Criminal syndicates are different; they think of innovation as an organizational imperative. A drug smuggler who finds a new way across a border knows that customs agents will eventually discover the innovation, so he needs to always think of new ways. The Sinaloa Cartel was the first to design and construct a tunnel under the U.S.-Mexico border. The cartel also managed to have family members hired as border agents, and even used a catapult to counter a high-tech fence in Arizona. The yakuza benefit from highly diversified revenue streams, which they’ve systematically grown from traditional gambling and prostitution rackets to modern construction and transportation businesses. Where there is a threat or an opportunity, criminal syndicates improvise.

Almost 1.4bn people have logged into facebook at least once in the last month. Take a guess how many of them are mobile only.

Almost 1.4bn people have logged into facebook at least once in the last month. Take a guess how many of them are mobile only.

You are your own priority

I’ve just come back from holiday and mulled a bunch of things that have been on my mind in the last few weeks at work; namely that you are your own priority. And if you’re not, you should gravitate towards that and this ‘work-life’ balance thing will look after itself.

There’s that lovely recent study (of about 700 people) that suggests us humans would rather zap ourselves (read: self administer shocks) than spend time alone with our thoughts. Kate Murphy over at the New York Times describes it t it quite elegantly

It could be because human beings, when left alone, tend to dwell on what’s wrong in their lives. We have evolved to become problem solvers and meaning makers. What preys on our minds, when we aren’t updating our Facebook page or in spinning class, are the things we haven’t figured out — difficult relationships, personal and professional failures, money trouble, health concerns and so on. And until there is resolution, or at least some kind of understanding or acceptance, these thoughts reverberate in our heads. Hello rumination. Hello insomnia.

“One explanation why people keep themselves so busy and would rather shock themselves is that they are trying to avoid that kind of negative stuff,” said Ethan Kross, director of the Emotion and Self-Control Laboratory at the University of Michigan. “It doesn’t feel good if you’re not intrinsically good at reflecting.”

toothpaste for dinner

One of their points is incredibly relevant (for me at least). Whether you’re at work or chatting to friends, talking about things in the abstract or third person instead of dwelling on someone’s personal failures in first person makes it more likely to fix problems. When the issues move from first person to third, you’re artificially creating a disconnect that makes everyone a bit more relaxed. If you’re trying to help someone fix a delicate problem, it’s much more effective to finish off by bringing the conversation back to the person you’re dealing with: what would they have done? How does that change how they’ll act in the future? etc.

Not coincidentally, this is echoes a heap of suggestions in David Rock’s ‘Your Brain at Work’ book: make people think about their thinking, help them talk about and label their emotions to fix them, and give them the tools so they can critique themselves and reach their own conclusions. 

Their other conclusion is worth pausing on - many people seem to have realised that lack of (self) reflection and letting your mind wander impairs the creative process. I see this on a daily basis working with people and teams tasked with delivering digital and creative work. However, what most people in this industry don’t seem to dwell on - perhaps because it doesn’t seem to affect the bottom line as directly - is the fact that lack of self reflection hurts your ability to empathise with others around you. Simple enough, but worth repeating. If you can’t figure out what you’re going through and why, it’s very unlikely you can relate to others around you. 

Time to think isn’t that much of a luxury; creating the habit to do so is the hardest part. You’re rarely instructed on how to form a habit, and good luck finding someone to tell you how to “think about thinking”. Charles Sykes’ 11 things they don’t teach you in school (but should) brings this up: 

Life is not divided into semesters. You don’t get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you find yourself. Do that on your own time.”

Most people don’t, and don’t get me started on gap years: ain’t nobody got time and money for that on one hand, and on the other there’s no geographical solution to an emotional problem. 

Lastly, tackling the hairy issue of ‘busy culture’ and a world that favours doing over thinking is another post in and of itself. However, I see a lot of juniors and recent graduates but also misguided seniors who should know better confusing passion, dedication and targeted effort with mindless, ADHD-like, spreading-yourself-too-thinly behaviour in the name of work, career, etc:

“If your body isn’t healthy, the harder you work the less productive you will be. So many of my clients come to me after some sort of breakdown or failure in their lives.  And we have to put things together again, building a life in which their body is cared for just as much as their career is.”

Forbes

There’s no agency that pays for overtime. Most people expect you to do the work you’re supposed to do within the 8 hours you have available, develop a work ethic, and manage your own time. If you’re only paid for eight hours, need to sleep about seven to function properly, should commute for a maximum of two hours per day, then doesn’t it make sense to use the rest of your time to enrich your life, relationships and other things in order to achieve that elusive ‘balance’ people speak of?