When was the last time you had an experience that made you feel a ‘buzz right down to your toes?’ An experience that created a sense of ‘well-being and aliveness?’
Ten years ago, to the day, Kip Voytek gave a brilliant Ignite talk describing such an experience after seeing David Jacobi perform King Lear.
Wondering why he didn’t have that same feeling working in tech, Kip began to identify his own behaviours; focusing specifically how he should redirect his attention, including:
- Building interior objects – try and find things that are worth pondering. Soul objects, as he called them, that can grow with ones self.
- Changing web habits of “skipping stones across the lake” speeding through possibilities. To stop looking for the next thing, instead look deeper into what’s being experienced in the present.
- Seeking out the voice rather than a purveyor of factoids. To that end, stay away from the pablum that was/is Wikipedia.
As it turns out, Kip’s approach to getting that “buzz” back in his digital life aligns with the latest studies in how humans must focus to get better outcomes.
Multitasking Is a Myth
One of my favourite books that I devoured last year was The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight In A World of Information Overload by Neurologist Daniel J. Levitin.
I’ve always been fascinated by studies of how our minds work; and why we can’t be as productive and creative in specific situations and environments.
As Dr. Levitin points out, our brains do not have the ability to multitask. In fact, multitasking leads to less creative outcomes and poor decision making.
Specifically, multitasking leads to “decision fatigue” to which there are solutions that parallel the ideas Kip shared ten years ago, including:
- Move important decisions to the start of the day. This is similar to the notion of not “skipping stones across the lake”, or cognitively switching between many different ideas. Instead, focus at a time when you have a full tank of glucose; the chemical that fuels our brain.
- Did you know? Your brain has to make 5 or 6 decisions in a single email! To improve productivity Levitin recommends shutting off email and other push notifications to be productive. In a similar fashion, Kip discussed the idea of building “soul objects”. This is important as decision fatigue negatively impacts our ability to enjoy our lives outside of work.
- Levitin also suggests focusing on a premortem in an effort to make informed choices, such as medical decisions. Specifically how to ask questions, starting with the number to treat for any medical decisions. This aligns nicely with Kip’s approach of seeking out the voice rather than all of the purveyors of “facts”.
Better Outcomes Requires Focus
It is remarkable how habitually we ignore the human mind as we perpetually perseverate on moving faster. Perhaps it’s time to work smarter and not harder?
In 2015 we had access to over 300 exabytes of information! In essence, there are no more secrets only information we don’t take the time to focus on with the intention of understanding.
To expect people to keep up with the complexity and speed of the machines we are building ignores what we know scientifically about an individuals’ requirement to focus.
As King Lear himself proclaimed in Act 2, Scene 4:
“O, THAT WAY MADNESS LIES; LET ME SHUN THAT.”
As the groundbreaking director and cofounder of the Royal Shakespeare Company Peter Brook noted, good theatre depends on a good audience.
IF GOOD THEATRE DEPENDS ON A GOOD AUDIENCE, THEN EVERY AUDIENCE HAS THE THEATRE IT DESERVES. YET IT MUST BE VERY HARD FOR SPECTATORS TO BE TOLD OF AN AUDIENCE’S RESPONSIBILITY. HOW CAN THIS BE FACED IN PRACTICE? IT WOULD BE A SAD DAY IF PEOPLE WENT TO THEATRE OUT OF DUTY. ONCE WITHIN A THEATRE AN AUDIENCE CANNOT WHIP ITSELF INTO BEING ‘BETTER’ THAN IT IS. IN A SENSE THERE IS NOTHING A SPECTATOR CAN ACTUALLY DO. AND YET THERE IS A CONTRADICTION HERE THAT CANNOT BE IGNORED, FOR EVERYTHING DEPENDS ON HIM.The Empty Space: A Book About the Theatre: Deadly, Holy, Rough, Immediate by Peter Brook 1968
Brook went on to describe how audiences who could barely understand English while on tour between Budapest and Moscow brought out a greater depth in the actors’s performances.
The recent historical experiences of each culture at that point in history, along with the attentiveness of the audience brought actors into the essence of each character. The net result were the best performances on tour, to date.
However, when they went back to America, the audience attending the plays were there for other reasons, such as a date night or simply as a social event to attend for something to do on the weekend.
While the actors did their best, Brook described performances over seas as far superior to the plays in America drawing a direct correlation to the audience and their purpose for attending.
Metaphorically speaking, if we want to be a better audience to those with whom we are engaging, I believe we must seek out those soul objects that Kip described ten years ago.
To find such objects, we mustn’t ignore the science that demands we focus our attention on one thing. Working longer and harder results only in a greater number of poor choices and less creative outcomes.