Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Importance of Deep Work

Every once in a while a book shows up that, using an old Quaker phrase, speaks to your condition. This month, I have been doing a lot of thinking about all of the different leaders and organizations that I get to meet on a regular basis. In particular, I have been interested in why some thrive and others do not during the challenging times that we are living through right now. Having read this book, I discovered a new perspective.

In his book, Deep Work: Rules For Focused Success In A Distracted World, Grand Central Publishing, 2016, author Cal Newport describes deep work in the following manner: “Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.” Newport notes that “… if you study the lives of … influential figures from both distant and recent history, you’ll find that a commitment to deep work is a common theme.” From my recent reflections and work with a diversity of leaders, I realized that some of the best leaders I know have a regular thinking space clearly defined in their life, where they can step back and look at the bigger picture and work on the organization rather than in it.

In Deep Work, the author explains the following: “The reason knowledge workers are losing their familiarity with deep work is well established: network tools…. In aggregate, the rise of these tools, combined with ubiquitous access to them through smart phones and networked office computers, has fragmented most knowledge workers’ attention into slivers.” As he continues, “A 2012 McKinsey study found that the average knowledge worker now spends more than 60 percent of the workweek engaged in electronic communication and Internet searching, with close to 30 percent of a workers’ time dedicated to reading and answering e-mail alone.”

This lack of deep work generates “shallow work” which Newport defines in the following manner: “Non cognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.”

Now before we go any further on this subject, I agree with Cal Newport when he wrote, “Deep work is not some nostalgic affection of writers and early-twentieth-century philosophers. It’s instead a skill that has great value today.” As he further explains, “the ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and make it the core of their working life, will thrive.”

In this book, the author notes that “Current economic thinking … argues that the unprecedented growth and impact of technology is creating a massive restructuring of our economy. In this new economy, three groups will have a particular advantage: those who can work well and creatively with intelligent machines, those who are the best at what they do, and those with access to capital.” Therefore , the two core abilities for thriving in the new economy are the following:

“1. The ability to quickly master hard things.
2. The ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed.”

As he concludes, “If you want to become a superstar, mastering the relevant skills is necessary, but not sufficient. You must then transform that latent potential into tangible results that people value…. The two core abilities just described depend on your ability to perform deep work.”

There are many more insights and good information in this book. I hope the above provides you with enough information so you are interested to go and check out this new excellent resource. I found it very helpful and highly recommend it to others who are wanting to guide their team and their organization through the patterns of uncertainty, change and turbulence. Happy Reading!

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

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