April 22, 2024

Need of ‘Silence’ to Understand the Future – Unique Times

We live in a time where technology has hyperbolically invaded our lives. What began as, ‘Hey, I can do that faster…’has now become ‘I can’t live without it’. In every person around us, like most of us, we see the urge to casually glance at cell phones, peruse the laptop screens endlessly and at times, even dance our fingertips meaninglessly on the keyboard. It’s been, but a decade, since we have been toasting and celebrating these prodigious time saving devices. But today we are slowly mulling over the fact that, these are perhaps ‘weapons of mass distraction’, which have to be handled with care and responsibility.

I remember teachers urging us in schools, in a distant past, to think over what we hear, read and silently mull over it. Then I remember some seniors at work urging me to ‘think through’. In fact the phrase ‘think through’ has been a part of my vocabulary and my daily rant to my colleagues –adnauseam.  But the point in all this is that, we need little silence to make out the meaning of what’s happening around us. That stillness is vital.

But the work stats of today are very different. An average educated Indian (though the data maybe valid for the uneducated as well) spends, more than nine hours looking at a screen – a computer, television or a mobile screen- intermittently. The furious Whatsapp users get more than 1000 messages a day. Yes, perhaps our ability to negotiate with this data deluge has improved, but it seems just too much. There are days when we feel that we just want to be free from these gazillion emails, blinking screens, perfunctory messages – free from all of it.

A prominent hotelier, a close friend and mentor, often quips that they have a Spartan model followed in the rooms of their various properties. They do not provide TV, internet and then there is poor network connectivity. ‘We charge you more, for not giving you any of these utilities! We charge you for freeing you from your enslavement to mindless drudgeries’, he says with a wry smile. While I always smile when I think about it – I think that will be the luxury, we will seek in the future. By definition, ‘luxury’ refers to ‘scarcity’ and is often subjective to what we individually or collectively think of ‘scarce’ – perhaps, he is right! A room which does not give you any of these is perhaps a luxurious‘pied-a-terre’ (or studio)!

The additional need of clearing out your minds is the need to sit and understand the pace of change in our work lives. The empty desk at yesterday’s office with perhaps a note book and a bunch of files in the ‘IN’ tray is visage of a very distant past, which we remember with a sense of nostalgia and wistful blues. We now have screens which perpetually scroll in front of us; be it the computers we work on, the smart phones we doodle on and the myriad screens everywhere. The apps ensure a ‘push’ model of the daily news, which sends you news faster than you can digest. The anticipatory wait for the daily newspaper in the morning with a cup of tea or coffee is now non-existent ; the websites and social media ensures that you get all the news you want in a split second , whether you want it or not!

The manager of today has seen fundamental changes in the nature of work as well. The mass digitization of our working universe is bringing forth the increasingly popular concepts of telecommuting or remote working. The manager of tomorrow will not see the need to beat three hours of traffic each day to commute between work, clients et.al. Employers will also re-evaluate the design of their work places and create meaning for their future business needs and business goals. Dave Coplin, the author of Business Reimagined says “The issue which organisations face is uncertainty. No one knows what is around the corner, how culture will change or what will happen to economies. Organisations will need people who can evolve!”

All this clutter also emphasises that each manager has to sit back and envision what the future beckons. The monotonous sleepwalking through work life with the daily rigmarole of quotidian tasks, does not give us the luxury of ‘thinking’. A quiet moment to sit back and think – ‘What is happening? How is our work changing? What do we need to embrace to leverage our and our teams’ futures?’ That is what every manager requires. Personal time management becomes more vital than ever before. Conscious thinking of careers will avoid cliffs of costs and cuts not only for individuals but also for organisations. The habits of the past are exactly that – of the past! Some of them will have to be unlearned and quickly.

Thinking time is not just a philosophical or spiritual conversation with oneself. It’s also not a luxury you take once in a blue moon!  This time has to be integrated with your daily life. This silence needs to reappear several times in your working day. You cannot let all this ‘thinking through’ to wait, till your next weekend or for your next annual vacation. For the managers who are able to work through this ‘work – think’ integration will increasingly understand the surge consciousness they have about their lives and the maturity to pre-empt at least some of the changes and in turn make adequate changes.

The criticality  of slowing down our mental muddle — to find the time and space to think — is nothing new, of course, and though leaders of every generation have always reminded us that the more attention we pay to the moment, the less time and energy we have, to place it in some larger context. “Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries,” the French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote in the 17th century, “and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.” He also famously remarked that all of man’s problems come from his inability to sit quietly in a room alone.

Even half a century ago, Marshall McLuhan, who came closer than most in seeing what was coming, warned, “When things come at you very fast, naturally you lose touch with yourself.” It is perhaps very true that the best ‘thinking time’ of the future is when we get stillness, time to think to ourselves, long walks in wilderness, hearing the harmonious chimes of nature and celebrating a ‘internet and network’ Sabbath !

Rajesh Nair














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