I challenge you to spend 16 minutes reading this entire article, Is Google Making us Stupid, by Nicholas Carr. I’ve had this article bookmarked for a couple of weeks, since a contact sent it to me after a related lunch discussion. After several tries, I finally got through it in its entirety, while in my highest concentration zone, the window seat of a late evening flight. Despite the fact that the article is a fascinating topic and well written, it took extreme willpower to concentrate. My mind wanted to take a break – to write about all the thoughts the article spurred, to click on the links in the article, to calculate what time I was going to get home. So I realize a 16 minute read can be a real challenge. You’d be much more likely to watch a video I sent you or go spend 16 minutes on an interactive website. And that’s exactly the topic of the article.
The article is a deep dive into how our brains collect and process information, now that we are more likely to read snippets of information on the internet versus longer topics in books and articles. Our brains are getting reprogrammed, and the outcome may not be good. As Carr states, “My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski”. He cites anecdotal and more scientific evidence that we may be in the midst of a major shift in how we think.
For those of you familiar with Myers-Briggs, the strong N (iNtuitive) in me is really frustrated with the deluge of information that an S (Sensing) person might thrive upon. When I take in all this information, my tendency is to start making relationships, creating frameworks, generating new ideas. So as for me, that’s what I often do, I leave the computer for the whiteboard or pick up my phone and call my business partner, Jim. I literally have to step away from the computer to get back into my thinking zone. I know that I can’t really think while drinking from the firehose of data, so I take measures to make sure that I am doing thinking. Perhaps this new mode of information processing is more suited to some personality types than others? But I digress, as I often do when talking about Myers-Briggs.
If Carr is right, what does all this mean for the knowledge worker? Even more importantly, what does it mean for executives leading companies? One of the key drivers for increased performance is providing more timely, more accurate information to decision makers. With good business intelligence solutions, executives are able to begin at their company dashboard and dig into problem areas, slicing and dicing data in many different ways to form conclusions and make decisions. But is it possible executives are drowning in data, way too focused on firefighting to be strategic? They are better able to react, able to surf from crisis to crisis, but missing the ability to connect it all together and be strategic. Individuals and teams need to be aware of what may be happening to their individual brains and their group thinking and make sure to take the time to step away to think in a different way.