Neuroscience in Business: What we can’t do while ‘multi-tasking’

The brain does not multi-task. This simple biological fact has huge implications for business…says Marsha Shenk in her blog “Neuroscience in Business: What we can’t do while Multi-Tasking.”

Marsha, long time friend, business anthropologist, and student of leadership in commerce is in the continual search for how organizations and the people in them can do more than succeed, but thrive in today’s tumultuous environment…

So what if your corporate culture accepts-even demands-multi-tasking? (Do you know one that doesn’t these days?)

As Marsha writes, “You’re as sharp as a drunk driver. You will miss-and misinterpret- as much of what is going on around you as someone who could be arrested for DWI…

Not only will you miss important information, you certainly will not generate new questions or solutions. Responsive to market changes? Forget it. Figuring out new ways to deploy resources? Not a chance.”

…Imagine we’re in an economic downturn (sound familiar?)– markets and people are worried, jittery, fearful…”Your enterprise will thrive – or not – based on your ability to:

  • Notice what’s going on-Be curious about what might be valuable in this new reality
  • Generate new solutions for new concerns
  • Provoke Customers’ curiosity about new solutions.

Multi-tasking may be the most dangerous habit we’ve ever allowed,” says Marsha.

“Driving while talking on a cell phone is worse than driving drunk,” says John Medina, author of “Brain Rules.” 

So how many meetings have you attended where most of the participants, or better yet, the very ones that the meeting has been called for, are using a blackberry while someone else (maybe even you) is presenting a new idea? How many times have things had to be repeated because meeting participants admit that they missed what was said? Or dialog and ideas are curtailed because people aren’t engaged? Is this leadership?

More people are recognizing how dangerous multi-tasking can be to business and relationships. Edward M. Hallowell captured this concern back in his 2005 Harvard Business Review article titled: “Overloaded Circuits: Why Smart People Underperform”  Multi-tasking… the frenzy… “prevent managers from clarifying priorities, making smart decisions and managing their time”…”As data increasingly flood our brains, we lose our ability to solve problems and handel the unknown.  Creativity shrivels; mistakes multiply”….says Hallowell.

I don’t know about you…but maybe it’s time we all said “enough” and started by putting an end to the continual use of blackberrys and laptops in meetings…so that we can all better focus on the issues at hand; improve creativity. 

I know at home, my husband and boys have said “enough of the gamegirl” (their fond nickname for my blackberry)–and I have to say, I’m better for the honoring of their request… How about you?