Smartphones, iPads, multitasking and not really “being there”

When I was ten, I asked my dad why we didn’t have a telephone like all the other kids’ families had. I remember his answer to this day. “If we had a phone, people would just call us.” My dad also didn’t believe in car radios. When I asked him why our car didn’t have a radio, he said: “It would be a distraction.”

Time and culture moved on and we did get a telephone and every car came with a radio whether you wanted one or not. I felt, like most children, that my dad must have been clueless, and I delighted in the laughter generated whenever I related the telephone story.

But as I think about it now, our new phone had a profound effect on our lives. Within a year, it had trained us to suspend WHATEVER we were doing to immediately respond to its ring. Without conscious thought, answering the phone became the most important thing in our lives. Just like Pavlov’s famous dog, we interrupted dinner, family discussions and homework to respond to the telephone’s bell.

This conditioning continued in the workplace. It didn’t matter what I was working on or who I was talking to — when the phone rang it became the most important thing. If I had someone in my office when the phone rang, they had to wait until I finished. Worse yet, even if I was making a presentation to a customer or reviewing a sensitive issue with my boss, when their office phone rang, I had to wait and then attempt to re-establish momentum when they hung up.

We ALL had been conditioned to believe that it was disrespectful to not respond immediately to that ring. I remember thinking about how disrespectful it was to the people who were forced to wait for me to get off the phone. How much time was wasted on re-establishing focus and flow on whatever was interrupted? That was the price we paid for being responsible, responsive and ring-centric. This behavior was what society demanded, what business etiquette required and what everyone expected, no matter what the costs.

Today, after over forty years of business experience (twenty of which have been devoted to facilitating team communication, focus and implementation), my eyes have been opened to the damage that such conditioning can cause. Distracted driving can lead to accidents. Distracted management can crash your company. Thanks to technological advances, the distractions are legion: smartphones, iPads, laptop computers and pagers, to name but a few.

Putting all devices into “airplane mode” is one the first rules I establish in any strategic planning meeting I facilitate. It isn’t good enough to put a phone on “vibrate,” since we are all conditioned to respond when the device “buzzes” us.

As the sales guru Tom Searcy wrote in one of his newsletters, “I watch 20-somethings thumbing texts, half-processing in a meeting, missing the critical issues, inflections and side-glances that tell all of the context to a comment or silence. Instant Messaging, FaceBook and constant access kill the awareness of nuance necessary for winning when selling. Pros listen at the cell-level, down to their DNA.”

Distraction is the enemy of successful selling, thinking … and strategic planning. Focus is essential to having a successful strategic planning meeting and to creating a meaningful, actionable strategic plan. (You may find that not everyone CAN turn their devices off. Their jobs may have been engineered to be so “hands-on” that their department can’t function without their real-time availability. Fixing that issue is a subject for a future blog.)

If you’re interested in having a facilitated strategic planning meeting that moves you from concept to tangible implementation, check out our service offerings online, contact us or better yet, give us a call at (800) 207-8192 to arrange for a complimentary consultation to determine if you are ready for strategic planning and our program is right for you.

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