One Thing Done is Better Than Three Things Three Quarters Done.

One Thing Done is Better Than Three Things Three Quarters Done.

Sometimes it may be necessary, but multitasking doesn’t always work.

Multitasking can turn into the classic case of three things three quarters done. This can equal almost zero value.*  Imagine if all leaders spent the same time (probably less) on just one of their tasks and shipped and shared the outcome? That would equal something of value.

These traps are just so easy to fall into. As work gets more complex, especially as we work from home, more people are often involved in multiple projects and the trap of multitasking gets easier to fall into. We do live in the real world and sometimes there is no option to do this, but try to block out space to do one thing at a time and. just. focus.

Many things need responding to, meetings come up, we have to wait for others to do things, we need to respond to others. These are all real things we have to manage. However, when you look at the science or even just pause to reflect, the cost is great, so we should be as conscious as possible about multitasking and try to overcome it as much as possible. A nice saying to remember that helps is…

One thing done is better than three things three quarters done.

It’s even worse if you look at the human brain. We can only keep one thing at a time in working memory. So when we multitask we are actually operating sequentially, stopping one thing, re-finding the ‘memory’ of the old one and then starting again. This costs us minutes of cognitive function (aka productivity in our kind of work) while we get up to speed with the new task. Another way to look at it, is that task switching costs us about 30% of our cognitive capacity – yep, focusing on just one thing at a time for a prolonged period of time makes you 30% smarter (or vice versa). I know what I would prefer!

* The value isn’t really zero as there is significant value in working across multiple tasks. Focusing on one thing however can help you get there a little faster.

Want to read more?

  • Diversity in Counsel, Unity in Command HERE
  • A.I, Coaching and Chess HERE
Everyone’s Problem Is No Ones Problem

Everyone’s Problem Is No Ones Problem

I got an email about related to a problem one of our partners was experiencing. I was one of five people cc’d into the email. I glanced at it and thought, “hmm that’s a bit tough, I might need some help with this”. Then I noticed that the person I would ask for help was on the email as well in cc. My instant system one brain kicked in, ‘whew, not my problem, archive that and move on”. The only problem is that everyone else on that email would have been justified in doing the same thing. Everyone’s problem is no-one’s problem.

I had just become another workplace example of the well researched theory of, “the bystander effect” blended with a bit of “social loafing”. If I think that someone else might act then I am less likely to take take responsibility (aka Leadership). It’s also closely related to specific vs general concept. What would I be more likely to respond to? a) Carl, our app is causing phones to dissolve into a pile of yellow goo – can you help me?, or b) People, it seems the app is causing problems with phones – any ideas?” OK, I’m exaggerating for effect, but if we are honest this type of thing happens all the time. It is also very likely to happen more, and do more damage as we grow and resultantly we don’t innately know each other and know each others work as much.

What can we do about it? First I think we should be conscious of it. The responsibility sits on both the side of the sender of the message and the receiver of the message (I mean this broadly not just with emails). There is no moral high ground and it impacts us all – these are psychological biases and tendencies all people have, not a bad or distracted person.

So now we are conscious and aware we can take a path of action. Don’t get something off your plate by adding it to a bunch of other people’s plates and then wonder why it doesn’t get solved, instead ask the one person who is best to solve it. Equally, if you receive a note like I did, don’t do what I just did. Instead take a moment (to save many) and connect the problem raiser with the ideal problem solver directly. It also goes deeper. One part of a leaders role is to make sure there is clarity in our work and roles, but this can only go so far. Make it part of everyone’s job to let others know what they do and the things they can deal with, if we all do this then all of us will know more precisely where to go specifically for help when issues arise.

The upside is a big one, lets benefit from the “Wisdom of the Crowds” … rather than fall into the… “none of us are as dumb as all of us”, trap.

A.I, Coaching and Chess

A.I, Coaching and Chess

One of the best grand chess masters of all time is Garry Kasparov. Grand chess masters hone their skills with tens of thousands of hours of deliberate practice. They learn to “see” patterns and future move’s almost instantly. 

This practice is as important as chess is complex.  After 4 moves there are 288 billion positions that can arise!  Yep! However, unlike much of the natural world and interactions with other people it is a finite domain – despite the vast numbers, you can count all of the possible positions. I can’t count the possible outcomes of one short interaction with another human (or even a bunny rabbit for that manner) but I can count the possible moves in chess.

Given this finite complexity, computer scientists saw chess as the ultimate testing ground for “intelligent” machines. Could a computer beat a grand chess master? For years the answer was, “not even close”. Humans ruled hands down.

Then in 1996 the IBM supercomputer ‘Deep Blue’ and Kasparov duelled for 6 games. Kasparov won, but it was close. The next year they rematched and Deep Blue won. Since then it’s been one way traffic. Was this the Terminator turning point? The end of humans and the rise of machines?

Not quite. Kasparov had an insight – What about tournaments between humans paired with computers? Take a “good” chess player (not a grand master) and pair them with a super computer and what happens? they destroy everyone. Grand Masters, Deep Blue, the lot.

It’s yet another example of the power of AND. Human’s can strategise and “imagine” what might be a good move. The computer can run the numbers and tell you if it will be. It’s using the best of humans and machines.  

I share this as a story of hope and opportunity. Chess is complex but unlike most of the world we live in it is still a constrained and finite problem space.  Therefore, chess is a simple, not a wicked, problem to solve.  Even in this domain computers still don’t fully rule (I think they will soon). Funnily enough, thanks to human technologies just about all the worthwhile problems we as humans face are wicked (almost unendingly complex), not simple.

So the opportunity for most of the world, and certainly leadership development and coaching for quite some time is humans plus machines.  Let the human coaches and facilitators do what only they can do, such as, the deep insightful, caring and connecting work. Combine this with what computers can do well, such as connecting insights from vast databases, staying with people (in a pocket or on a wrist), and providing space for private reflection. We can vastly improve the accessibility and impact of leadership development, leading to a more conscious society that ironically will stay ahead of machines and AI for longer! Cyborg coaching?

We are at the start line and out of the blocks – what next ideas or future do you see to more effectively leverage human machine pairings?


Diversity in Counsel, Unity in Command

Diversity in Counsel, Unity in Command

Agile is a bit of a buzz word in business at the moment. How many of us have; been in a cross functional sprint team, had a ‘retro’, or planned to ‘iterate’ an idea in the last year? I am a fan. However I’m also a BIG believer in us doing our own learning. Taking the principles of Agile and making our own versions of this. Here is a window into some of my own learnings hot off the press this week.

1) ‘Diversity in counsel unity in command (execution)’ – Cyrus the Great

Cross functional sprint teams are great for making sense of opportunity and what is required to make it work. We quickly build relationships, understood scope and potential and created energy. This is all vital for eventual execution of what is created. Remote Cross-functional sprint teams can sometimes struggle to execute and create as the work of everyones ‘day jobs’ wins, and after a while meetings are 50% about why last meetings actions didn’t get done.

2) Blitzing works
When execution is required blitz sessions work. Longer meetings that are more like workshops where the work is done, not talked about

3) Reflecting and pivoting is critical
Regular meetings and cadence help build momentum. However they also build inertia – the team can stay in place and continue the meeting, long after the benefit is extracted. Plan to pause, reflect and have the courage to adjust how the sprint team is meeting and functioning as progress is made

4) Creating and ‘owning’ product is a thing, it’s not an add on to our other work
Innovative offerings need investment, deep care and ownership to not just be an increment on what is already done
It is very very hard to do this around another jobs. Ideas and input are important but are also cheap and easy for others to give. Creation and execution need a home, a day job.These are raw reflections. I’d love you to build on these reflections within your own teams. How can you learn together and shine a spotlight on what works for you and your team and tweak what doesn’t.