Jack Vinson has had several posts of late on the evils of multi-tasking and the unfortunate (yet seemingly unavoidable) and relentless march toward more and more multi-tasking. This comes from management styles, focus on action, and indeed the technologies we use.
Jack’s post today started me on a blog journey that resulted in several other worthwhile posts on the topic.
Chris Spagnuolo has an interesting article on multitasking, The Myth of Managed Multi-tasking:
Lifehacker: Multitasking: Stephen Covey on Balancing Work and Life
To a chronic multitasker, everything is a task. Soon, the things in life that are really important to them are in the same list as everything else, and the only tasks that get done are the ones that have become urgent, but often aren’t very important.
Steven Covey: How to strike a work and life balance [Stephen R. Covey]
1. You have to break the rules in order to learn the rules.
2. You have to learn the rules before you can break the rules.
3. You should always follow the rules, except when you shouldn’t.
It appears to me that they who in proof of any assertion rely simply on the weight of authority, without adducing any argument in support of it, act very absurdly. I, on the contrary, wish to be allowed freely to question and freely to answer you without any sort of adulation, as well becomes those who are in search of truth.
— Vincenzio Gallilei (1581)
Last week at the first Icarus St. Louis session, I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Adam Sachs, a St. Louis area coach. Our discussion about why people are so reluctant to hire coaches for non-athletic reasons for themselves, or for their kids, prompted me to revisit, and rework, some of my earlier thoughts on the question. Unfortunately, I still have only questions, no answers.
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A couple of years ago I was engaged in a discussion related to the question of work/life coaches, here is one of the responses:
Q: If you can’t afford a coach, what are you doing to support your professional growth?
A: I love (?) the assumptive nature of this question: that everyone needs a coach;… Do professionals need coaches? No, certainly not.
“No, certainly not.” So definitive, as if the very question was insulting. And yet, if the question were adjusted just a little bit, to read, “Do professional athletes need coaches?”, I have a feeling the answer would be more along the lines of, “Of course they do.” I’ve often wondered why this is: why is it acceptable, expected even, that athletes have and need coaches but considered a luxury if someone has a work/life coach and actually a detriment – a sign of weakness – if someone wants or needs a work/life coach?
The answer I quote above was just one response in the discussion, but many (most?) of the answers tended to dismiss the idea that a professional coach is desirable or needed. The alternatives range from talk with friends, study the success of others, and read and continue to develop your knowledge on the subject of your job.
Imagine if this approach were recommended to athletes, or to the owners of sports franchises. In most cases, such an approach would be a sure path to the loser’s circle, not to mention a quick way to get kicked out of the owner’s office for suggesting such a ridiculous idea.
If you ask a competitive athlete if they have / need a coach the answers will likely range from “Yes” to “Of course” to “Are you kidding?” More and more, if you ask a business executive the question, you will find that they believe a coach is worthwhile, possibly even necessary.
But if you ask the creative, the knowledge worker, the non-executive professional the same question the answers will likely range from “No” to “Huh?” to “Are you kidding?” (And the “Are you kidding” here means something completely different.)
What is it about our work as professionals in business that makes us so different from the work of professionals in sports that we don’t need a coach?
Solving a problem that you know has a solution may require knowledge, but it is knowledge that already exists. Unfortunately – or, if you prefer, fortunately – many of the problems that are worth solving, that need to be solved, don’t come with that level of certainty.
In his book, How Life Imitates Chess (which, by the way, I highly recommend), Garry Kasparov has this to say about uncertainty:
Knowing a solution is at hand is a huge advantage; it’s like not having a “none of the above” option. Anyone with reasonable competence and adequate resources can solve a puzzle when it is presented as something to be solved. We can skip the subtle evaluations and move directly to plugging in possible solutions until we hit upon a promising one. Uncertainty is far more challenging. Instead of immediately looking for solutions to the crisis, we have to maintain a constant state of asking, “Is there a crisis* forming?”