Businesses Would Improve by Doing Less and Thinking More
There are so many different types of advice on how people can succeed in business. But one of the bigger problems in the business world is the many distractions and interruptions.
The Dutch seem to think that an excess of meetings is the biggest time eater. But a study last year by the McKinsey Global Institute suggest that it's emails that take up people's time: the study found that highly skilled office workers spend more than a quarter of each working day writing and responding to emails.
So instead of going with a "lean in" strategy, it's time to try a "lean back" one. For example, Lord Melbourne, Queen Victoria's favorite prime minister, extolled the virtues of "masterful inactivity". Ronald Reagan also believed in not overdoing things. “It’s true hard work never killed anybody,” he said, “but I figure, why take the chance?”
The effects of 'leaning back' would mostly benefit people in the creative industry (and anyone who needs to fuel ideas). In the early 1990s, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi asked 275 creative people if he
could interview them for a book he was writing. A third did not bother
to reply and another third refused to participate. Management guru, Peter Drucker, summed up the mood of these refusers: “One of the
secrets of productivity is to have a very big waste-paper basket to take
care of all invitations such as yours.”
The most important resource for creative people is time - huge chunks of uninterrupted time. So these people may be at their best productivity levels when they appear to be doing nothing. But these people need the space and freedom to expand their minds. To the untrained manager's eye this may appear to look like a waste of time.
Managers could also benefit from this. The top guns are best employed thinking about strategy than operations. When Jack Welch was the boss of General Electric, he used to spend an hour a day in what he called "looking out of the window time". Even Bill Gates used to take two "think weeks" a year where he would lock himself in an isolated cottage.
In the business book "Do Nothing", the problem of over-management is addressed. Keith Murnighan of the Kellogg School of Management argues that the best managers focus their attention on establishing the right rules, by recruiting the right people and establishing the right incentives, and then get out of the way.
Doing nothing can only work if managers are able enough to co-ordinate complicated activities and disciplining slackers. Some creative people would never finish anything if they were left on their own for too long, but if businesses could ration emails, cut back on meetings and get rid of a few overzealous bosses, then the 'lean back' strategy might be beneficial in the long run.