I have turned off my answerphone, removed the ability to leave messages on my mobile and banned anyone I know from copying me in on email. I have not and do not wish to become any sort of hermit, but I think that the the noise of so much communication, while giving the impression of productivity actually buries people in process and crowds out the space to think creatively.
I am trying to create a quiet mind – a mind in which you can concentrate on what’s important and create real value instead of being side tracked. I am increasingly aware that people I know and business I analyse are spending huge amounts of time and effort on process and are as a result, losing their way. They forget what it is that makes them or their organisations special. The concentration on process, the need and desire to be connected is draining their efforts to be creative.
One of the most insidious practices which creates noise is the CCd –email in which an email to one person is copied to lots of others who may have an interest in the subject.
The pretence is often that it brings everyone into the debate. The reality is that it is used to cover peoples backs burying recipients in messages.
The truth is that I can delete hundreds of emails at work without opening them and not miss a thing of importance. Because there is no monetary cost in sending an email it is assumed there is no actual cost, but there is. It is a cost of lost time and lost creativity.
Emails are only one of the noises which the quiet mind must try to expel.
One of the most famous presenters I ever worked with used to insist that his computer was removed from the studio during broadcast. In a fast moving programme in which running orders changed all the time during the broadcast, in which journalists wanted to keep their eyes on the wires so they could be aware of breaking news, this was not only odd but might have been considered quite reckless. If a news programme isn’t keeping its eyes on the news, what is it doing?
It was certainly brave and there was a risk the presenter could miss something. But what he lost was more than made up by what he gained. He considered, I think, that his prime job was to concentrate on what was being said. To analyse and dissect what interviewees were saying and to challenge them. He wanted to step back from the minutiae and take a broader look at the flow of the programme and the stories in it.
When I was interviewing someone, I could feel his eyes staring at me intently. This was a man who was concentrating on the job, focused and not distracted by the noise – both physical and metaphorical, of the newsroom around him.
When I first started presenting on Working Lunch on BBC 2 I would pride myself on being able to present live TV whilst on “Open Talk Back” – this meant I could hear everything being said in the gallery where producers and the director would often be shouting about problems and technical difficulties. I reasoned that if I could hear the problem developing I would be able to think of coping strategies if the technical staff were unable to fix it. Having an ear to the debate – gave me an edge I thought. I was right, it did. But it came at a cost – in trying to keep abreast of everything I wasn’t giving my full attention to my specific job.
Being constantly logged on and clued in to everything must mean you are not giving everything the attention it deserves. People’s abilities are not endless – they must make choices about what is important. Success amongst increasingly loud voices competing for our attention, therefore depends on creating space for the Quiet Mind.
Creating a place for the Quiet Mind, does not mean sitting quietly or meditating or in fact being very quiet. The Quiet Mind is one which is able to remove the noise around it, which helps the person remove the distractions of process and enables them to concentrate on the essence of the job.
The quiet is a busy mind, a focused mind and a productive mind.
The truth is that if you want to do something special you have to unplug, tune out and concentrate.