Dr Jason Fox is a modern day wizard-rogue and leadership adviser, bestselling author of The Game Changer and How to Lead a Quest: a handbook for pioneering executives, and in 2016 was awarded Keynote Speaker of the Year by Professional Speakers Australia. He will be speaking at the upcoming Mobile-ising Women in Business event in Melbourne. In a conversation with Biz Better Together ahead of the event, Dr Fox talks us through the sometimes uneasy relationship between technology and mindfulness, and the importance of steering clear of default thinking in pursuit of progress.
The question of what technology to adopt can seem a bit overwhelming to business owners. Where can people start?
A good place to start in business is essentially working out what your business model is and how you build the value for customers. You then need to explore the emerging trends and the future needs of your market and you ask the question: is what we are currently doing going to meet the emerging needs of the market?
Do you think technology and mindfulness have a bit of an uneasy relationship?
There’s a paradox that even though we have all these time-saving devices, they’re actually consuming more of our time, and sometimes they actually create more work for us. We need to approach our use of technology with meaning and mindfulness so that we’re not just getting caught up in shiny objects and doing new things for the sake of new things.
You see the bandwagon effect in businesses where people start doing things just because they see other people doing them. You then see a business launch or a social media campaign that doesn’t suit that business but they are following what others are doing without considering how relevant it is to their own business.
People are so busy and being busy is the enemy of mindfulness. When you don’t have time to devote to reflection, how can you tell if the technology you are using is helping your productivity or hindering it?
When we are busy – and let’s face it, most of us are, particularly if we are in business – then the natural tendency is to seek time-saving methods. Quick fixes, apps, hacks, all sorts of ways that reduce the cognitive burden so we don’t have to think so much and that save us time.
The flip side of that is that it may work in terms of small tasks but it can hook us into this quick-fix loop where we are constantly seeking the short-cuts and it leads to a point where we become cursed with efficiency, where we become so good at seeking these short-cuts that we actually hobble our ability to engage in slower, more thorough quality thinking.
Isn’t it a further problem that ‘busyness’ has now become the modern badge of honour?
Yes it is. It’s subtle, it’s insidious, it’s almost self-preferential; because everyone’s busy, everyone keeps on being busy. There is almost a busyness pandemic now that affects people in business and in leadership and I feel that these busy people look to technology to be the saviour. They are always on the lookout for the next app that can save them time, they’re always wondering what’s the next hack they can deploy that’s going to save them and liberate them.
There is a difference though, between being busy and being productive, isn’t there?
There is a difference between being productive and being busy, but you need to take it further. I make a distinction between being productive and being progressive, progress vs the delusion of progress. This links into ‘the progress principle’, which was the number one breakthrough idea for the Harvard Business Review in 2010, which found that our attention, our activity, our behaviour, our motivation, our focus will naturally gravitate towards the things that provide the richest sense of progress. The challenge here is that the things that provide the richest sense of progress are often the busywork default things that get in the way of meaningful progress.
So we can have a day where we’ve sent a lot of emails, we’ve ticked a lot of boxes, and this gives us that feeling of making progress; but there’s a busy box-ticking productivity and then there’s the thoughtful, considered, innovative stuff that delivers real value not just today but into the future. You always have to ask yourself the question about which kind of progress you are genuinely engaged in.
Technology is here to stay, though, isn’t it? It isn’t as if we can put it back in the box or just ignore it.
Part of the balance for people in how they manage technology use is in understanding what technology can and can’t help them to do. You need to use it to eliminate friction, which is anything that gets in the way of achieving what you set out to do. The ability to make meaningful decisions because you can have data analysed quickly, for example, technology is terrific for that. It’s great for connecting with people that in your normal life you wouldn’t otherwise come across. There are many wondrous things that technology can do and there are a lot of things where technology has got in the way of the progress we seek because we haven’t been mindful enough to question it.
So is the answer to question everything? Not just whether we use a particular app, but to think about how it fits into our business philosophy and our future plans?
People in business are incredibly time-challenged and feel a lot of pressure to explore and embrace new technology, but it’s always worthwhile to stop and question.
A business owner needs to be educated and empowered to take an informed and considered approach to investigate which of the available pathways are viable to them.
Technology is here, it’s a beautiful opportunity and a wonderfully powerful thing. When used deftly and in a considered way, it can be incredible. It’s just that when we have a bit of a death-grip on it or embrace it with default-thinking we start to experience some troubles.
There is enormous power in decoupling from technology occasionally and asking ourselves better questions as part of better productivity and more meaningful progress for business.
Business people are incredibly challenged with time and they feel a lot of pressure to embrace technology and keep up with the latest trends. What can they do to manage the question around which technology to adopt?
Change is so rapid now that planning has become difficult. Instead, you need to watch the trends and keep your finger on the pulse so you can know where the currents are shifting. This can save you from investing in technology that’s no longer where the world is.
Before, we needed to plan for a predictable yet complicated world, but now, we are in a complex and unpredictable world. In order to thrive in this environment we have to break our old behaviour patterns and move away from default thinking.
There’s a term known as VUCA, which stands for: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Increasingly that is the territory in which we must lead and do business, and we need to use technology with deliberation so it can help us rather than be a hindrance to success.
The Australian Chamber is Australia’s largest and most representative business association, comprising of state and territory chambers of commerce and National Industry Associations. Biz Better Together is an Australian Chamber initiative, established with assistance from the Department of Employment under the Productivity Education Training Fund, to engage with business on productivity enhancing tips and tricks.