Filtering Distractions

“I’ve trained all my life not to be distracted by distractions.” —Nik Wallenda, daredevil, seventh-generation member of the Flying Wallenda’s Family

When my daughters were in high school, I looked on in amazement as they studied. They’d have music playing and/or the television on while responding to the never-ending buzz of social media notifications. This didn’t stop them from finishing a paper or studying for a test, and their good grades showed this method worked for them.

I can’t imagine settling down to work with so many distractions. Is it a question of age? A quick Google search locates many articles that confirm that as we age, our ability to filter distractions decreases.

Likely just as significant is one’s definition of a “distraction.” The background noise of a coffee shop, for example, doesn’t bother me at all. The gentle mix of music, other people’s conversations, and the familiar sound of the coffee grinder or espresso machine blend together in a pleasant cacophony.

From time to time I need quiet and dark to filter out distractions. On other occasions, looking out a window and noticing weather, nature, and general goings-on can bring focus. Driving is another opportunity to control and shape the environment. Loud music, National Public Radio, or quiet thoughts with a stack of post-it notes at the ready can each be therapeutic in their own way. Other times it’s just heads down into the computer or forcing myself to apply extra concentration to a phone conversation or conference call. Mindfulness techniques that keep me in the moment can be a great help.

I’m curious what filters others use to keep out unwanted distractions. What are the characteristics of environments that hinder your focus? What are the conditions that foster productivity?


Weekly Download 15.21

download-150965_640Here’s a recap of news and notes from around the Web that caught my attention over the past week or so.

7 Pieces of Wisdom That Will Change the Way You Work is written from the perspective of a writer, but the helpful, universal reminders can be applied to any career.

The Age of Disinformation addresses how to filter hype in broadcast and social media. It’s no easy feat.

Here’s a blast from the past: the phrase “nattering nabobs of negativism,” which I recently heard on talk radio. Its first known usage was in 1970 by Vice President Spiro Agnew, in a speech penned by White House speechwriter William Safire. It summed up his often-hostile relationship with the media and how he viewed the incessant, negative chatter by this prominent and influential group. Learn more from this entry in Taegan Goddard’s Political Dictionary.

The convergence of cloud technologies, the Internet of Things and big data analytics is real. As World Crowds In, Cities Become Digital Laboratories spotlights interesting applications in New York City. Their interactive graphics are incredible.

The capabilities of data mining seem to be only limited by imagination. Here’s one quirky, but interesting application: Data Mining Reveals How Smiling Evolved During a Century of Yearbook Photos.

Addicted to Distraction offers this definition: “Addiction is the relentless pull to a substance or an activity that becomes so compulsive it ultimately interferes with everyday life.” Reality check time—are you due for a detox? This is one addict’s tale.

I knew my journaling habit was a good thing! Famous Writers on the Creative Benefits of Keeping a Diary agree.


When in Doubt, Give Gadgets

christmas-present-596300_640Need a few last minute ideas for holiday gifts? In my opinion, a good device deserves a good gadget. Here are a few ideas that any technophile would appreciate:


Weekly Download 15.20

download-150965_640

Here’s a recap of news and notes from around the Web that caught my attention over the past week or so.

Gene Amdahl, Pioneer of Mainframe Computing, Dies at 92 pays tribute to the “father” of the IBM System/360 line of mainframes. My early career started in large mainframe environment, which was my first significant exposure to technology. In fact, the name of this blog “ZMAB15” represents my first username in the work environment, for a VM Machine running on an IBM System/360 mainframe.

Attention, Addiction, and Technology delves into what happens when we give technology too much importance and lose harmony and balance as a result.

“We have become so obsessed with technology — particularly in its digital form — we have forgotten the primacy of purpose, the importance of compassionate action taken with flesh and bone. Instead, we seem to seek only distraction from the challenges (and yes, the ugliness) of the real world, and to embrace instead a virtual world where we are queens and kings and constantly pleasured.”

I Don’t Own, I Uber provides one individual’s comparison of the costs of owning a car vs. using Uber as your primary transportation. My two millennial daughters interested in big city living intuitively understand the convenience of not owning a car. I, too, lived in Chicago for seven years before purchasing a car. I believe this shifting model is here to stay. What other large purchase items, which are frequently viewed as a right of passage, might be better to rent rather than own?

This article’s title speaks for itself: 7 Drawings to make you feel better.


The Mad Feast

Mad Feast mech.inddMy wife and I have had season tickets to the American Players Theater for many years. In mid-November we were heading to Spring Green to catch one of the plays and decided to stop on the way at Arcadia Books for an author reading from The Mad Feast: An Ecstatic Tour Through America’s Food.

Here’s how the event was billed:

“Following his critically acclaimed Preparing the Ghost, renowned essayist Matthew Gavin Frank takes on America’s food in a richly illustrated culinary tour of the United States through fifty signature dishes, and a radical exploration of our gastronomic heritage.”

Some of the state dishes that are profiled in the book include deep-dish pizza (Illinois), hummingbird cake (Alabama) and, of course, bratwurst (Wisconsin). Frank was a passionate and engaging speaker and we enjoyed his quirky writing style (the passage read was on the Minnesota hotdish). We were treated to a sample of hummingbird cake prepared by The Kitchen (the bookstore’s café). All in all, the afternoon was a delightful prequel to another lovely evening at APT.

  • Learn more about the author at his website
  • Check out this interview with the author from the Joy Cardin Show on Wisconsin Public Radio

 


Linear or Logarithm?

The article Predicting the Future and Exponential Growth certainly caught my attention right from the beginning, by asking, “How many times would I have to fold a sheet of paper for the height of the folded paper to reach the moon?” It goes on to build on its thesis, “Human beings have terrible intuition for exponential growth.”

Looking in a historical rearview mirror can encumber our projections of the future, especially in a period of exponential growth. The article helped articulate my perspective on why now it is more important than ever to look at the business challenges of today and the factors contributing to those challenges, then create strategy based on what the emerging future might look like. The linear progression of the past may not be that relevant.

I am currently working on a technology plan for my organization. We find ourselves with a legacy architecture that has existed for a long time. Its not that we didn’t realized it needed to change—we saw that need several years ago. The factors contributing to the need for something different include new technologies, mobile workers, need for sharing work and a greater geographical reach of our business.

Perhaps what we didn’t see was how the change curve was continuing to accelerate. There’s a tricky bias in looking back. If you don’t look far enough, it’s easy to think you haven’t changed much, as any small portion of a curve look like a relatively straight line. We have to take a longer-term approach to be able to see the magnitude of change and how it accelerates over time. Here’s where logarithms come into play. In doing so, it becomes clear that if we don’t significantly increase the pace of change, we will fall further behind.

Breaking out of a comfortable speed limit of execution is really difficult. What must change to accelerate execution? It’s not just a headcount and funding solution, it’s revisiting historical approaches, beliefs and methods. The journey has just begun.


Currently Reading (E-book Version)

When I recently took inventory of my to-read list, I was surprised to find that I haven’t ordered a physical book since August. Meanwhile, my e-reader is getting a little overwhelmed. Here’s what is loaded up—we’ll see how much progress I make while on vacation this week. The titles below all have links to their Kindle versions.

Design Thinking: Business Innovation by MJV Press

143 Visuals To Inspire You to Take Action by Scott Torrance and Mirka Volakova

The Big Shift in IT Leadership: How Great CIOs Leverage the Power of Technology for Strategic Business Growth in the Customer-Centric Economy by Hunter Muller

Leadership BS: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time by Jeffrey Pfeffer

Well-Designed: How to Use Empathy to Create Products People Love by Jon Kolko

24 Hour Mindfulness: How to be calmer and kinder in the midst of it all by Rohan Gunatillake

The Positive Organization: Breaking Free from Conventional Cultures, Constraints, and Beliefs by Robert E. Quinn

Leading Continuous Change: Navigating Churn in the Real World by Bill Pasmore

Know What’s Next Magazine 2015: Strategies for Transforming Your Business and Future by Daniel Burrus

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

Team Genius: The New Science of High-Performing Organizations by Rich Karlgaard and Michael S. Malone

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