The invisible marketplace

When was the last time you stopped to think before making a decision? I mean really stopped to think?


Some of us are not very good at it.  We’re always in a hurry, running from one meeting to another; trying to grab a moment here and there to stop from drowning in our sea of email; and feeling the pressure to manage everybody else’s expectations of us.  All the while trying to steer our ship through a myriad of challenges and opportunities.

In recent weeks I have listened to a former executive of a major accounting firm describe the challenges of being in transition and wanting the second half of his life to count for something significant; a leader who was asked to step down, and consequently, was deeply hurt by those he trusted; and a senior executive who was continually being overridden by the CEO because of the CEO’s insecurities.  These are not enjoyable experiences, and yet, there is much that can be learned from them.

The problem is, we often don’t stop long enough to process these types of experiences as we feel pressure to move quickly on to what is next.  One of the primary reasons for this is because our sense of identity and significance is often wrapped up in activity and being productive.  Daniel Forrester alludes to this phenomenon, when he describes how we live in a world where there’s “an intangible and invisible marketplace within our lives today, where the products traded are four-fold: attention, distraction, data and meaning.”[i]

This is not insignificant when we consider that 11 minutes is the average time spent on a task before an interruption; that it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to the task; and that it takes 50 percent more time to complete the task, and that you are likely to make 50 percent more errors.[ii]

What I like about Forrester’s work in Consider, is that he doesn’t merely challenge leaders to find time to be more efficient operators per se by improving their ability to manage overflowing inboxes and the ubiquitous nature of email (although he does provide some great ideas). He recognizes that the responsibility for developing a culture that facilitates and supports “Think Time” begins with the personal habits of the leader.  The leader must be courageous enough to step away from the status quo and encourage his followers to do the same.

Forrester cites numerous examples that reveal the importance of organizations giving staff time to think creatively, including Google, who were concerned about losing talent; and Whirlpool, who wanted to encourage innovative thinking from within to help stay ahead of the competition.[iii]  There is no doubt that a leader, who can create the space for “Think Time” and reflection, has the opportunity to influence the long-term value proposition of the organization.

 What’s the bottom-line?

Before you think that Forrester comes from another planet where idealism rules, let me summarize a few other points you might find helpful:

  1. Encourage and reward the behaviors of individuals who formally structure think time and reflection in order to solve both simple and complex problems.[iv]
  2. Obsession with allowing email to dominate communication often sits at the basis of fragmented human connections.Put technology into a hierarchy of communication.[v]
  3. Personal control: We might not be able to stop the flow of data and creation of content that dominates our day, but we can control how we structure the moments that arise and our responses.[vi] Try taking the night off!
  4. Leaders that allow cultures to bring the unknowns to the surface and question the underlying assumptions and dominant positions, often prove more capable of managing continuous change and uncertain markets.[vii] Forrester also refers to this as “open-source” strategy.

[i] Daniel Patrick Forrester, Consider: Harnessing the Power of Reflective Thinking in Your Organization (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2011), 4.

[ii] Dr. André Martin, Webinar: A New Map of Leadership: Global Trends Impacting Leaders and Leadership Development; and David Brooks, The Social Animal: A Story of How Success Happens (London: Short Books, 2011), 92.

[iii] Daniel Forrester, Consider, 78, 85.

[iv] Ibid., 10.

[v] Ibid., 40.

[vi] Ibid., 50.

[vii] Ibid.,70, 136.

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