Today I received over 209 email messages, had 35 postings on my Facebook page, uncountable listings on my Linkedin page, and several voice mail messages. This was after having methodically unsubscribed to legions of emails and registered on the “do not call” list. Of that tsunami of incoming messages, only about a half-dozen were at all relevant to my business or my life.
I am sure my numbers are just a scant portion of those that some of you receive. We are living at a time when the noise level of incoming messages has reached epic proportions. It’s like sitting in the front row of a rock concert. The level of noise is so great that you can’t discern a single word.
Alas, quantity has usurped quality. The negative implications, both on us individually, our businesses, and our society are staggering.
Here are a couple.
- We are losing the ability to think deeply.
There are some observations of human behavior that ring true regardless of the changing situations. One such is this observation from the famed educator, John Dewey:
“There is no greater enemy of effective thinking than divided interest.”
“Divided interest” is how much of the world, particularly the under 35-year-old generation, live their life. “Divided interest” occurs when your colleague looks at the texts on his cell phone in the middle of a conversation with you. You see it when a teenager texts while driving down the road. Flipping back and forward between three TV shows at one time is another example. It lives in your conference room when your executive team glances at their cell phones in the middle of a meeting.
While some of these folks may celebrate their ability to “multi-task,” the problem is that when you focus on multi-tasking, you trade the ability to think deeply about a few things for the practice of thinking shallowly about a lot of things. In other words, we have traded deep thought for superficial stimulation.
This harms your business in a multitude of ways. For example, you may find the solutions to your problems missing important details. You may find ‘knee jerk” reactions to customer problems, or superficial responses from the sales department to requests for proposals. You may find it takes longer to complete tasks. You may find your sales people being content with their current relationships instead of investing in new ones. In other words, in thousands of expressions, you see the symptoms of quick and superficial thinking, instead of the output from deeper, more substantial thought processes.
It may be harder to nail down in your business then it is in our larger society. A substantial portion of our society relishes their ability to carry on multiple conversations at the same time. Unfortunately, that is not a skill that advances the cause of mankind, nor lends itself to substantial contributions to anything. It’s hard to think deeply about anything when you are responding to three different people on your cell phone.
This lack of deep thought is beginning to infect our society, and we see the symptoms in multiple places. The current political division in our country is one such expression. There was a time when people who held different opinions could reasonably discuss them. That’s call ‘discourse.’ Now, of course, it is much more in style to leap to a superficial conclusion, paste a label on someone and proceed without having to think deeply about it.
It is much more popular to grab onto certain positions because the herd holds them, then it is to actually think about them in a meaningful way. It is easier and quicker to accept the sincere promulgations from an agenda-driven media then it is to look just a little bit under the surface.
2 . We are hindered from focusing on our highest priorities.
One of the pieces of advice I give people in my seminars is this: Focus, focus, focus. Ultimately, our ability to accomplish anything of substance requires that we focus our intellectual and emotional assets on that project. To accomplish the things that are most important to us, we need to focus, intentionally and methodically, on them.
Alas, the epidemic of noise prevents us from focusing. The tidal wave of distractions that fill our days robs us of the time and quiet that allows us to focus. As a result, our businesses and our careers linger in mediocrity; we never attain the potential that we have because we don’t focus properly on the most important, highest priorities. And we don’t focus properly because the noise distracts us and dissipates our energies.
Focusing on the highest priority tasks that are most worthy of our time and energy is an age-old strategy for living successfully. You may recall the sage advice from the Apostle Paul, writing in the New Testament book of Philippians:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)
It is impossible to think about the “true, noble, right and pure” when we too busy reacting to the latest kitten video on YouTube. The point is this: Our decisions and our actions bring us our results, and shape the quality of our lives and our businesses. Those decisions and actions proceed from our thoughts. If we think about the right things and do so deeply, we’ll make better decisions, enjoy a more successful life, and have a positive impact on people around us. If, on the other hand, we allow noise to occupy our thoughts, then we’ll think superficially about whatever presents itself, and we’ll make poor decisions and initiate ineffective actions. The result will be dull lives, insipid businesses and a society mired in mediocrity.