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Distraction and Diminished Focus By Design

Changing Our Capacity to Govern, Learn, Make Collective Decisions and Be Productive

This new book Stolen Focus by Johann Hari is getting a lot of attention and for good reason. The author lays out in detail how we are all bombarded by systems that are designed to distract and hold our attention for the purpose defined in business models. This constant level of distraction has taken a heavy toll on our collective ability to think, focus for any length of time, listen accurately and deal with complexity. This has very real impacts on public leadership and democracy. It is already altering how we educate our citizens, communicate with them and choose to use/purchase technology that will protect citizen privacy.

To govern and lead with any success we need citizens and employees who can focus for more than seconds or minutes. It goes without saying that many studies including this book lay out the basic reality that our brains were never designed to multi-task and in fact are incapable of doing it. We continue to convince ourselves this is not the case, but studies confirm the opposite is true. Hari’s research shows that we use up a significant amount of our energy and productivity when we switch from one device to another, one tab to another, or constantly take calls on our phones while focused on something else. The author describes in detail our current reality. Teenagers in the US can only focus on one task for 65 seconds at a time and the average office worker is not much better clocking in at only three minutes of focused attention. Most senior executives now report a max of 20 minutes a day of uninterrupted time.

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System Delays and How to Manage Them as Public Leaders

In today’s fast paced world consumers are not used to delays, although many disruptions during the pandemic have caused all of us to expect and prepare for delays. The US government systems were designed for stability of service but with our additive approach to legislating, systems have grown in complexity causing delays in services. Leaders who want to protect long term positive relationships with citizens have mastered the skill set to effectively manage expectations during systems delays.

There are multiple types of system delays:  the predictable delays, the preventable delays, and the unpredictable delays. The ability to predict the delay in a system with some accuracy makes it easier for you to build a plan for the delay period. As a leader your ability to manage each one of these delays is critical and can save you and the citizens you serve a tremendous amount of time, stress and lost goodwill.

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