“The Immediately Relevant” is Quite a Danger to the Pursuit of the Longer-Term Relevant – (Insight from Douglas Rushkoff, Present Shock)


This morning, in the midst of a helpful, thought-provoking presentation by business consultant Peter Sorenson, my mind took off on a tangent or two. (So did the “group mind” – we had a pretty wide-ranging discussion prompted by Pete’s presentation at this morning’s session of IMC DFW).

present shockHere’s one tangent. If we are living in an era of Present Shock, and we are, then how to do we do our deep work? In his book Present Shock, Douglas Rushkoff describes the world we live in now:

If the end of the twentieth century can be characterized by futurism, the twenty-first can be defined by presentism.

It’s akin to the onslaught of changing rules and circumstances that 1970s futurist Alvin Toffler dubbed “future shock.” Only, in our era it’s more of a present shock. And while this phenomenon is clearly “of the moment,” it’s not quite as in the moment as we may have expected.

… we tend to exist in a distracted present, where forces on the periphery are magnified and those immediately before us are ignored. Our ability to create a plan—much less follow through on it—is undermined by our need to be able to improvise our way through any number of external impacts that stand to derail us at any moment. Instead of finding a stable foothold in the here and now, we end up reacting to the ever-present assault of simultaneous impulses and commands. But we are also in danger of squandering this cognitive surplus on the trivial pursuit of the immediately relevant over any continuance of the innovation that got us to this point.

In other words, we have these important longer-term things to do, but we lose our focus, are taken off focus, by an unending stream of immediate demands. Thus, our deep expertise, that can only be built layer by layer, is threatened by not-so-deep attention given to the possibly not-terribly-relevant demand of the moment.

Yes, I get the wisdom of being fully present to the task at hand. But, if some new interruption knocks us off focus, we are not fully present long enough on the task we should stick with.

Or, to quote Mr. Rushkoff again, “the trivial pursuit of the immediately relevant” is quite a danger to the pursuit of the longer-term relevant.

 

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