The Christmas holiday and some time away from work gave me the opportunity to catch up on some reading.
First was my long-awaited read of Nicholas Carr's "The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains." This book, by the author of "The Big Switch" and "IT Doesn't Matter," covers a timely issue using a provocative hypothesis (it was based an Atlantic Monthly article entitled "Is Google Making Us Stupid?"), painstakingly researched and artfully presented. "The Shallows" served as a wake-up call to me about how we internet-age humans are reacting to a glut of information unprecedented in human history. Our brains are literally re-wiring themselves in response to this, and the results are somewhere between unclear and galling.
Second was another in my long list of recent reads about congition and decision-making: "Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average" by Joseph T. Hallinan. While this book was well-written and about a topic I've spent a lot of time thinking about both in work (I'm old enough to remember Business Intelligence being referred to as "Decision Support") and personal contexts, there's not enough new ground covered here for it to be really valuable to anyone who has already read Jonah Lehrer, Leonard Mlodinow, or Dan Ariely's work along similar lines. The examples start to run together after a while, and one can only read about Milgram's electric shock experiments, for example, so many times.
My holiday reading provided two big ideas that I intend to implement in 2011 as New Year's resolutions:
- Be more present. Carr's and Hallinan's assertions about the fallacy of multi-tasking are well-supported by scientific research, and I need to devote more attention to devoting more attention. That means closing the laptop in meetings unless I'm researching something germane to the meeting, not answering e-mail while on conference calls, time-blocking better so that I can spend more time thinking deeply about our clients' challenges and less time in my Inbox and my instant messaging software. In a client-facing role, it's a challenge to balance depth with responsiveness, but the increase in my overall productivity and effectiveness should be a net "win" for my clients, my colleagues, my family and friends, and me.
- Be more aware of my biases in making decisions. Whether it's looking for patterns that aren't there (searching for meaning amid randomness), the inherent risk aversion that is human nature, skimming to take shortcuts (see resolution #1 above), or simply focusing too much on only things that can be easily observed, we all have biases that negatively impact our ability to make good decisions. I'm not saying my decisions will be better in 2011, but they'll be based on a better process due in part to the reading and learning cited here.
Happy New Year, and thanks for reading!
[flickr photo credit: "The Fixy Reader" by ganesha.isis used by permission under creative commons license]