Do Less, Think More

May 28, 2019

An EVP at a client recently told me that his CEO takes two hours every morning to read the Wall Street Journal and New York Times cover to cover. “It feels antiquated,” he remarked.

“What would you rather she be doing?” I asked.

“Getting in there and helping to solve pressing problems.” He replied.

“Perhaps one more person down in your problems is the last thing you need,” I shared. “Perhaps her spending reflective time connecting dots across a wide variety of topics is going to keep the company from getting into future problems.”

“Maybe,” he begrudgingly smiled. “We have had an extremely successful 3 years.”

Two of the most stubbornly erroneous assumptions I find in organizational life are that activity = productivity; and thinking = daydreaming. We tend to pride ourselves on being busy as if it’s a proxy for adding value. It isn’t. Especially nowadays when it’s incredibly easy to be busy doing the wrong things.

Don’t get me wrong. Senior executives obviously need to do things. But they should balance the doing with the thinking. And for many, that balance is out of whack. There’s far too little time carved out to just think, alone and with others.

Here are a few recommendations I regularly share with clients:

  • Block off thinking time on your calendar
  • Meet with peer groups, both inside and outside your industry
  • Read voraciously, both inside and outside your industry
  • Regularly capture ideas you want teams to explore
  • Encourage debate and discussion of the key ideas with your team
  • Synthesize what comes out of the bullets above

We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.”

EO Wilson, Consilience