Automation (or smart technology) is designed to simplify mundane tasks, allowing us to focus on complex issues. It has made factories safer, efficient offices, cars less accident-prone, and by some measures, gains in personal and professional productivity.
However, studies from UCLA, Yale, Harvard, Berkeley, the National Institutes of Health and NASA have concluded that people’s attention spans have decreased with the rise of these technologies.
People who are seemingly immune to this effect have the propensity to create pictures in their minds of what they expect to view in given situations. They tell stories to themselves in their minds of what is going to occur, so that if a variance is perceived it is quickly recognized. When communicating with them, they tend to answer questions with anecdotes instead of simple responses. They imagine future conversations and visualize their days with specificity. Psychologists call this “creating mental models.”
Two economists and a sociologist from MIT conducted a study on a midsized firm. They found that the superstar workers tended to work on no more than five projects at a time, the less productive worked on more. Normally one would conclude the superstars stayed in their comfort zone of skill sets, and repetition makes better. However, this was not the case; they found the opposite to be true. The superstar sought after new colleagues and demanded new abilities.
Surprisingly, they joined projects in the early stages when it was risky while the others did not. People tend to wait for a project to be underway when the risk of failure is low. Joining early, they were exposed to much more information, could shape the project and claim ownership of the success of the project if it succeeded. Lastly, the superstars loved to create theories about all kinds of topics. They obsessed trying to explain the world to themselves and their colleagues. They generated mental models of everything.
It turns out, people who know how to build robust mental models tend to earn more and achieve more in education.
The book discusses SMART goals, and how they can have some benefits. Unfortunately, they can become just another layer of bureaucracy. Researchers found in GE, who used SMART exclusively under Jack Welch, they became a means to make employees feel good but did not move the company forward. One anecdotal story was a secretary that would create a SMART memo for a task she had completed, and then put it in her DONE box because it made her feel good.
The researcher said that structured methods of choosing objectives triggered our need for closure in counterproductive ways. They can cause a person to tunnel vision, focus on effort not moving the company forward. People tend to jump on the easy tasks and become obsessed with finishing projects and then freeze the priorities. Your mindset is crossing things off of your To Do list.
Later, GE began conducting “Work-Out” a new way in which team members pitched ideas and managers had to accept or deny them on the spot. Think of it as brainstorming with attitude. The goal was to identify good ideas and then figure out how to plan for them afterward. GE found the excitement of the workouts was similar to the feeling traders felt in the stock market pits. Withing GE the excitement caught on and everyone wanted to join in with the excitement. The workouts became so successful; other companies began copying the idea. The bottom line was GE employees generated much better ideas/goals and the company became very profitable utilizing this strategy.
To Be Continued………