I’ve been thinking about thinking. Most of this thinking has been done while engaged in the solitary activity of painting, a hobby which I do every now and then. It takes me to a completely difference place; I put on some music and I’m absorbed in the task of trying to create something from nothing, often for hours. In this physically creative space, I often find my mind pondering different challenges and ideas. Sometimes, I have one of those moments when I think: ‘That’s it! That’s the answer to that thing I have been trying to solve’.
While thinking today, I reflected on a few books I’ve read recently: Time to Think by Nancy Kline, Quiet by Susan Caitlin and Business Reimagined by Dave Coplin. Coplin’s book appeals to me because it captures the very essence of what I believe to be true: that despite all the technological advancements that makes a complete revolution possible, we are effectively working in the same way we always have. Coplin says our way of working bears a strong resemblance to Victorian working patterns, and the more I watch Mad Men, the more I realise work hasn’t changed much from the 1960s, let alone since I joined the workforce in the late 1980s.
Do good ideas come only from collaboration?
Coplin laments that we continue to trek into an office each day, do the nine to five (or some variation on that) and trek home again, clogging up our cities and our public transport in a way that seems almost criminal, and definitely insane, in this day and age. And of course, he draws our attention to that most infamous of office-wide dictat of recent times, the Yahoo ban on working from home.
Meyer’s argument for banning working from home centres on her belief that all good work comes from collaboration, therefore working from home prevents that collaboration, particularly the ad-hoc or incidental coming-together of colleagues, from taking place. This viewpoint worries me as it follows the school of thought that all good work is built around dialogue and conversation, and that nothing good comes from engaging in thinking.
Nancy Kline’s book Time To Think is about the value of thinking, of giving another person what she calls ‘exquisite attention’, and of creating proper opportunities in our work day to enable people to think properly. While what she is talking about is largely how we facilitate the space and time to think in a crowded and busy workplace, the point she is making is essential – that our modern workplaces both devalue, limit and hinder our ability to think effectively.
Do office environments favour the extrovert?
As an introvert (albeit one who ‘does good extrovert’ when required) I found myself absorbed by the central tenets of Caitin’s argument; that our modern working environment favours, and actively encourages, the constant chatter and disruptions so enjoyed by the extrovert, and positively disdains those things that are valued by the introvert – particularly the space and time to think effectively. She argues that the world is increasingly geared away from introvert qualities; just think about how important the notion of ‘joining the conversation’ has become! Open-plan offices and social-networking all operate on the basis that talk is good, quiet is bad. While a good idea can be enhanced through collaboration with others, my sense is that many good ideas come from a space of quiet contemplation.
Someone recently said that this book made them wonder how to better engage introvert employees. My sense is that this is the wrong question. For me, it’s more about how we create organisational cultures and environments that value and encourage the very introvert qualities that are so culturally frowned upon and hindered by our physical working environments. When we learn to recognise that not joining the conversation, but taking time to think is a valuable work activity, our workplaces might just be that more productive, and that much more conducive to the quieter ones among us.