In today’s business environment, the pressure to succeed on multiple levels is greater than ever before. Many of us are faced with increasing competing demands, and while technology allows us to work in a way that suits our lifestyles, we rarely switch off. As Bill Gates famously said, “We are changing the world with technology.” The world has been revolutionised through technological advances, yet to what extent have we reshaped our own environments to accommodate these without detracting from the behaviours and the values that are in our make-up?
The working environment has changed dramatically over recent years. Not so long ago, offices were built with boundaries – multiple closed rooms, with areas to work in concentrated silence. Today’s office is far removed from that of the past – most likely open plan, buzzy and adorned with screens. More vibrant and creative, but a space that is accompanied by what is a constant feature within our lives – noise.
Noise takes many forms at work, from dialogue with a colleague or a client, to email and meeting notifications that constantly vie for our attention. And then there is social media – twitter feeds, news alerts, Facebook requests – all competing for our attention. As we work to succeed in this often-frenetic working environment, this can be to the detriment of the most powerful ingredient for success – thought.
As a leadership coach, I often challenge my clients to consider what success looks like. For many, a positive leadership experience is one where teams are on board and have a mutual vision for the future. Thoughtfulness manifests itself – and allowing ourselves and the people around us the space to pause and think can have powerful consequences. So, how do we do this? The space to think should be intrinsic within a working environment, and if it is not, employers must empower their people to work in a way through which they can to create this space.
Varying working environments also pays dividends in stimulating thought. Innovators such as Google and Apple are renowned not only for their advances, but also for the unique environments they have created for their staff – spaces that inspire creativity and thought. And this need not be restricted to Silicon Valley – if you or your team need a creativity boost, break the mould. Whether visiting a business partner with an innovative culture or simply rearranging the format of a meeting room, the benefits can be immense.
The most effective means of encouraging our teams to think is by embedding this within a company’s operating rhythm – challenging employees to consider an issue at a scheduled the time, on a periodic basis. Using team meetings to give everyone the opportunity to convey their view will encourage teamwork and unlock the power of this collective thought.
Trust is also key in provoking thought – take time to understand your employees in order to build a ‘virtual closeness’ through which they can operate in the environment they need to flourish on that task, at that time.
And there is much that we can do to enhance our own ability to think. Firstly, understand the type of person that you are. If you are a natural multitasker, thinking may require attention. Dynamic individuals will benefit from deliberately stepping back and pausing for thought. Understand when you function best – some of us are morning thinkers; others thrive at the end of the day. Draw on this insight to actively build thinking time into your schedule. Become aware of your susceptibility to social media and other distractions – and don’t be afraid to switch off a device if this will give you the freedom you need to think.
Thinking is not only a luxury in today’s digital age, but it is critical in empowering us to make informed decisions, be confident in our actions and, effectively, mitigate risk. Despite the pressures posed to respond and act promptly and efficiently in today’s digital age, staying true to the power of thought will pay dividends in our ability to succeed – individually and collectively.