Boredom in the 21st century

Boredom in the 21st century

I suppose entering a new year is generally a cause for reflection on my part, and I tend to begin the year reviewing some Stephen Covey or similar classic in the self-management field. I find it sets me on the right path for the year, and gets me thinking about what is important in the various parts of my life. This past week, I’ve been particularly interested in management styles. I ran across a couple of blogs which got me thinking about the New Management of today.

Jeffrey Philips at the Thinking Faster blog essentially advocates working the way you live—for him that means working like a channel surfer and having meetings/conversations in 90-second sound bites. Lisa Haneberg at Management Craft says that we should not pander to boredom although we should still be considerate of differences in work style.  What’s the right approach?  Is there a universal right approach?

After reading both items (and fresh from reminding myself about my own values), I realize that I don’t think that this is a question of work styles or even boredom — I wonder if this bigger-better-faster-more approach is more to do with enjoyment and how we feel we have to entertain ourselves in the 21st century (Carl Honore would argue yes). What do we enjoy?

My observation is that we tend to partake in mind-numbing entertainment where ideas are generally pre-packaged and where, if we are lucky, we are inundated with scads of tiny, insignificant minutae to think about on a daily level (except where we are just going into entertainment-comas). But is this really enjoyment? Are we taking the time to stop and smell the proverbial roses? And how is that translating into our work styles? Relationship building is so important to success and enjoyment in my life, I just cannot imagine attempting to live my life around communications that are shorter than the average sound bite. Much of my professional enjoyment comes from untangling and clarifying complex concepts, so picturing my task list consisting of Ford-Would-Be-Proud-Of-This-Assembly-Line type items where I just spend a few seconds tightening this or that bolt before I move onto the next item is cause for a shudder (or ten).

In short, quality takes time.

So. Are we truly a society of individuals with ADHD? Can we only think and interact in sound bites? Better yet, from a management style perspective, how can we manage individuals that are today’s channel surfers?

I know that within my own teams and projects, I am much more successful as a manager when I am personally valuing individual contribution and needs (even of the channel surfers!). This has historically taken me a lot of time, and I have been both criticized and praised for taking all that time. I guess some pundits of the cult of speed would wonder why I’m not just channel-surfing my teams until I run across the right combination of tactics and personnel.  My opinion is that people need to feel that they are taken into account as individuals, including their work style among a wide array of attributes. More often than not, my experience has been that when employees feel heard, the pandering to boredom concept goes out the window, and although sometimes focus may be an issue when individuals are prone to a lack of it…well, it’s manageable within the context of the human relationship.

Behaviors that seem to arise from boredom — and the negative consequences they can bring — are often a result of an improper management style being applied to individuals.  It’s easy to think that people should fit within a management framework, but how often is the framework adjusted to the people?

(I think Michael Lopp’s Managing Humans should be necessary reading.)

What are your experiences?

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