Taking in Less to Take in More (Information)


After two weeks of travel I’ve found myself back at the office and the usual “stuff” of life. That is, the things that one becomes accustomed to like your office chair, your home, your neighbourhood and even your sock drawer. You know where everything is and there is a certain level of comfort in that. When you’re on the road, you wake up in new rooms to new smells and new places for your socks. But what is remarkable is how attentive you are to things in this new environment. You notice the smells, the texture of the sheets, the sounds from outside the window. But, with every night that goes by, the familiarity creeps in and you stop paying attention.

I tried a little experiment and shut out most of my Twitter feeds, Facebook posts and Google Reader feeds for the past two weeks. This was as much about not having a lot of time or reliable Internet connections, but also to try some of the low-calorie information dieting that I wrote about earlier. So what happened when I got back? I found myself getting a lot better at skimming through content, sifting through the noise that inevitably comes with any information channel. My Twitter feed, which has many nuggets of gold, nonetheless subscribes to the Pareto principle , which is basically the 80/20 rule. This means that, at best, 20 per cent of what I get is useful, while the rest is useless or not useful.

What taking a break did was enable me to recalibrate my message system and rest, which has shown itself to be a good predictor of cognitive performance. Meditation is another means of recalibrating one’s system to small extent, which can break the patterns of habit. The reasons are largely attributed to disrupting cognitive patterns enough to enable the brain to rewire itself, or at least provide new connections that could compete with the pre-existing pattern. These new connections are important, because it is through these that we learn and grow.

Just observing myself I found myself far more attendant to what I was learning in front of me (which happened to be some amazing things on complexity research and social interconnectedness).

What makes this so unnerving is how little we take time to break the habits, rest, reflect until it is too late, or at time of someone else’s choosing and not our own. Think of Haiti. That country has been suffering for decades, yet it took an earthquake for people to pay attention.

So let’s consider some ways to re-calibrate our organizations and ourselves by taking a break now and then from the relentless chatter of social media and the steady stream of information every so often. By doing that, maybe we’ll actually take in (and learn) more. I sure did.

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