Reflection, Who’s Got Time for @$%&^ Reflection?

Discussion
Jun 29, 2006
Al McClain

By Al McClain


If you meet with retailing industry execs, or if you are one, you’ve no doubt noticed the “Blackberryization” of the industry. It seems that everyone has one and that many execs are addicted to them. Telltale signs include lack of an observable attention span, the “head down” posture, and sore thumbs.


And, it’s been true seemingly forever that execs are overscheduled; with back to back-to-back meetings a common occurrence. Awhile back, I met with an exec who apologized for eating a sandwich during our non-lunch meeting. When I mentioned that it was too bad his schedule didn’t permit even a short break for lunch, he noted, “Don’t worry, I’m so busy I do this every day.”


Here’s a possible rationale behind all this multi-tasking and over scheduling:


Information and communications technology unlocks the value of time, allowing and enabling multi-tasking, multi-channels, multi-this and multi-that.

Li Ka Shing – via woopidoo.com

Yet, we have to wonder whether this frenzy of activity really accomplishes what it ought to. An article by John Baldoni in Darwin magazine this week says we need to take a little more time to reflect. Baldoni says Jim Collins plans his schedule so there is time to think and reflect, while John Maxwell advises creating a space with a chair, room, garden, or whatever, where you can go to think.


Baldoni suggests that reflection need not be a solitary activity, and that execs can reflect, for example, when attending conferences, by asking other attendees about presentations they’ve seen and discussing challenges they and their teams face. This seems extremely basic, but I can’t tell you how many conferences I’ve been to over the years where delegates incessantly complained about the poor quality of the speakers and lack of anything new to learn, rather than engaging others, thinking about why they came to the conference in the first place, and looking for new things to learn.


So, when you think about time management and reflection, it might be worthwhile to consider not only short-term goals of meetings attended, phone calls made, e-mails returned, deadlines met, and bosses assuaged, but to pause and consider progress made over a longer time period. Perhaps this is done by scheduling time to review your calendar for the previous month or quarter to see what was accomplished and what remains to be done. And perhaps, just as importantly, take the time to consider what was done that didn’t need to be, and what larger issues remain to be tackled.


Moderator’s Comment: With the whirlwind of activity that surrounds our business lives, sometimes quiet time to reflect seems like an unfulfilled dream.
Do you have a strategy for ensuring that thinking and reflecting are part of your business life? Do you think the retailing industry suffers from an inability to sit back, stop,
and think?
– Al McClain – Moderator

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22 Comments on "Reflection, Who’s Got Time for @$%&^ Reflection?"


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Ian Percy
Guest
14 years 8 months ago
Who would follow a leader who ‘doesn’t have time to think’? Can you imagine employees saying “Our boss doesn’t think and we’re proud to be part of this company.”? In the typical American way we blame everything and everyone else for the chaos, noise and stress in our lives while the truth is, it’s all self-inflicted. What do most of us do when we’re lost? We drive faster and we get agitated! And that means we’re lost at a higher speed – which I think is a perfect metaphor for most businesses today. We’re lost and are afraid to stop and get directions. Being extremely busy is a highly preferred way of avoiding the wicked question: “Exactly what are you accomplishing?” Once you stop long enough, you know someone’s going to ask it. Silence is the birthplace of creativity and wisdom. In my book on leadership titled “Going Deep” I suggest that senior execs should be spending 30% of their time in silence, reflection and thinking. I’ve even had whole executive teams learn how to… Read more »
Warren Thayer
Guest
14 years 8 months ago

LIAR! LIAR! PANTS ON FIRE! I just looked at the little poll at the top of this again, and 34% of us say we spend at least 30 MINUTES EACH WEEK contemplating the big picture. Gimme a break! Hey, 1% of us, I could believe. What this clearly shows is that 33% of us are BLOODY LIARS!! Waddaya think of that, liars?

Daryle Hier
Guest
Daryle Hier
14 years 8 months ago

Cell phone with earpiece planted tightly in my head – Treo sitting patiently in a pocket waiting eagerly for my attention – Laptop sitting where else – & add the fact I have multiple cell phones. Sadly, these are a necessity in this day an age.

But, I do make it a personally mandated priority to escape from my cyberbot system and take a half hour everyday and either think about certain concerns or talk to my partners or employees, usually about a current condition or situation.

I’m sure the counterparts that I do business with aren’t doing any of this because little is ever getting done and it seems to be worse every day. Also, personal interaction is paramount but when are you ever able to talk to someone directly without having to send an email, text message etc?

Jeff Weitzman
Guest
Jeff Weitzman
14 years 8 months ago

So many good comments. Like Warren, I think one of the best justifications for a business trip instead of a conference call is the reflective time on the plane. I agree with those who say the instant communication hasn’t fundamentally changed the nature of being busy. These days it just means you can be busy with more people instead of just the ones nearby. All the little tricks to finding some reflective time can be effective, if one has the will to use them.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
14 years 8 months ago
I agree in principle with Ian. But, I think we’re all missing a couple of critical points: (1) American business leaders, in fact all Americans, aren’t taught HOW to think, just how to perform. Thinking isn’t natural, reacting is. I remember sitting in a graduate school class on Aristotle taught by a Jesuit who was old enough to have been one of Aristotle’s peers. After a few minutes I said something lethal like, “I think…” The professor stopped the discussion and said, “We haven’t ascertained that you are, in fact, capable of actual thought, and if you are I’m sure the fruits of your intellectual labors would be questionable.” His point — having clever answers isn’t the same thing as thinking; (2) Thinking is often dangerous. It tends to upset the status quo making the thinker less than popular; (3) Thinking requires input, not just time. Think a long time about clichés and most people will arrive at more clichés; (4) Ultimately, thinking is tied to a moral imperative to do something about what you’re… Read more »
George Andrews
Guest
George Andrews
14 years 8 months ago
One of my clients calls his Blackberry his “Crackberry,” proud of his addiction. The question raised was do we have a “strategy” for thinking? Do we need to reflect, a necessary component of strategizing? There is that word strategy again, doing the right thing, in the right way. It saves more time and money than almost anything we could devote our time to, yet almost none of us spend as much time reflecting as we want. My favorite story on the issue was Covey’s where the mythical leader climbs a tree as his crew is cutting a road through the jungle and says… stop… you are going the wrong way! The cutting crew leader shouts back, shut up we are making great progress! Without reflection we will wake up and find out while we were running as fast as we could toward the finish line, someone moved the line and our competitors took the shortcut. So for me I must forcibly carve my thought time out of each day. Running each day is my no… Read more »
James Tenser
Guest
14 years 8 months ago
I’ve managed to avoid acquiring a Blackberry so far, probably because I’m not part of a large organization. I am, however fairly dependent upon my mobile phone and non-networked Palm device — doubly so when traveling. I agree fiercely with Ian Percy’s advocacy of quiet time for executives. Deep thinking is the scarcest commodity in business today. (Thank goodness! Or companies wouldn’t need the help of consultants.) Most business leaders run a business 60 to 80 hours a week and do their thinking in their “spare time,” often after their decisions have been made. Here’s my small business person’s take on the Zen of business thinking: I operate from a home office and most of my consulting work involves doing serious thinking and writing on behalf of clients. I’ve learned that some answers don’t come from direct, intense confrontation. Often it’s better to clear the mind, step back from the hard facts, and let the subconscious take over for a while. That’s when I rise from my desk, step outdoors and perform a routine task… Read more »
Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 8 months ago

Before computers were invented, poor managers always found ways to avoid the big picture and fritter away their time. For some, the big picture is scary and they have trouble dealing appropriately with the implications. It’s less stressful to perform 100 incremental tasks they’ve performed thousands of times recently. And many bosses don’t reward people for exploring the big picture.

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
14 years 8 months ago

Building on Warren’s thought, the poll number that amazes me is that as it stands at the moment, 16% of us NEVER pause for 30 minutes to look at the big picture. Scary.

Leon Nicholas
Guest
Leon Nicholas
14 years 8 months ago

There is no question that this is a major issue, and it impacts the tactics-obsessed retail trade substantially. With the proliferation of POS data that tells us SKU level sales by store by hour, it is easy to get lost in the weeds and respond like a puppet on a string. The only way to ensure reflection, and critical thinking in this environment is to build it in, explicitly, to our schedules. My team meets once a month offsite to talk about the bigger picture, where we’re headed, where we’ve been, etc. It’s on the calendar, so the “blip” is on my radar–just like all of the other must-dos.

Warren Thayer
Guest
14 years 8 months ago

1. I do my big picture thinking on planes, reluctantly, after my laptop battery has died. 2. I dread the day when they allow cell phones on airplanes, and, accordingly, may investigate doing all my travel in Amtrak’s “quiet” cars (no cell phones allowed). I predict charges of assault and battery to rise five-fold within a year after cell phones are allowed on planes. 3. To communicate with my Blackberried boss, I now edit all emails to a single line, so I can fit them into the subject line. It’s good discipline. 4. The key for me is to start each day with a few minimal goals–things that I will definitely get done. Otherwise, it is easy to fritter away an entire day on emails and nonsense. 5. I have vowed never to find the time to get a Blackberry.

W. Frank Dell II
Guest
14 years 8 months ago

This is just another example of data overload in our Technology Age. As computers get faster, larger and cheaper, the output of information grows exponentially. The problem is, much of the information senior executives are receiving is a waste of time, both to create and read. Only Senior Store Operations needs hourly retail sales as they are the only ones that can do anything with the information. While some retailers have created Executive Dashboards to help the non-techno’s gain easy access, the concept of exception reporting has been difficult for executives to accept. The issue is further compounded by the explosion of CYA e-mails. Every executive should take one day a week, turn off the Blackberry, walk the store and talk with customers. The focus should be customers, not warehouse withdraws, out-of-stocks or hourly sales.

Michael L. Howatt
Guest
Michael L. Howatt
14 years 8 months ago

Thinking is hard, reacting is easy. This may be the core of the problem. There are so many poor managers who really think that reacting all the time makes them feel better and gives them the false impression they are doing a good job. Unfortunately, if companies set aside time for just the purpose of thinking, most of management might turn off their Blackberry’s and talk on their cell phones (or listen to their iPods). Better idea would be to bring back some inter-personal communication and have meetings where all technology is banned and people would be required to actually listen to one another.

Laura Davis-Taylor
Guest
Laura Davis-Taylor
14 years 8 months ago

A wise mentor once explained the theory of Yin and Yang in our work/life balance. Especially in fields that require innovation and creativity, one can not find inspiration if one is “always on” — thus, full of only Yang. Okay, a little out there…but the point is that if you don’t make the time to recharge, your inspiration is not very inspiring. Call me crazy, but retail today needs a lot of attention and inspiration…so the point made in this dialogue is fairly critical.

Having moved out of the corporate life into one of a consultant, I’ve been shocked by how much more creative my thinking has become simply because I have the freedom to take an hour here and there and unplug from it all. Like exercise, family time, etc., doing this is a matter of discipline and not letting frenetic co-workers influence you unduly. I realize that this is not always easy, but the point is that it’s a choice.

Matt Werhner
Guest
Matt Werhner
14 years 8 months ago

It’s hard to remember a time when the commute home didn’t involve talking on the phone. The ability to instantly communicate combined with the need to consistently multi-task has a great number of people across all professions spending little time reflecting. I think the answer is to make it part of a routine. Whether it’s once a week or once a day, the time must be scheduled. The trick is to make that time just as important as a meeting or appointment.

Bernie Slome
Guest
Bernie Slome
14 years 8 months ago

What you are describing is not unique to the retail industry. Our addiction to connectivity is approaching epidemic proportion. We have a need to stay connected. We have a need for instant gratification which means get an email response immediately. It means hyperventilation when one has been out of touch too long. While the blackberry has some major advantages, the one disadvantage is our lack of time to think…you can call it reflect, but it can be called a time to think things through. We all share this affliction. When will it ever end?

Karin Miller
Guest
Karin Miller
14 years 8 months ago

When I started my career in the mid-80’s I lived without the following: Email/fax (the teletype dept handled correspondence with our factories, which, incidentally, were in South Carolina, not China), Fed Ex (packages took 5-7 days), Excel/Access (I was lucky to get data – sorted alphabetically – printed on greenbar), Kinko’s (if I had an 8 AM presentation, I actually had to finish it by the time the office closed the evening before), cell phones (I read the paper during my commute to midtown NYC) and the Internet (thanks Al).

There is so much potential input, that one must concentrate on the most valuable data – that which can be acted upon. Still, it is addictive and can easily encroach on evenings and weekends because there is more available than can ever be consumed.

I can make better decisions faster with the tools I have now, but then again, so can everyone else…

As for reflection, that is what time on the elliptical cross trainer is for.

Rick Moss
Guest
14 years 8 months ago

As far as personal reflection time goes, here are three simple suggestions:

1) Turn the radio off in the car. You’ll be amazed at how much you can get resolved even during a 10 minute drive to the bank, let alone a 45 minute commute.

2) When you’re going to be in a waiting room, take a pad and pen. You may not get caught up on Golf Digest, but you’ll probably return to the office with some ToDo’s checked off.

3) Submit one RetailWire comment each day. It’s the best @$%&^ place we know for communal reflection.

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
14 years 8 months ago

Executives are only overscheduled if they don’t trust their subordinates. When executives are good enough to create an environment where employees are empowered they get reports and see profits. When executives have to make every decision or be involved with every decision they get what they deserve. Lousy management usually gets what it deserves, UNFORTUNATELY many others get hurt because of their incompetence.

Ben Ball
Guest
14 years 8 months ago
Interaction = Importance. Immediacy = Actionability. That is why we find ourselves addicted to communication and activity — no matter how mundane. We have to be busy — or at least appear to be — or risk someone viewing us as expendable. POS and Blackberrys have simply replaced the “Spin Report” and the “Dance Card” as the means by which we manage our activity. For those who may have never carried a “dance card,” that was the 3X5 index card we old timers carried in our freshly starched, button down shirt pocket. Each day our secretaries would have it on our desk, and at least once a day we would point out to someone that our thoughtful secretaries had blocked out time in our otherwise packed schedules for us to go to the bathroom. We were busy…and we were important! Today’s equivalent is the “Blackberry Buzz.” If your Blackberry doesn’t buzz at least once in every meeting, you obviously are not important. Time to reflect? It has always been there. It always will be. For… Read more »
Mark Bechtle
Guest
Mark Bechtle
14 years 1 month ago

If you ain’t thinkin’ you’re stinkin’.

This is Not the Industrial Age, It’s the Information Age.

Intellectual Property! What does it take? Creative Thinking!

Santiago Vega
Guest
Santiago Vega
14 years 24 days ago
Interesting thoughts by everyone. I don’t believe that programming yourself to think by scheduling down-time or quiet time during your day or your week is necessarily an effective way to generate valuable and useful thoughts. Good thinking comes at any time and anywhere, you just have to be able to detach yourself for a couple of minutes from your routine to allow a thought to develop when you feel it coming in. The place to start to induce this is childhood and adolescent education, not college or the work force. I had the fortune of being educated in a private French school where they not only stimulated one to think, but encouraged and developed one’s capacity to reason. Perhaps the best example is that we didn’t have multiple-choice exams, ever, but instead we had to make dissertations where we would develop and follow a logical line of thought. That was in the classroom, but during recreations we were free to play and interact with our friends ’til we dropped. If we want to generate better… Read more »
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