and extent of any book’s impact are almost entirely dependent on (a) the nature and extent of our life experiences when reading a book and (b) the nature and extent of our ability to absorb and digest whatever that book may offer. Watts’s The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are offers an excellent case in point. Frankly, Watts’s personal impact on me now is greater than were the first and second readings of his book. At the beginning of our brief encounter, I immediately sensed his stunning intellect and compelling decency. More impressive by far was a sense of his spirituality. It was most evident in his eyes and tone of voice. More then twenty years later, I re-read The Book. What follows is an admittedly clumsy attempt to share my thoughts and feelings about it.
First, with regard to the title and subtitle, Watts explains that “The Book I am thinking about [and later wrote] would not be religious in the usual sense, but it would have to discuss many things with which religions have been concerned — the universe and man’s place in it, the mysterious center of experience which we call ‘I myself.’ the problems of life and love, pain and death, and the whole question of whether existence has meaning has meaning in [in italics] any sense of the word.”
With regard to the subtitle, Watts explains that there is no need for a new religion or a new bible. “We need a new experience — a new feeling of what it is to be ‘I.’ The lowdown (which is, of course, the secret and profound view) on life is that our normal sensation of self is a hoax, or, at best, a temporary role that we are playing, or have been conned into playing — with our own tacit consent, just as every hypnotized person is basically willing to be hypnotized. The most strongly enforced of all known taboos is the taboo against knowing who or what you really are behind the mask of your apparently separate, independent, and isolated ego.”
So, that was the book Watts was thinking about writing, and, the taboo to which he devotes most of his attention (directly or indirectly) throughout the book he eventually wrote.
What do I now think of this book? First, it retains its ecumenical spirit but in ways and to an extent I did not fully appreciate years ago. Watts is very respectful of all of the major religions, at least in terms of the common values they affirm; however, he also suggests (and I agree) that those values have been concealed by layer-after-layer of doctrine, policy, and procedure. Watts’s point: “The standard-brand religions, whether Jewish, Christian, Mohammedan, or Buddhist, are — as now practiced — like exhausted mines very hard to dig.” Also, I am again struck by the fact that Watts suggests a mindset that is inclusive, tolerant (and when appropriate, forgiving…especially of self), and at all times determined to continue a process of self-discovery. It seems that he wrote this book because he had become concerned about man’s alienation from himself (herself) as well as from other human beings and from the physical world within which all of us struggle to achieve (in Abraham Maslow’s terms) survival, then security, and eventually self-fulfillment.
This is not a book for dilettantes. Watts is quite serious when posing questions so easily phrased but so difficult to answer, at least responsibly. In his view, “for thousands of years human history has been a magnificently futile conflict, a wonderfully staged panorama of triumph and tragedies based on the resolute taboo against admitting that black goes with white [i.e. that diametrically opposed forces can co-exist, indeed nourish each other]. Nothing, perhaps, ever got nowhere with so much fascinating ado.” Having recently re-read this book, I was reminded of what Whitman observed in Song of Myself: “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.”
I am also reminded of the key concept in Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death. He acknowledges that all of us die eventually. Only the suicide decides the circumstances in which physical death occurs. However, Becker suggests that there is another death that CAN be denied: That which occurs when we become totally preoccupied with fulfilling others’ expectations of us.
For me, that is the essential point in The Book. Watts concludes with a quotation of James Broughton’s observations:
This is It
and I am It
and You are It
and so is That
and He is It
And She is It
and It is It
and That is That.
“To come on like IT — to play at being God — is to play the Self as a role, which is just what it isn’t. When IT plays, it plays at being everything else.”
“Who am I?” Alan Watts offers this book that can help to answer that question. However, the inevitably perilous journey of self-discovery can only be completed by each of us. And that journey may require many years of frustration and confusion…without any guarantee that any of us will reach the destination we seek. Our choice. It always was, is…and will be.
Here are ten quotations that caught my eye. I will have dozens of opportunities to use each of them in a variety of different situations (e.g. emails, proposals, formal presentations, reviews, blog posts). If you have others to share, I hope you will do so.
And again, I highly recommend The Yale Book of Quotations, brilliantly edited by Fred R. Shapiro and published by Yale University Press.
1. “It may be the cock that crows, but it is the hen that lays the eggs. If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.” Margaret Thatcher
2. “I have been up against tough competition all my life. I wouldn’t know how to get along without it.” Walt Disney
3. “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.” Yogi Berra
4. “Play the game for more than you can afford to lose… only then will you learn the game.” Winston Churchill
5. “A hypocrite is the kind of politician who would cut down a redwood tree, then mount the stump and make a speech for conservation.” Adlai E. Stevenson
6. “A company is only as good as the people it keeps.” Mary Kay Ash
7. “I don’t think anyone should write their autobiography until after they’re dead.” Samuel Goldwyn
8. “I have an existential map. It has ‘You are here’ written all over it.” Steven Wright
9. “Bureaucrats: they are dead at 30 and buried at 60. They are like custard pies; you can’t nail them to a wall.” Frank Lloyd Wright
10. “If God wanted us to fly, He would have given us tickets.” Mel Brooks