Last week I spent some time in the city that never sleeps, which also happens to be the city with, in my opinion, some of the worst communications infrastructure around. New York is a great town (I grew up there, so I know), but telephony and Internet services there have always struck me as pretty darn poor for—well, for a city that never sleeps. Last week, I experienced this first hand, when the place where I was staying intermittently lost its DSL service for a period of several days. So for the better part of a week—after factoring in the time I spent traveling, and so was unable to connect to the Web—I was effectively operating incommunicado.
For the first few hours without Internet service, I freaked out—how would I possibly be able to work without it? Then I realized that the situation held a silver lining: It might actually clear my calendar, and my brain, enough so that I could actually get some work done.
Being offline for a few days reminded me of just how tough it is in today’s always-on, interconnected world to focus on anything for more than a few minutes without getting interrupted. And the end result is that it’s awfully difficult to think—to spend time pondering, never mind dreaming, about the work that we do. But for all the talk about how important it is that employees, partners and even customers be able to collaborate across geographies and cultural boundaries—and for all the attention we pay to the new technologies that enable that collaboration—we overlook the critical need for people to work alone, with their own thoughts, to develop new ideas and nurture old ones.
Sometimes, people need to go “offline” to get real work done. Sometimes, groupthink hurts, rather than helps, when it comes to developing and creating new ideas. IT and line of business managers should remember that when they deploy collaboration and communications technologies. It goes beyond not just expecting everyone to be “present” all the time; it’s about making sure that people have time to think. Alone. Without interruption.
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