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Busy Doesn't Just Kill Strategy, It Destroys Companies

To Be More Strategic, Be Less Busy

“That’s cute—but don’t tell anyone about it.”

These words marked the beginning of a digital revolution and cemented one company’s infamy in the annals of strategic failure.

It was 1975 and an engineer at Kodak had just invented the first digital camera.

Though Kodak’s management team initially viewed it as a threat to their single-use-film cash cow, they eventually commissioned a study to examine the efficacy of this digital disruptor.

Where they failed was neglecting to adapt when the study identified the digital transformation that would change the photography industry in ten years time.

Instead of capitalizing on one of the most creative innovations in the history of photography—which they invented!—Kodak’s leadership team remained busy and distracted in the photo film, chemical, and paper industries.

For many organizations, digital transformation (DX) means becoming something they’ve never been or entering a market that hasn’t existed before now. They will need creativity to think critically in this new world. They will need creativity to find a new approach to solving age-old problems.

Unfortunately, our hyper-productive and “busy” approach to business can overwhelm us to the point of detriment. Busy doesn’t just kill productivity—it’s a creative strategy strangler as well.

  1. Busy people survive by being reactive instead of thriving by being proactive. When you’re stuck in a cycle of reacting to emergencies, you aren’t following any kind of strategy—much less spending the time it takes to develop creative strategies that separate the winners from the losers in modern enterprise.
  2. Busy people tend to think in activity instead of productivity. Strategic thinkers focus on productivity, not time spent in production. Sure they still have activities to do, but they prioritize them around moving closer to business objectives—not just moving things around on their calendars.
  3. Busy people can’t separate distractions from priorities. It’s easy to get caught in a cycle of staying busy replying to emails and enacting dead-end strategies that don’t align with business objectives.The longer you spend distracted the harder it is to focus and creatively contribute to your business strategy.  

Creativity isn’t a burst of inspiration; it’s strategic. And to tap into this strategic creativity, one must make time to deliberately pursue it.

And so whether you’re at work or home, here are ways to set aside the time and space required to develop those deep, creative strategies that guide successful digital transformation.

At Work: Work with Your Body’s Ebbs and Flows

We live in a sleep-obsessed culture; so does it seem like we’re always so tired and unable to focus at work?

A white paper from Health Advocate found that presenteeism, which is that familiar state of being at work but not be able to work effectively, costs companies $150 billion per year.

That’s because, in addition to the circadian rhythm that factors into our sleep cycles, our bodies are also believed to have an ultradian rhythm that causes natural ebbs and flows in the way our brains functions throughout the day. And we don’t know how to use it strategically.

It’s actually pretty simple to take advantage of these ebbs and flows. To drastically increase your strategic creativity and productivity at without adding a single new item to your to do list, try this:

  1. Turn off desktop notifications, put your phone away, and spend 90ish minutes doing high-frequency, focused work.
  2. After that cycle, rest for 20ish minutes with lower-frequency activity.

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Pushing through the rest cycles in you ultradian rhythm has been found to trigger a stress response. The American Institute of Stress estimates that workplace stress costs U.S. employers $300 billion every year.

While it’s probably discouraged to roll out your sleeping bag and stretch out a la Kindergarten nap time every hour and a half; try taking a walk, closing your eyes and listening to music, grabbing a snack, or doing anything else that relaxes your eyes and your mind so you can recharge for your next deep, creative thinking section.

Outside of Work: All Work and No Play Makes You Less Innovative

In 2014, Glassdoor found that American employees only take half their vacation days. Worse yet, over half of them still continued to work on these days “off.”

Who else is willing to bet those stats have only gotten more dismal in the past few years?

Billionaire Virgin Group co-founder Richard Branson makes time to exercise, read, and hang out with his family every day—all things which he credits for keeping his mind “active and alert” when it does come time to work.

Co-founder of Microsoft, one of the richest people alive, and all-around busy dude Bill Gates still carves out time to read a book every single week.

Some of the most successful people in the world understand the importance of leaving work at work to maintain their creative and strategic edge.

A study by Shira Baror and Moshe Bar backs that up with the finding that innovative thinking is actually our natural default—but only when our minds are clear.

Study participants who were asked to take on a heavier mental load (memorizing a longer string of numbers) took longer and still came up with less creative responses than those who were given a light mental load (memorizing a shorter string of numbers).

It’s never been more clear that staying busy for the sake of bragging about being busy diminishes our capacity to come up with and enact creative business strategies.

It’s time to stop thinking of rest as a luxury. Instead, frame it as an absolute necessity for remaining relevant in a digitally transforming business world.

At Work: Improve and Automate Operations

Two-thirds of workers in the U.S. say they are either “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” at work. This often comes from being barraged with lots of “busy” work that is unfulfilling or repetitive.

Workers are sick and tired of tasks like pushing paper. Antiquated operations keep them buried deep inside bureaucratic departments where repetitive busy work induces high turnover rates and poor culture.

Digital transformation opens up a whole new world of creative strategic opportunities to unlock the potential of human capital.

At the popular on-demand grocery marketplace InstaCart, updating their cumbersome paper contractor onboarding system with secure, accurate, and accessible software saved their staff 50 hours every single week.

Their creative strategy to streamlining internal workflows through digital transformation also accelerated contract completion rates by 270 percent. That means they and their contractors are able to get to revenue almost 300 percent faster than they were before adopting DX!

Outside Of Work: Unplug and Play

It takes discipline to resist mindlessly sending messages to your team on Sunday mornings and staying connected with clients even while on vacation.

And we had better develop that discipline quickly.

Research shows that constant connectivity can irrevocably rewire our neural patterns to the point where we’ll no longer be able to reach the deep stages of thinking required to develop and enact groundbreaking creative strategies.

Nikola Tesla had his insight about rotating magnetic fields, which went on to become the founding principle of electric motors, while on a relaxing stroll.

Albert Einstein made time for classical music breaks between the deep-thinking sessions that led him to revolutionize physics.

Innovative strategizing happens only when you give your mind space and time to wander without having to do something.

To tap into it your creative strategy centers; meditate, exercise without your phone, or just close your eyes and be still while letting your mind drift for a while. Resist the temptation to give in to shallow stimulation. Embrace deep, creative thoughts.

Unfortunately, an addiction to busyness isn’t something you can just sleep off or take a 20-minute break from.

A mind that is able to rest is able think deeply about the kind of creative, transformative strategies that modern enterprises need to survive. And unfortunately, it’s becoming more and more rare. We’re rapidly becoming addicted to distractions that make our thinking addled, anxious, and too shallow to dive deeply into creative innovation.

“Perhaps we now need to engineer scarcity in our communications, in our interactions, and in the things we consume. Otherwise our lives become like a Morse code transmission that’s lacking breaks—a swarm of noise blanketing the valuable data beneath.” Michael Harris, The End of Absence

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