Flying poses some challenges. It requires at least an hour-long process of security, and baggage checks… not to mention the cost of the obligatory cuppachino while one waits for the gates to open. Boarding is followed by a further 30-minutes of thumb-twiddling while the cabin crew apparently “arm doors and cross-check” (which I still don’t understand).
Nevertheless, I love flying.
The two hours between Cape Town and Jo’burg means no phone calls. There’s absolutely zero chance that anyone can make my phone ring. No amount of conviction or persistence on the part of the callee will result in my phone shouting at me. It means no email - and it means that there’s nothing I can do about the few hundred messages that are waiting for me to respond, archive or defer.
Bugs can be reported, features may be requested, servers can explode, but I’ll be inoculated in my green hurtling fortress of solace.
Thinkers from Uber Productivity nerd, Merlin Mann, to SaaS guru and 37signals founder, Jason Fried, have expounded at length about the crisis unfolding in the post-knowledge workplace. One in which we react to the issues as they arrive, rather than proactively harvesting the completion of well planned activities. One in which there is so much extraneous noise the we end up time-division-multiplexing our work into ten second sprints, eventually finishing few of them, and being absolutely not great at any of them.
Don’t get me wrong. Reacting to incoming issues in the workplace has it’s place. Especially if you’re a Fireman, Neurosurgeon, or Air-traffic-controller. However, post-knowledge workers (who, by the way, are borderline ADHD by design) need a distraction-minimized environment where they can cultivate and harvest their creative outputs regularly.
How many creatives do you know that conduct their work behind iPod headphones? They’re not doing that because they’re into music. They’re doing it because they’ve found a plausible way to deny distraction. I many cases, they’re just listening to silence in the hope that the visual message of wearing the headphones will preclude the need to respond to whether they think that office birthday cakes should be chocolate or vanilla. Plausible deniability. What a life.
They need serial challenges which offer significant dopamine return upon completion. And this completion is not reached when the task is extinguished. Oh no, this task is complete when the post knowledge worker feels that they have just delivered the best work of their life. The post knowledge worker can feel the elation of great work coursing through their veins.
Yeah. We’re a pretty complex lot.
The worst thing you can do to your post-knowledge workers, is lead them to believe that your project-schedule is more important than the excellence of their work. Yes, you’ve got to ship. But what use is shipping, if your rushed product isn’t excellent? Ask any company of post knowledge workers that actually produces excellent output - Apple, Blizzard Entertainment, Pixar or Valve. They favor Not Shipping over Shipping rushed work. And so should you.
I was more productive today than I’ve been all month, because I spent 4 hours on a plane, without a connection to the world. How productive would your team be if you gave them the best environment to work in, and the trust to make them feel like the special butterflies they (think they) are?