“If you want to make me twice as smart and helpful, give me 10 minutes notice that we’re going to meet and what about.” This was my plea to a leader I worked with. He would drop in to discuss strategy for important and complex topics on a moments notice. This almost always caught me highly focused on another topic and made it difficult to switch gears and offer the quality of help that I expect of myself. It seemed as though everything was being dealt with as a crisis out of habit and preference rather than necessity and each topic was discussed and planned for individually and not as a system – or at least utilizing the same resources.
Tony Schwartz’s “why don’t we act in our own interest?” brought this all back to me. While the blog is familiar, the synthesis was new. The level of proactivity vs. reactivity that we focus our efforts and resources towards causes us to think differently, ultimately changing the interests (i.e., need or problem) we work to fulfill. We intuitively apply this, but it seems we don’t rationally consider how the time-focus of a planning effort changes how the mind works and impacts outcomes.
…we don’t make a connection between our current behavior and its future consequences. As Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi economist, put it, “Leaders don’t have time for the future because they’re too busy with the present.”
We’re familiar with the fight or flight instincts that are triggered in response to threat. We physiologically become dumber under these circumstances as blood leaves our brain towards our extremities to support the fighting or fleeing activities. I had not, however, considered that such a condition is created when we work on things that are of great urgency and perhaps importance. In my experience, importance becomes less clear with greater urgency and pressure. When we are fixated on short-term interests we make “dumb” decisions relative to our long-term interests. If we do this long-enough, we may not even be clear on what our long-term interests are. When we allow the focus of our efforts to be too urgent, it’s like bad ergonomics – the cumulative effects hurt you over time because you’re doing it wrong. You’re using parts of your brain intended for mere survival.
The good news is while we may “lack vision” or “have no strategy,” it’s likely as much a matter of process and not ability. This isn’t a new idea. It’s FranklinCovey’s Habit 1 – Be Proactive. When we work on things that are important and not urgent, we make better decisions because we literally plan differently and serve greater interests and values. The bad news is the environment always wins.
Do you reward crisis managers more than those who consistently deliver to plan and implement in a way that integrates?
Do you find yourself inflating the level of urgency of tasks (or procrastinating) because, if you’re honest with yourself, you prefer a crisis?
Are you bothered by the ambiguity of the not urgent but fundamentally important?