Recently I read two very good articles and below is my commentary. First one was about multitasking and how gadgets are continuously distracting us

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/07/technology/07brain.html?emc=eta1

and second one, a speech at a US Military Academy.

http://www.theamericanscholar.org/solitude-and-leadership/

First of all, I love gadgets and internet sites – especially those that allow me to connect to other people in life – by this I mean, I prefer facebook over digg. However, I tend to believe that I am not an addict and I don’t miss these, if I have better tasks to do. But when I took the tests (that are mentioned in the new york times) I knew that I would rate on a higher multitasking range, but it was a revelation that my accuracy was bad.

While many people say multitasking makes them more productive, research shows otherwise. Heavy multitaskers actually have more trouble focusing and shutting out irrelevant information, scientists say, and they experience more stress.

And scientists are discovering that even after the multitasking ends, fractured thinking and lack of focus persist. In other words, this is also your brain off computers.

The results also illustrate an age-old conflict in the brain, one that technology may be intensifying. A portion of the brain acts as a control tower, helping a person focus and set priorities. More primitive parts of the brain, like those that process sight and sound, demand that it pay attention to new information, bombarding the control tower when they are stimulated.

There are other observations and results of other experiments in the article. However,

“The bottom line is, the brain is wired to adapt,” said Steven Yantis, a professor of brain sciences at Johns Hopkins University. “There’s no question that rewiring goes on all the time,” he added. But he said it was too early to say whether the changes caused by technology were materially different from others in the past.

and

Mr. Nass at Stanford thinks the ultimate risk of heavy technology use is that it diminishes empathy by limiting how much people engage with one another, even in the same room.

“The way we become more human is by paying attention to each other,” he said. “It shows how much you care.”

That is what exactly I feel. All technology and all advances should help build and maintain human relations better for which reason I totally like the technology – I can’t imagine without email the possibility of keeping in touch with so many people; but then if the same technology is hurting in some other ways (personally, or for eg to talk to a person next door), then there should be intelligent use of technology.

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Now let me move on to another article, which is about Leadership. What does multitasking got to do with leadership ? You should read the article, however here is the gist and points I would like to comment on. I have been thinking of leadership a lot and I have gathered some thoughts. I feel he missed a very very critical component of leadership, I will get to that at the end of the post.

Does being a leader, I wondered, just mean being accomplished, being successful? Does getting straight As make you a leader? I didn’t think so. Great heart surgeons or great novelists or great shortstops may be terrific at what they do, but that doesn’t mean they’re leaders. Leadership and aptitude, leadership and achievement, leadership and even ex­cellence have to be different things, otherwise the concept of leadership has no meaning.

Perfect. When I see people priding themselves on accomplishments and grades even in Management schools, I can’t help but wonder about the big picture. However, as everyone knows, grades alone may not be important, but grades do open up better opportunities – which will result in good usage of leadership.

But I think there’s something desperately wrong, and even dangerous, about that idea. To explain why, I want to spend a few minutes talking about a novel that many of you may have read, Heart of Darkness. If you haven’t read it, you’ve probably seen Apocalypse Now, which is based on it.

I am wary of advices and knowledge based upon the novels or movies (as much as I love Shawshank Redemption, at the bottom of my heart I know it is a story in someone’s mind), however at a later point in article,

And I should say that Marlow’s creator, Conrad, spent 19 years as a merchant marine, eight of them as a ship’s captain, before he became a writer, so this wasn’t just some artist’s idea of a sailor.

The novel is about

about imperialism and colonialism and race relations and the darkness that lies in the human heart, but it became clear to me at a certain point, as I taught the novel, that it is also about bureaucracy.

And so you need to know how bureaucracies operate, what kind of behavior—what kind of character—they reward, and what kind they punish.

I’m sorry to say this, but like so many people you will meet as you negotiate the bureaucracy of the Army or for that matter of whatever institution you end up giving your talents to after the Army, whether it’s Microsoft or the World Bank or whatever—the head of my department had no genius for organizing or initiative or even order, no particular learning or intelligence, no distinguishing characteristics at all. Just the ability to keep the routine going, and beyond that, as Marlow says, her position had come to her—why ?

And this is one of the best paras of the article

Why is it so often that the best people are stuck in the middle and the people who are running things—the leaders—are the mediocrities? Because excellence isn’t usually what gets you up the greasy pole. What gets you up is a talent for maneuvering. Kissing up to the people above you, kicking down to the people below you. Pleasing your teachers, pleasing your superiors, picking a powerful mentor and riding his coattails until it’s time to stab him in the back. Jumping through hoops. Getting along by going along. Being whatever other people want you to be, so that it finally comes to seem that, like the manager of the Central Station, you have nothing inside you at all. Not taking stupid risks like trying to change how things are done or question why they’re done. Just keeping the routine going.

So all this analysis was done to say that we are good at doing things, but we are not good at doing differently. I agree that doing different is required, and to use a manager’s cliche if you will, “thinking out of the box”, however, doing it right is also a necessary component of leadership.

what makes him a thinker—and a leader—is precisely that he is able to think things through for himself. And because he can, he has the confidence, the courage, to argue for his ideas even when they aren’t popular. Even when they don’t please his superiors.

He was put in charge of training the Iraqi army, which was considered a blow to his career, a dead-end job. But he stuck to his guns, and ultimately he was vindicated. Ironically, one of the central elements of his counterinsurgency strategy is precisely the idea that officers need to think flexibly, creatively, and independently.

So now that we know, leadership is not just “doing things right’, but doing it differently. And to do differently, one must think. Next comes, how to think.

In other words, people do not multitask effectively. And here’s the really surprising finding: the more people multitask, the worse they are, not just at other mental abilities, but at multitasking itself.

This is what the above nytimes article also said (that is whey I decided to combine to link the articles!). Why are we talking about multitasking, because – leadership is thinking and,

Multitasking, in short, is not only not thinking, it impairs your ability to think. Thinking means concentrating on one thing long enough to develop an idea about it.

Not learning other people’s ideas, or memorizing a body of information, however much those may sometimes be useful. Developing your own ideas. In short, thinking for yourself. You simply cannot do that in bursts of 20 seconds at a time, constantly interrupted by Facebook messages or Twitter tweets, or fiddling with your iPod, or watching something on YouTube.

The best writers write much more slowly than everyone else, and the better they are, the slower they write. James Joyce wrote Ulysses, the greatest novel of the 20th century, at the rate of about a hundred words a day—half the length of the selection I read you earlier from Heart of Darkness—for seven years. T. S. Eliot, one of the greatest poets our country has ever produced, wrote about 150 pages of poetry over the course of his entire 25-year career. That’s half a page a month. So it is with any other form of thought. You do your best thinking by slowing down and concentrating.

Concentration – that’s why I like playing chess – it helps increase concentration, while playing chess I do not jump to facebook, the tv goes on and nothing falls on my ears.

They were in­tensely idealistic, but the overwhelming weight of their practical responsibilities, all of those hoops they had to jump through, often made them lose sight of what those ideals were.

…There are questions…and the answers are not found on internet –

They can only be found within—without distractions, without peer pressure, in solitude.

But let me be clear that solitude doesn’t always have to mean introspection.

“Your own reality—for yourself, not for others.” Thinking for yourself means finding yourself, finding your own reality. Here’s the other problem with Facebook and Twitter and even The New York Times. When you expose yourself to those things, especially in the constant way that people do now—older people as well as younger people—you are continuously bombarding yourself with a stream of other people’s thoughts.

That’s what Emerson meant when he said that “he who should inspire and lead his race must be defended from travelling with the souls of other men, from living, breathing, reading, and writing in the daily, time-worn yoke of their opinions.” Notice that he uses the word lead. Leadership means finding a new direction, not simply putting yourself at the front of the herd that’s heading toward the cliff.

which leads to …reading

o why is reading books any better than reading tweets or wall posts? Well, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes, you need to put down your book, if only to think about what you’re reading, what you think about what you’re reading. But a book has two advantages over a tweet. First, the person who wrote it thought about it a lot more carefully. The book is the result of his solitude, his attempt to think for himself.

Second, most books are old. This is not a disadvantage: this is precisely what makes them valuable. They stand against the conventional wisdom of today simply because they’re not from today.

I like this second reason. Often, many problems look new to us, but basically many problems involve similar approach. The wisdom in one field can be applied to other field sometimes.

But the great books, the ones you find on a syllabus, the ones people have continued to read, don’t reflect the conventional wisdom of their day. They say things that have the permanent power to disrupt our habits of thought. They were revolutionary in their own time, and they are still revolutionary today.

I should develop a habit of reading, at least after I finish my course.

So, we saw that – leadership is not doing same things but differently. To do different, we need to think. To think, we need concentration and focus and less multitasking. Further, we need to develop our thoughts. Now ironically he touches upon friendship.

But there’s one more thing I’m going to include as a form of solitude, and it will seem counterintuitive: friendship. Of course friendship is the opposite of solitude; it means being with other people. But I’m talking about one kind of friendship in particular, the deep friendship of intimate conversation. Long, uninterrupted talk with one other person. Not Skyping with three people and texting with two others at the same time while you hang out in a friend’s room listening to music and studying. That’s what Emerson meant when he said that “the soul environs itself with friends, that it may enter into a grander self-acquaintance or solitude.”

Introspection means talking to yourself, and one of the best ways of talking to yourself is by talking to another person. One other person you can trust, one other person to whom you can unfold your soul. One other person you feel safe enough with to allow you to acknowledge things—to acknowledge things to yourself—that you otherwise can’t. Doubts you aren’t supposed to have, questions you aren’t supposed to ask. Feelings or opinions that would get you laughed at by the group or reprimanded by the authorities.

Yeah, that is why I like writing/chatting. When I can’t find someone to talk to, I write. And as anyone knows, thinking out loud and diary, and blogging are all same at some point.

Instead of having one or two true friends that we can sit and talk to for three hours at a time, we have 968 “friends” that we never actually talk to; instead we just bounce one-line messages off them a hundred times a day. This is not friendship, this is distraction.

How will you find the strength and wisdom to challenge an unwise order or question a wrongheaded policy? What will you do the first time you have to write a letter to the mother of a slain soldier? How will you find words of comfort that are more than just empty formulas?

These are truly formidable dilemmas, more so than most other people will ever have to face in their lives, let alone when they’re 23.

Quite a powerful speech.
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Finally, my last quip about what he missed – a very key component of leadership – that of convincing power (or powerful communication). One may have one’s own thoughts, but to implement them, you almost need to do an inception of those thoughts in others and make them believe in them. Unless one can powerfully communicate and convince others, one can not achieve his goals as a leader. Because ultimately, to be a successful leader, you need followers.

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I found this article, thanks to twitter.