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.
A close friend invited me to this year’s MozFest. If you’ve never heard of it, don’t worry, you haven’t been living under a rock. It is Mozilla’s annual 3-day event that seeks to drive innovation on the web. It is also a networking opportunity for the hugely diverse and incredibly creative tech community. Mozilla’s vision is that “learning should be hands-on, immersive, and done collectively”. And no doubt, the event itself reflected this vision with a vast array of talks, games, demonstrations, creative group work, and spaces for innovative ideas. One of the main inspirations I took away was about digital badges.
Up until two weeks ago, I didn’t even know what digital badges were. But the more I look into the topic, the more I find that they are actually becoming quite established in the learning landscape. In fact, IBM recently launched its Open Badge Program to attract talent and keep people engaged. At MozFest, a whole floor was dedicated to Mozilla’s Open Badges project, which was launched already in 2012.
In case you don’t know, digital badges are a type of certification for a skill, accomplishment or capability, much like the badges handed out in the military or the Scouts. Universities, online course providers, companies, museums – any learning provider really – can issue badges, which recipients can add to their profiles like LinkedIn and showcase their skills and capabilities to their peers and potential employers. As there are no limits to content or the submission process (at one museum, you can get a badge for cockroach handling), digital badges aim to disrupt traditional approaches by facilitating informal learning, providing alternative learning pathways, and supporting lifelong learning.
Within organisations, badges are already being used to support performance management, drive collaboration and innovation among employees and enhance employee engagement. Unisys, for example, developed an internal platform that provides each employee with a profile where they can display their badges, allowing them to establish a company presence, connect to other employees with similar skills and search for those with specific subject expertise. IBM is also using badges to provide credentials to external talent, for specific learning journeys, and thereby creating a global pool of talent that it can draw upon. Within IBM, employees who felt recognised for learning achievements (e.g. through badges) were three times more engaged than those who didn’t.
In MozFest’s session on Architecture for Learning Pathways, experts discussed next steps for the badge project. How can badges lead to specific jobs, careers, and help people achieve certain goals? How do different badges relate to each other with regard to the types of achievements they represent? How can they be grouped together to create different learning pathways? Do learning pathways always have to be linear? How can high achievers be differentiated from low achievers?
While these questions are certainly relevant for the education sector, they are also relevant for the corporate world. Training and development is already a major factor in the war for talent while new technologies are transforming the landscape of required skills. In this respect, companies must rethink the value of qualifications, alternative career pathways, and continuous learning. Can badges be used to address some of these challenges, for example, to facilitate lateral career moves? This is something high on our research agenda at the Future of Work. Over the next four months we will be analysing the future of employability and learning to find out more about the big disruptors in this area.
Image: Badges from the Royal Observatory Greenwich, UK Antibiotic Guardian, Amazon and Siemens
I’m sitting in our open-plan offices in Somerset House. If you are not familiar with the building, Somerset House is a neoclassical palace with an imposing façade overlooking the river Thames, and a grand courtyard with a majestic fountain. The sun is out, the sky is blue, and the mild autumn breeze is playing with the Union Jack flag.
Somerset House is the ideal creative and inspiring environment for writing a blog. However, 20 men are busy building the ice rink just below our office window and we work in an open-plan office. The rattling, beeping, drilling, shouting, phone ringing, and that annoying sound Outlook makes when I get an email… I can’t hear myself think, so how am I going to write this blog on creativity? If you are also struggling with creativity, here is one tip from the Hot Spots team that I tested.
With hard deadlines coming up, a project to deliver, and almost everyone on the phone around me, I’m stressed. Struggling with this blog seems like a waste of time. I remembered from our Innovative Organisation Masterclass that letting the mind wander is a good way of coming up with creative ideas. Sounds like exactly what I need.
So I’m sitting in the shell chair in our empty meeting room. I only brought a pen and paper. My phone is in the other room because work will find me if it really wants to. I’ve spent 20 minutes alone, in silence with my thoughts, not focusing on my immediate environment. I even took some notes and wrote the blog outline, and now I have something to work with. But what has just happened?
This is called “internal recovery” and refers to the break we are recommended to take every 90-minutes. These recovery sessions become particularly important when working with technology as it makes our brains overly active. The positive impact of these recovery sessions was also confirmed by Professor K. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues at Florida State University. They observed athletes, chess players and musicians, and found that best performers typically practice in uninterrupted, 90-minute cycles.
It seems that the 20-minute technological detox had a positive impact on my productivity. I came up with a blog topic and my brain was fresh enough to write this blog despite the industrial noises, email notifications, and ongoing calls around me. It was definitely worth trying this one tip, and I am considering making this part of my work routine. So today when you feel like work is just not happening, find a calm spot and let your mind wander.
If you’d like to find out what else the Research Team is thinking about here at Hot Spots Movement or just want to have a chat about our work, get in touch.
By Sarah Elsing, researcher, Hot Spots Movement
Employee Voice is often linked to employee engagement. While employee surveys are used to assess employees’ levels of engagement, Employee Voice can be understood not only as a way of assessing people’s engagement levels but also as one way of enabling this engagement. It also reaches far beyond the realm of employee engagement. A two-way conversation with employees can help boost staff morale and productivity but it can also be useful in the problem-solving process, create innovation, and help an organisation’s leadership renegotiate the deal with its changing workforce.
Despite these wide-ranging uses and benefits, Employee Voice mechanisms are still most often applied in a reactive manner. Only when staff morale or productivity are already low do organisations start engaging their employees in a conversation. When this is the case, they often focus on understanding what is causing the problem rather than allowing employees to voice their ideas on how to improve the situation. As a large, diverse group of problem-solvers and innovators, employees remain largely untapped. At Hot Spots Movement, we therefore find that the best Employee Voice tools allow their participants to move from a reactive, negative and reflective state of mind to a more proactive, constructive and future-oriented conversation.
If you would like to find out more about Employee Voice and how it can work for you, simply leave your details on our contact form using the keyword ‘Employee Voice’. Our white paper on Employee Voice draws on the latest insights from our client-based research and provides best practice tips on how to make it work particularly in an era of digitalisation.
The quest for talent is one that has long preoccupied the world’s corporations. Many have honed their talent-acquisition skills to a very high degree, continuously boosting their intellectual resources by bringing in the most talented people from around the world. And it is undeniable that one of the biggest assets possessed by large corporations is their potential to find and connect some of the most talented and creative people in the world.
While the talent search is undeniably important, companies still often neglect the next crucial step: taking the intelligence inherent in their carefully picked talent pool and amplifying it to maximum effect.
The amplification of intelligence and wisdom is becoming ever more central to how corporations are addressing the challenges they face and to building resilience. There are four key elements to achieving this: the surfacing of ideas, amplification through open innovation, experimentation and the celebration of risk taking.
For most of the history of corporate life, collaboration has happened when small groups of people worked together face-to-face. Technology is changing this – we now have connectivity tools which enable us to share ideas and knowledge not just within small groups meeting face-to-face, but also across thousands of people meeting in virtual environments. And yet, many large organisations still find themselves going back to the same small group of people for their next big business idea.
One example of how corporations can break this cycle and start harnessing the intelligence of ‘wise crowds’ is the Indian IT company Infosys. Their executive group decided to give younger employees a more active part in the long-term success of the business, by launching a virtual “Innovation Co-Creation Platform”. The platform enables employees to identify colleagues with whom to collaborate, to gain access to business data, and to consult experts and submit a business case for an idea. As well as generating valuable business insights and creating a fast and continuous flow of information from around the world, the platform has made it easier for senior management to identify the most knowledgeable and excited people in the organisation.
Amplification through open innovation
No matter how many great people you have within your organisation, there are always many more outside. Corporations have always been aware of this, hence their habit of engaging with universities and specialist research groups to boost their innovation capabilities – but they now have the opportunity to cast the net far wider and to gain access to ideas outside their established networks. Some good examples of this are InnoCentive, a platform which uses open innovation to connect problems to those with knowledge, and Proctor and Gamble (P&G), which has opened up its innovation challenges to the world through its Connect and Develop scheme – a process the company expects will deliver $3billion towards the its annual sales growth by 2015.
The importance of experimentation
One avenue for surfacing ideas which I think too many companies ignore is experimentation. This can be a particularly valuable process when you are faced with problems to which no-one has a ready-made answer. All the breakthroughs we have seen in medicine, for example, have come through a process of hypothesis, experimentation and clinical trials where several different options are tried out and compared.
Despite the scientific record, very few companies dare to experiment. When I was seeking out examples of corporate experimentation for my book, The Key, I found that they were few and far between and most of them were led by scholars or academics – further underlining companies’ apprehension about experimenting themselves. In fact, the only two that made it into the finished book were at Roche and Xerox. And yet, I feel that if companies would only dare to try, experimentation has a wealth of benefits to offer. After all, one of the biggest changes in the workplace – flexible working – was the result of repeated experimentation at BT.
One of the problems with experiments is that they represent a risk: it is not possible to be right all the time, and some experiments will fail. This can be a serious barrier to empowerment. If an employee is aware that their idea may not lead to the desired outcome, they are less likely to act upon the idea for fear of failure or – in the worst case – losing their job.
So how can corporations encourage employees to set aside their fear of failure? The key is to create a culture where experimentation is valued and failure is seen as a natural part of the process. At Tata Group, for example, the company’s Group Innovation awards include a ‘Dare to Try’ category for daring attempts at innovation which have failed.
It’s clear that the amplification of intelligence and wisdom – whether from inside or outside the corporation – plays a crucial role in helping people and organisations become more resilient. As the examples I have highlighted show, technology has a role to play, but it is those companies who are able to build amplification and connection into specific and every day organisational practices and habits that will reap the benefits.