The writer Nicholas Carr said about the influence of the Internet on the way he wrote and, in general, on his overall cognitive habits: “Once I was a scuba diver in a sea of words, now I zip along the surface like a guy on a jet ski.”
The new generation of managers are learning jet ski management fast. We ask people not to read a report but to ‘skim through’. We ask for an executive summary, not an executive amplification of the ‘so what’. We said, please summarise, not please elaborate further. Of course there is an ‘art of briefing’. But a good briefing is not necessarily a full argument on a diet.
Perhaps we don’t have the time for scuba diving on each piece of reality in front of us, but, we have to admit that jet skiing every single one will never get us anywhere serious.
I know, I know, my readers and friends love the ‘but we need both’ argument. Of course we do. My point is that we don’t have much diving and we are progressively creating management jet skiing as corporate competence. I don’t have hard data, but lots of evidence from my own consulting practice; we are going that way.
Not long ago you were perhaps used to being sent briefings, preparation materials and reading before meetings. If you were like many of my clients, you would have almost stopped the practice since (these maybe your words), ‘nobody reads anything’. Meetings are taking place with people reading the pre-meeting briefing on the spot, whilst also (a) listening to other people’s arguments, (b) texting somebody, and, who knows, (c) doing emails. And by the way, we need to make a decision.
There is a link, however, between the scuba diving and the jet skiing in management. It is called Critical Thinking. It has to do with acquiring habits to distinguish signal and noise, to prevent your own mental traps (fallacies and habits), to install rigour and, in general, make better judgements and decisions.
These skills can be taught. You would have thought that they are nurtured and taught at school, to start with. However, many schools are, on the contrary, reinforcing anti-critical thinking by uncritically adopting a massive digitalisation of ‘pupil work’, but not the skilling to navigate it.
In our organizations, I have said before, we need to put Critical Thinking in the water supply since this is the only hope for the coexistence of scuba diving and jet skiing management.
Exercising Critical Thinking is to the mind what going to the gym or running is to the body.
So far, jet skiing 1, scuba diving nil. Is this the progression of management?