How can you enhance your ability to retain important information? One of the insights from our recent Masterclass on Innovation was that focusing less, rather than more, may be the answer – and good old fashioned ‘doodling’ (that is, scribbling without purpose) is one way to go about it.
I’m always happy to experiment with new ideas that our Research Team finds when exploring an upcoming Future of Work theme. It’s fun to put theory into practice and I also learn a lot about myself and my working preferences in the process. So, this week, I’ve been doodling… and here’s what I’ve found.
Like many organisations, we here at Hot Spots work in an open plan office, so concentration can sometimes be tricky. For example, when I am on a call, taking notes and thinking about questions while office life goes on in the background is difficult. Of course practice makes perfect, but towards the end of a call my brain just gets tired and the background noise distracts me.
According to our research, however, doodling can help me capture and retain the information I’m hearing and can even help my brain resist distraction.
So, in addition to the usual notes on key points, next steps, and deadlines that I normally take during a call, this week I sketched a mish-mash of words, lines, and figures (see photo left).
The result? I remembered more of the details, and when I looked at the different parts of the doodle, I was able to recall the conversation more vividly. Even more interesting is that I can still remember it, weeks later. My brain was unconsciously and unintentionally more engaged.
The most difficult aspect for me was getting the balance right. Focusing on what I hear rather than what I draw. The line between active listening and unconscious scribbling is a thin a one, but you will know when you get it right. Drawing while actively listening is what helps you remember 29% more of the conversation, according to neuroscience. Dr Srini Pillay, one of the speakers at our Innovative Organisation Masterclass, spoke about how doodling occupies our brain just enough to stop it from daydreaming, improving our focus at the same time. 
As it turns out, doodling has some serious cognitive benefits and can be more effective than conventional note-taking. I must say it felt strange at first: I was going against the idea that taking notes is the only sign of focus and concentration. However, when you see someone pointlessly scribbling in a meeting, they might just be on to something.
I’d love to hear other people’s views and experiences on this. Are you convinced of the benefits of doodling, or is it just a distraction? Add comments below
 Innovative Organisation Masterclass. (2016). Future of Work Research Consortium.
A little while back, I wrote about Keynes’ prediction that our greatest challenge today would be what to do with all the leisure time we now have as a result of technology doing all the work that previously kept us occupied
My conclusion was – as you’re probably only too well aware – this problem doesn’t seem to have materialised as we’ve just filled the time with even more work in pursuit of increased productivity, higher incomes and better standards of living.
This debate has taken a new turn in recent months as we ask a more nuanced question about the role of technology in our lives, questioning the fundamental case for technology progression at all: Do we really want to be more productive? What are the unintended consequences of having technology make the little things in life easier and easier?
My thinking on this was sparked by a fascinating depiction of a day of our lives in 2030 by Vodafone’s Head of Product Management, Sally Fuller. In this utopia/dystopia, as I wake up my coffee machine is alerted by the sensors under my skin that I will soon be vying for my caffeine hit. By time I’ve walked downstairs to the kitchen, there it is – my latte, good to go – while my self-driving car programmes itself ready to take me to a meeting location that it already knows. And so it continues… a completely frictionless day during which I waste no time on menial tasks like making a cup of coffee or programming a SatNav.
On the one hand this sounds fantastic. Maybe as a result I’ve saved enough time to get to that early morning Yoga class or meet an equally tech-enabled friend for breakfast before work, in which case this technology development has enriched my life by giving me the opportunity to do things that enhance my vitality and enjoyment.
Alternatively, I find myself in a context whereby all my similarly augmented colleagues (seem to be) using this time to work harder, for longer, and to produce more. In this scenario, the extra time simply amplifies the already hyper-competitive nature of work, fuelling anxiety and burnout, and removing from my day the few legitimate opportunities I had to defocus while doing something simple.
Both scenarios are plausible and we see versions of both playing out today as a result of the technological progress we’ve experienced so far: the emergence of the leisure industry to facilitate those great experiences and, simultaneously, an intensification of work with those on the highest incomes now working more hours rather than less in order to stay ahead of the competition.
Perhaps then, the key message is that we need to be conscious – as individuals and managers within organisations – about how we use this time ourselves and how we signal to others that they should use this time too. Particularly in light of the fact that, as technology continues to replace repetitive, routine tasks, the work we humans will be left with will be complex and require reflection, focus and innovation, rather than additional hours of tapping away at a keyboard, stressed and anxious.
If we simply go with the flow, we are likely to find ourselves caught up in the dystopia of anxiety and overwork that will eventually be our undoing. Be conscious about how we’re investing our time – and how we encourage those in our teams to do so – and we’re far more likely to navigate towards the Yoga session and lazy breakfast utopia.
One of the most interesting articles I’ve read recently was a well thought out piece in The Economist on the retreat of the global company, which explores the idea that multinationals are decreasing in importance, with falling profits and ROEs causing sales to grow at a slower rate than domestic companies.
The article also points out that multinationals are now seen as agents of inequality, with the rise of protectionism providing one reason why the global operating model is under pressure. Also, the data show that nearly one in two of the general population agree that free trade agreements hurt a country’s workers, while 72 percent favour government protection of jobs and local industries, even if it means a slower-growth economy.
It’s clear that over the past few years, some, even high-profile, multinationals have contributed to the deteriorating image of globalisation. In fact, they have tended to let it down due to the market-driven and short term arbitrage of procuring resources where they are cheapest here and now and due to their aggressive approach to tax minimisation.
Other than the obvious and hugely worrying protectionist trend, the current retreat towards a more regional or even local approach seems to me to have a lot to do with people seeking trustworthy institutions to believe in and identify with. As neither countries and their governments nor regional supranational institutions such as the EU are fulfilling this role, there is scope for businesses to fill this void: an opportunity – and a responsibility. According to the latest Edelman Trust Barometer, those who are uncertain about whether the system is working for them tend to trust business more than government.
Further good news is that three out of four general population respondents from Edelman’s Trust Barometer agree that ‘a company can take actions that both increase profits and improve the economic and social conditions in the community where it operates’. Thanks to their size, reach and financial might, multinational companies have the potential to play a major, positive role, provided they appreciate what it is that makes people trust them.
One way in which multinational companies can build trust is in easing people’s anxiety about their future, particularly in terms of job losses and employability. Anxiety is mounting, and according to the Edelman Trust Barometer, these are the five key fears pertaining to job loss:
- 60% Lack of training/skills
- 60% Foreign competitors
- 58% Immigrants who work for less
- 55% Jobs moving to cheaper markets
- 54% Automation
These are all fears that companies can address, and my guess is that if companies decided it is a strategic priority to help their people maintain or improve their employability, the rest of the fears would largely dissipate. What might this look like? It could be to build learning platforms that cater for a broad range of skills and a variety of learning preferences. This is is doable for huge companies – and a lot less for smaller, local companies. Being proactive in helping staff reskill in the light of automation including when that means helping them become employable somewhere else is another example of what foresighted companies are already doing.
So let’s not write off global companies just yet – they can still decide to become a ‘business force for good’. As long as they make a conscious decision to do so.
This old adage was first coined by Shakespeare some five hundred years ago in his play Hamlet. But I wonder how easy it is to follow this sage advice in a corporate working environment of values, mission statements and branding? How easy is it for us to stay true to our ‘original’* selves in the working world?
We explored this theme in our recent research on the Innovative Organisation. We asked how companies can combine original perspectives to unleash the great ideas that will ensure their future success. I also had the opportunity to hear first hand what it’s like to be an ‘original’ when I interviewed Jat Sahi, a former actor turned innovation guru at Fujitsu and it’s been a running theme of my year so far. While the concept of hiring originals to contribute diverse perspectives will seem logical to many of you, the part we see organisations stumble over is enabling their originals to stay that way.
So I wanted to share with my key takeaways for allowing originality to flourish:
- Don’t subject new talent to homogenising processes. This is something many of us are all guilty of, in overzealous on-boarding programmes that focus more on assimilating people into ‘the way we do things around here’ than on nurturing their originality. To genuinely foster differences of backgrounds, disciplines, culture and generations, organisations must promote inclusion, creating opportunities for people to share what is unique about them and combine their perspectives with others in a collaborative architecture.
- Focus on the why not the how. Jat Sahi spoke with me at length about how we have all become very good at executing work, but not very good at thinking about why we are doing it. It is the ‘why’ that helps us uncover the different motivations, perspectives and ideas within our teams. Thank you Jat!
- Maintain a balance between conformists and mavericks. Miriam Erez and Eitan Naveh of Technion – Israel Institute of Technology tell us that truly innovative teams are comprised of 10 to 20% of conformists. It’s this combination of originals who will challenge, disrupt and innovate and those who are adept at current ways of working that bring about the most successful new ideas.
Looking over the points above, I’m mindful that we don’t even need to look at people from different educational background or technical expertise to contribute originality of thought. With an eye to our upcoming Future of Work Research Consortium Theme Shifting Identities, all of us have elements which make us originals. So what I’d like you to do over the coming week is to dig back before you looked at your colleagues and emulated them, to before you finished your corporate grad scheme and even before your university told you how you should think. Think back to what makes you truly you, and make sure you bring that quality to your discussions with colleagues and the work that you do. Personally, I’ll be looking to enjoy the uncomfortable conversations and actively engage in ambiguous situations – two things I know I can bring to the table.
*Grant and Sandberg, Originals, 2016: define hiring originals as “intentionally hiring someone who would make peers feel uncomfortable; someone whose skills the company does not require and someone without previous experience in solving the type of problem at hand”.
 Miron-Spektor, E., Erez, M., & Naveh, E. (2011). The effect of conformist and attentive-to-detail members on team innovation: Reconciling the innovation Paradox. Academy of Management Journal, 54(4), 740-760
Distracted. Stressed. Burned out. In an age of constant communication and economic pressure, a common dilemma for workers today is how to manage all of the competing demands in work and life. As a researcher of Future of Work, I have been studying and exploring this topic for over five years now. Here are three strategies I have found to be most useful for successfully managing our multiple responsibilities:
- Strive for work-life integration—not balance. It is true that for some time, the advice was to create stiffer boundaries between work and home but new research suggests that maintaining strict distinctions between work roles and home roles might actually be what is causing our feelings of stress to set in. Researchers Jeffrey Greenhaus and Gary Powell expand on this concept and recommend that work and personal life should be allies and that integration of multiple identities, such as parent, partner, friend, employee, can actually enhance physical and psychological well-being. Simply put, even in the busiest of schedules, the most practical and effective way we can live is by aligning our personal priorities of work, family, health, and well-being. Stewart Friedman, Professor of Management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School has developed a very thought-provoking exercise that can help us examine the importance and congruence of our various identities and responsibilities in life. (You can do it online at this free site: myfourcircles.com.)
- Make time for the work that matters: By managing our time differently, we can work more effectively in less time and improve our wellbeing. Researchers Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir have found that reducing the workday to fewer hours creates periods of heightened productivity called ‘focus dividends’, thereby forcing us to prioritise the work that matters. Recently, I came across a company called Tower Paddle Boards who are experimenting with this approach by letting employees leave by lunchtime. The results have been astounding. They have been part of the 5000 list of America’s fastest growing companies over the past two years and in 2015, their 10-person team generated $9 million in revenues.
- Build periods of recovery: The very lack of a recovery period is dramatically holding back our collective ability to be resilient and successful. In today’s hyper-paced environment, we need to build periods of relaxation that take place within the frames of the workday in the form of short breaks. One strategy is inspired by the research of Nathaniel Kleitman, who established that our brains work in 90-minute rest-activity cycles not only when we sleep but also when we are awake. This means that we should take a recharging break every hour and a half, especially if we are using technology, which makes the brain overly active. Evidence for this approach can be seen in the work of Professor K. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues from Florida State University who have studied elite performers, including musicians, athletes, actors, and chess players. In each of these fields, Dr. Ericsson found that the best performers typically practice in uninterrupted sessions that last no more than 90 minutes.
I’m really looking forward to exploring this topic further and look forward to presenting additional insights at our upcoming Future of Work Masterclass on Shifting Identities.
This week NAB released some compelling research on what Australians considered to be the hallmarks of a good job. Three of the top four things were “fulfilling”, “something I’m passionate about” and “meaningful”.
This was based on a survey of more than 2000 Australians aged 16-70 conducted by global research firm Ipsos. It was the third chapter in a broader white paper, Rethink Success, that looks at how Australians define “success”.
The first chapter, released late last year, found that Australians define success not as money or status, by firstly by happiness, then good family relationships, feeling fit and healthy and being a good person.
As a leader, these are my four top tips for creating a workplace where people can be truly successful in this broader sense.
1. Give work a meaning – purpose and vision inspires and provides a common goal to rally around.
Many people think of their job as a part of their identity. Meaningful work (work that has a purpose) is fulfilling – it makes us proud, it makes us happy.
At NAB we have focused the whole organisation around the customer. Whether our people are in customer facing roles or not, we all have a role to play in making it easier for customers to reach their potential.
We have also discovered that our vision – to be Australia and New Zealand’s most respected bank – is the single most significant driver of engagement for our people, according to employee survey data.
And beyond that, the notion of ‘respect’ satisfies that need for our people to know we trust and believe in them; they are good people.
2. Allow people to meaningfully connect with values that align with your vision.
Employees and customers are increasingly choosing to work and do business with companies that align with their values and aspirations. It is important that every single employee understands what a company’s values are.
Two years ago when NAB launched its organisational values, we didn’t want to rely on communication packs, wallet cards or mouse pads with the company values emblazoned on them. We recognised that human beings are wired to remember stories. So we encouraged leaders to bring their own personal experience and meaning, and communicate NAB’s values (Passion for customers; Will to win; Be bold; Respect for people; Do the right thing) through story-telling. This has had a significant influence on the way people understand the values.
Leaders who communicate values through story-telling have a significant influence on the way people think and feel.
3. Contribute to employee wellbeing – be supportive, flexible, fun.
To quote Confucius, ‘Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life’
Creating a flexible working environment allows you to accommodate the diverse needs of people – both customers and employees. It leads to higher productivity, and enables people to live in a way that accommodates their personal lifestyle needs.
In my experience, supporting flexibility in a way that meets both the individual and business needs, demonstrates your trust in your people and strengthens their commitment and willingness to take on challenging work (see how this links back to meaning?).
4. Nurture a growth mindset – so your people are credible, capable and confident to face into the future.
Change in the working landscape is more rapid with digitisation and disruption. Traditional pathways are being paved over with new roads.
Our role as leaders is to believe in people, their ideas and dreams, and show interest in their aspirations. Create a space where people can demonstrate and develop their talents, determine what they want from their career and encourage and support them to achieve it.
Careers are increasingly becoming dynamic and fluid. There is a greater level of empowerment for those who are willing to shift tracks.
But if you don’t know where you’re heading, how will you know what to pack?
Purpose is key. It helps you map a direction, and focuses you on the capabilities you need to get there.
This brings me to my purpose, which is “to help people grow every day, by creating the right culture and connecting them to the learning and development they need to be credible, capable and confident now and in the future”.
What gives your job meaning and what guides you towards your future?
Steve Barrow is Executive General Manager of People, Culture and Capability at NAB.
“Unfortunately no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it yourself.” – Morpheus, The Matrix
The Matrix trilogy, Minority Report or James Cameron’s Avatar – these are only some of the films that used to blow my mind as a child. I found it absolutely amazing how much good CGI improves viewer experience, and could not wait to see those things in real life. I only had to wait until our Employability and Learning Masterclass to find out where virtual reality (VR) stands today, and to see how organisations can benefit from it on a day-to-day basis.
At the Masterclass, we saw some examples of using VR in medical training and engineering – so companies are already reaping the benefits of VR. First I tried the immersive VR consisting of a mask and two handheld controllers. Second was the Hololens, which is a strange blend between a motorcycle helmet and safety goggles you would normally find in labs.
When wearing the VR kit, I was standing in a factory next to a conveyor belt, picking up and boxing a selection of products. It was a training programme that had a competitive element to it as I was in the factory with another worker.
As this was my first VR experience, I was not sure what to expect. Needless to say that wearing the VR kit needs some adjustments, but overall I got the hang of it in a few minutes. I was surprised how much wearing a mask and holding two controllers can deceive my senses. My brain was tricked into thinking I’m in that factory. Even if I knew I was in a room with no furniture around me, I still navigated around the objects in the VR environment as if they were real.
The Hololens experience felt more tangible and realistic. I was able to see my own hands as well as the physical space around me. The mind-blowing feature was the floating aircraft engine in the middle of the room. I could walk around it, look at it from different angles, and the most exciting feature was when I was told I could disassemble it using my hands, without controllers. The gestures are very similar to using a smartphone or a tablet, you if you own either of those things, you will have no problems using the Hololens.
Of course there are rough edges here and there, and the current scalability of VR is debatable, but considering that this is the dawn of this technology, the improvement since the Google Glass is staggering. So how far are we from VR augmenting, disrupting and transforming our offices? Will VR have a major impact on collaboration? Could we use the technology to quickly assemble creative teams whose members are scattered around the planet? Could VR enhance working from home?
Whatever the answers might be to these questions, we will soon find out how VR can push the boundaries of human productivity, creativity and possibilities.