I did a slew of radio interviews over the last several weeks on the book and especially talking about General Petraeus. This was a good interview with a host named Steve Fast that played across the state of Illinois.
“Reflective” leadership at the C.I.A.
General David Patreaus has been nominated to move from his job running the Afghanistan war to head up the C.I.A.
Daniel Patrick Forrester, an international management consultant who has worked with the military and the Department of Homeland Security, has examined the leadership style of Patreaus, which he says relies upon “reflective thinking.”
Forrester says that in a modern age of hyperconnectivity and a lighting-quick stream of information that leaders need the time and room to get the “big ideas” right…
By Daniel Forrester
So many job descriptions these days feature the desire to have employees capable of multitasking. The request stems from the misperceived notion that employees can be wildly productive and highly valuable as they attempt many different tasks at the same time.
Yet the evidence is mounting that multitasking (performing two technologically demanding tasks at once) is a myth. Multitasking fits the narrative that companies value immediacy and instant response. Multitasking actually subsumes reflective thinking. It takes you away from thoughtful and logical processing as we inaccurately portray ourselves as computer-like. Alas, we are humans – not machines.
When interviewing, we are there to convey our human strengths and talents. The goal of the interviewing process is to demonstrate how we think about a range of topics. Instead of playing to the immediacy narrative promulgated by things like extolling multitasking, you might want to try to show the prospective employer that you value being reflective. Here are six ways to stand out in a job interview by demonstrating that you can think under pressure.
• Embrace a few seconds of pause after you get asked a question. A few moments of silence will allow you to think and frame a coherent answer to the question. It will also show the interviewer that you are not afraid to be alone with your thoughts. It sends a powerful signal that you can listen to a question and have self-control and discipline to frame an intelligent answer. Three seconds is not a lot of time, but it is invaluable to your brain as it gathers a way to answer a question.
• When answering a question, don’t believe that the amount of content you convey is correlated to the value of your response. In other words, keep your responses focused and to the point of what you were asked. Once you repeat a theme in an answer you are actually diluting the power of what you are saying.
Less is more. Less wordy answers allow what was said to stand out in the interviewers mind.
• In between interviews, don’t check your blackberry or email. Your mind needs to be in the moment for each interview. You should use the time you are given between interviews (if any) to reflect on what you did well or not so well in the previous interaction.
•When answering questions, give the interviewer stories that show how you and your team value time to think through problems.
All too often we focus on the outcomes and not the process of structured thinking that went into the solution.
•When asked if you have questions about the company, probe on how the firm structures its think time when solving big problems and designing its strategy. You can ask what habits and routines force the company to step back and question its overall assumptions about the market in which they are operating.
You can ask if there are any methods for allowing groups to think through big problems without the presence of technology and the resulting constant interruptions,like email.
•After the interview, don’t dash off a thank you email in haste (especially on the elevator on the way down from the meeting.)
Take the afternoon to think about what happened and craft a message (or better yet write a thank you note). It will demonstrate what you took away from the interview experience. Hasty thank you emails always send the message that the writer values immediacy over reflection.
The best ideas and insights come to us only when we take the time to think and reflect.
Immediacy has its place. However in the careful dance of an interview, what matters is how you think quickly, but with control, thoughtfulness and focus. The methods listed above won’t guarantee you a job, but they will convey that you are capable of allowing your mind moments to think and process. You will likely stand out in a crowd of candidates. After all, they are hiring you for your mind and your talents and not how fast you respond to a question or the thousands of emails that will surely be lobbed your way.
For many people in the federal government and private sector alike, the workday is a constant stream of data in and decisions out. Time to pause and reflect is limited or unavailable. Days start early and end late.
Management consultant Daniel Patrick Forrester believes that is a bad way to run a business or an agency. In his new book, “Consider: Harnessing the Power of Reflective Thinking in Your Organization,” Forrester presents organizations and individuals who build time into their days for simply thinking.
Forrester recently discussed the book’s major themes with News Editor Michael Hardy.
Why we never pause to reflect
The first thing I think of is this sort of human need that we have to be biased toward action. And that concept of being biased toward action has roots tied to management thinking in the 1980s. In other words, effective people have a bias toward getting things done. I think that is true, and that remains true. In other words, you cannot think all day.
But the bias toward action today is manifesting itself in a lot of different behaviors that are bordering sometimes almost on addiction. I used as one of the symbols of that in the book this idea of the digital world that we live in, the connected world that we live in, that creates what I describe as a responsiveness narrative that makes action bias look like it is the only play you can make in a situation.
It seems like we all have to make immediate decisions. It seems like we all don’t have time to think things through. And the reality is that the human mind is actually incapable of doing the multitasking that is given us in the context of so many of our jobs today. So from action bias to what I call the myth of multitasking, we have been fed a narrative that says great decisions can be made constantly in the immediacy of now.
What Google could learn from Whirlpool
Google is celebrated for the 20 percent of the work week that they enable their technology team to self-direct and literally drive their thinking toward whatever project is of most interest. It creates a wonderful sense of autonomy.
But I juxtapose Google in the book with another company that most people would not put in the same category: Whirlpool. They spend about 20 percent of their teams’ time on what they call the innovation agenda. Both [are] great, powerful examples, both [are] carving out time to think and do reflection inside some structured environment. But what Whirlpool has done vs. Google is that they’ve put more of a tapestry on top of it, more of an architecture, including a set of quality gates that will enable an idea to go from big, bold thinking or big idea all the way through the executive lens that constantly peers down and asks great questions.
In the end, Whirlpool is keenly interested in whether or not [an idea] is going to have a positive impact on their balance sheet and whether or not it can accelerate their desire to be market-makers in the world of appliances. Google, on the other hand, has had huge amounts of press and lots of goodwill that has come from so many of their think-time projects, including their desire to scan every book in the world.
The question is, as you get bigger — and Google is 26,000 people now — how do you create some sort of common language around thinking? My sense after writing this book is that self-directed think time inside a company that is expected to nurture big ideas can be somewhat dangerous and get to an outcome that may be less optimal.
Google promised the world that they were going to do a lot of innovative projects that would not necessarily drive revenue and outcome. But I think what you are seeing now as some people choose to stay with the firm or leave the firm is whether or not they feel their ideas can get heard by the most senior level. And I think that [new Google CEO Larry Page] is stepping up to that moment because he has to create an architecture that allows a big idea to bubble up as Whirlpool really does.
Letting your thoughts gallop
Jeff Hoffman, one of the founders of Priceline.com, does an exercise in the morning [that he calls] making time to wonder. He wonders about trends that are happening in the world. He wonders why the keywords that are being searched on Google are what they are at that moment. And he says that on any one day, it might not amount to much, it just might be some noise and some data points he writes in his notebook, but over time, he allows that to gallop.
He uses each morning to create new assimilations in his mind, and he realizes once the day gets going, the ability to have your subconscious percolate an idea or make an association to get to a breakthrough does not necessarily happen when you are constantly tethered to the technology or when your day is so busy you cannot carve out [time]. So at an individual level, [such an approach] can have a huge amount of utility, particularly, I think, if you hold the morning time more sacred than many do.
[Group brainstorming is] what I call not group think but group reflection. And what is that? That is the art of allowing a group of people to almost create a consciousness as a group in which there is a bit of a social contract in the ways that people handle each other, treat each other and more importantly what they do with an idea. [It] is nurtured and passed around, not judged so much — questioned for sure, but not judged in terms of immediate efficacy.
But [we need to] create capacity for leaders to do that. And by the way, you can’t ever get group reflection when 50 percent of the room is naively attempting multitasking. Laptops are up, and BlackBerrys are on. Let’s assume that [technology] is out of the room. But when you get in the moments of group reflection, you can get through different breakthroughs and different outcomes.
The cost of high productivity
We’re coming off the tail end of a recession here, and if you were inside companies and organizations that were going through massive layoffs amidst the great uncertainty that we had, it would seem that your best play would be to not complain about that kind of thing, to not complain about being on call 24/7.
American productivity, even in this recession, went up. I think we are pushing people to an edge that we haven’t seen in the arc of American business history. I am fairly convinced of it actually. In other words, this idea that you can take someone and work 12 or 15 hours and expect high outcome and high productivity and at the same time the nurturing of the big ideas that would help you to get through the next recession or diversify your services and products within a recession — I think that that is a naive idea.
The 11-minute interruption
I have stopped using instant messaging. My conclusion was that there were many ways to get hold of me. I have e-mail, I have a cell phone, and I am pretty good at face-to-face. So you know you have three channels to meet me.
And once I read the data point that [when] you interrupt me, if I am in the middle of something profound, it could take me 11 minutes to recover from that interruption, I have also become more respectful of how I don’t interrupt other people. This is not just about me, this is about me showing respect on my teams and in the spaces I go to. When folks are in the middle of a dialogue, my simple: “Hey, how’s it going?” could be interrupting the limited moment of thinking that they are going to get in the course of a day. So it has taught me to respect it more.
I also find myself…trying to hold [mornings] sacred, and I’m moving toward doing a little bit more of what Jeff Hoffman talks about, wondering and making different assimilations.
I had never taken seven weeks off from a company before in my life, [but I did it] to write the first overview of the [book] manuscript. When I did it, I went to live at a friend of mine’s home, and it was one of the most humbling moments in my life because I realized that I had all this research that I had done, all these interviews, all this data, and I had no connectivity to the Internet in the house that I was in — and it was really wonderful.
Unplugging from that made me realize that when I focused, in 12 hours, what I was able to come out with was something that most people aspire to. In seven weeks, I was able to at least draft out the underpinnings of the architecture of the think time.
[It] taught me that when I truly focus in short bursts of time and I hold it sacred for two, three hours at a clip, which I now do more frequently, I am able to produce more thinking that has the ability to be further ahead than most people in conversation, and then I can bring people along to it.
But if I short-change that, I do not ever get to the breakthrough. I am right there on the edge and I think I am relevant, but I have learned that relevance involves also stepping back to be reflective, and so it has taught me a little control. Am I perfect at it? No.
Take a look at the last chapter of the book where [global investor] Kyle Bass, David Walker [former U.S. comptroller general and now CEO of the Comeback America Initiative] and I were talking about this simple idea — and [yet] it’s not a simple idea. We’re getting really good at reflection after a catastrophe.
After [Hurricane Katrina], after the financial implosion, after the Deep Water Horizon [oil rig disaster], inevitably we stand up these commissions that become bodies of reflection. Shouldn’t that make us all pause and think: How do we as leaders create into the tapestry of our days the ability to think and reflect, such that those reports become shorter or even leave this Earth? Why is reflection a habitual routine after the worst has happened?
I think that is very telling and leaders have to take something from that. It should be telling us that we should move it upstream [and] think through the downside beforehand.
About the Author: Michael Hardy is the managing editor/daily report for the 1105 Government Information Group.
I was in Rochester NY last week for a few talks and was able to sit down with a local journalist about the book and its findings.
Posted by Matt Daneman • May 9, 2011 • 3:41 pm
Whirlpool makes its fortune selling appliances to women – they being the chief consumer and purchase decision maker for washers, dryers and fridges. But it was by taking the time to question that orthodoxy that Whirlpool came up with the idea for its Gladiator Garageworks line of workbenches, wall storage systems and other garage/mancave gear that has become a big seller for the company. And deconstructing anecdotes like that, Daniel Patrick Forrester came up with the thesis behind his book ‘Consider: Harnessing the Power of Reflective Thinking In Your Organization. ’ (2011, 256 pages, $30, Palgrave Macmillan). In Consider, Forrester argues that organizations – be they businesses or the U.S. Army – make the best decisions when they take time to reflect and consider. Of course, that can be a challenge in a world where a higher priority is constantly put on speed and action. Forrester, a Maryland resident, spoke at his alma mater, the University of Rochester’s Simon Graduate School of Business Administration. And separately he talked with the Democrat and Chronicle. What fallows is an edited version of that 45-minute conversation:
Forrester: The evidence is mounting that leaders and organizations today are not taking time today to think before they act. There’s an organization I cite, BASICS out of New York City, they study knowledge workers. And they calculate what happens during the course of a knowledge workers day – how much time they spend in meetings, how much time they spend online, how much time they spend getting interrupted and how much time they spend thinking. The number on thinking is down to about 5 percent of a knowledge workers day. 30 percent of a knowledge worker’s day is spent getting interrupted by things that are unimportant, such as deluges of emails, instant messaging, and trying to recover from interruptions.
They quantified another thing I thought was fascinating – if I interrupt you in the middle of some profound moment, you might be hatching the next great idea inside the firm, they suggest it will take you 11 minutes to recover from that interruption if you ever recover. That’s not to say I’m against being social at the office. They’re more thinking about it in terms of interruptions of things that are electronic particularly. The inbound message, the inbound text, the constant tethering to technology. I didn’t want to just lament this, I wanted to say what are leaders doing and what are organizations doing so they are able to contend with it.
D&C: There such a priority on fast quick now turnaround. I’m wondering the notion of people putting more of a premium on stopping, thinking, giving thoughtful process to what they’re doing sounds all well and good. But it sounds like the advice of people should eat a lot more green leafy vegetables. The reality is its not going to happen. How practical is the idea that consideration should be a greater emphasis?
Forrester: The practicality of it is demanded by what we get to observe when we don’t take time to think. We’re getting amazing at it in this country of writing deeply reflective reports after a financial implosion, after a lack of response to a hurricane, after the Deepwater Horizon is at the bottom of the ocean. That’s not to say we can predict each of these events. But you read those reports… the opening lines of most of them have this notion of how people had a bias toward action, a bias toward doing things, and inside the cultures of those organizations there was no incentive to push back, to dissent. You get to catastrophic results when you see this constant desire toward doing something. (U.S. Army General) David Petraeus said to me, ‘Daniel, the first job of a leader is to get the big ideas right. They take time, you have to mature them.’ So when I studied organizations, you realize without reflection and without the ability to have leaders spend some part of their day to pull back and nurture the big ideas, there’s no way theyre going to be able to do anything but contend with the immediate. And when you only contend with the immediate, one day you’re going to get knocked in the jaw.
(Gesturing to his and this reporter’s iPhone) These are products of deep reflection. It’s only coming because they have the ability to take the long view, to step back, to refine it, to be patient with what they’ve brought to the market even though the market wants more and more from them every day. Whatever they come out with, there’s a line around the building. That tells me they’re relevant, they’re getting their customer base right, they’re thinking at deep deep levels before they release a product out onto the market.
I juxtapose that in the book with organizations like the Army. I wanted to study General Petraeus and his behaviors prior to going into Iraq because I asked myself everybody knows about the surge. I was very curious, something had to have happened before the surge. And it turns out there was a seven-month period in which he was not in Iraq, he was in Leavenworth, Kan., and in the Pentagon, thinking, reflecting and refining the doctrine that guides counterinsurgency for our country. Why? We got it wrong – we went to war with an outdated counterinsurgency policy. Our soldiers were riffing and making it up as they go along. (Petraeus) said to me ‘Daniel, the surge wasn’t a surge of troops. The surge was a surge of ideas.’ What I began to discover is that leaders can’t think all day long – I get that. Leaders are called to act. But I think the edge of action today and the habitual response because of the immediate technology seems to imply to us is at some point displacing the thing that makes us most special – our ability to think, ot nurture ideas, and to even give that more than 5 percent of our day.
D&C: What makes you think this is a new trend of a premium not being put on thinking?
Forrester: Thinking is put a premium upon. The top schools in this country are sought after and the top students are always sought after because of their ability to think critically. What’s concerning to me is not so much that thinking is undervalued - it’s that within the organizations I talk a lot about the social contract, the idea of how ideas are passed around and how people behave at meetings. I’ve been at far too many meetings in consequentialsituations in which people are naively trying to do things like multitask. Having your latotp up, attempting to respond to emails while someone is briefing you on something consequential. The data on that tells us that multitasking is mythology. Look at Monster.com, see how many job descriptions feature the notion of mutltiasking. Can drive a car and text message at the same time? The answer is you can, but neither of those achieve a high efficacy. Performance on both suffers. Yet we have people in the mdist of their day, multiple tabs open, instant messaging, constant interruption, and it doesn’t seen like I got anything done today. Why? We have no social contract or rule set that governs how do we hand out the instand message or the email or the exchange of information with one another. You’re not going to shut down email. But I did a case study in the book of a company out of Atlanta called PBD (Worldwide Fulfillment). They’re a transport company. They have a policy, no-email Fridays. If a client emails them on Friday, they can respond. Inside the firm though, they don’t resond to each other. They’ll call each other, they’ll sit and talk to one another, or more importantly they’ll spend more time with their clients. Morale is up, human connection is up, customer relationships are up. It proved to me that when an organization and a leadership team is willing to commit to simply looking at this issue, we can do better.
D&C: So what are some ways organizations and leaders can do better?
Forrester: There’s no silver bullet. Many leaders suggest we can’t control the pace of the day. We don’t know whats going to happen at 12 oclock or 4 o’clock in a given day. One thing we do know, there’s less synchronization in the world in the morning. I’ve studied a lot of the habits of leaders where, before they turn on and plug into email and connect in the morning, they’re doing various activites in which they’re thnking, they might even be doing atypical thinking – reading things that get them out of their comfort zone, becaue the rest of the day is going to spent contending with massive amounts of data. Jeff Hoffman, one fo the founders of Priceline.com, he said to me ‘I make time every morning to wonder.’ He calls it his wonder time. ‘I wonder about the trends I’m seeing. I don’t check my email. I don’t work on the tasks I’m going to work on that day. I’ll go to places like Yahoo and Google and see what the key word searches have been across the world in the last 24 hours.’ They’re data points. You tend to discover in those morning sessions some interesting associations you’d never get to make in the course of a day when people are pounding him with information. I thought that was fascinating.
I juxtapose that with Abrham Lincoln. There are a number of stories, he had a physical location he lived outside of the White House, the Soldiers Home, which is north of the White House. He lived there about a quarter of his presidency. Many mornings you would find Lincoln alone reading the Bible, reading SHakespeark. Why? Once you arrive at the White House, he described it as the Beggars Opera, the Iron Cage. His day was spent in a constant queue. Those morning times, he held them sacred. They say some of the early kernels of the Emancipation Proclamation were born in his head through small snippets of paper discovered in his desk there. What does that tell you? He created a separation of home and work at some level. There was fleeting moments of thinking, that allowed him to craft one of the biggest ideas of all time for our country. So when you think about that, if you don’t find about that time to do it, life will happen to you. You’ll be constantly in responsiveness mode. And you may not hatch something that can transcendent for your organization.