Multitasking does not belong to the Disruption Economy

by Didier Marlier on Friday January 28th, 2022

I must confess that multitasking (or was it hiding my natural tendency for procrastination?) started early with me… I remember the difficulty I had to focus on doing my afternoon homework, prior to dashing out towards liberation, i.e. the football practice with my schoolmates.

As an M.B.T.I. profile, my preference clearly is N (intuitive), P (Perception). Striving on opportunity grabbing, naturally seeking to connect “things” (objects, thoughts, music, emotions etc.) are like a second nature to me. So, when came internet, enabling me to connect with a million fascinating sources of interest through… Alta-Vista, it was like daydreaming. Then came social networks enabling me to follow in permanence those I was interested in or cared for. Then came Linked-In, twitter etc. And what about the incredible WhatsApp (or Signal), connecting me in real time with those I needed to? It seemed that the Disruption Economy and its infinite possibilities of wondering along (read multitasking) were made for me… That is until

Until I received from a friend, a few days ago, this reportage on multitasking from one of our “serious” Franco-German channels, Arte. As it is 54’ long and in French, let me summarize for you its key points:

  • As humans, we are all capable of multitasking (forget the legends about age or gender) but our brains are not designed for it. It is an illusion to believe that one will be more efficient when multitasking.
  • Research undertaken at the University of Zürich shows that, when confronted with the requirement of working on several cognitive tasks, the sequential manner is from far the best way. Prof. Lutz Jäncke and neuroscientist Britta Hölzel explain that our senses are bombarded with 11 million bits of information per second but that our conscious (intelligent) brain can only deal with… 11 to 60 bits per second. Imagine, for example, what happens to those working from home and having children, household and intellectual work to deal with in parallel.
  • Multitasking is a sure way to burnout, especially when (in matrix organisation for example) conflicting orders emerge from all sides of the organisations, thrown by uncoordinated leaders.
  • For Sciences-Po (one of France’s top three Colleges) professor, Dominique Boulier, multitasking has become part of a managerial ideology, based on the belief that good employees should be:
    • ready to take on any request at any time
    • at the same level of priority
    • immediately reacting to the request
    • and take it as a personal challenge
  • In conclusion, multitasking tends to drown us in a world of permanent and undifferentiated stimuli, encouraging a superficial laziness, diminishing our brain’s grey matter and severely decreasing its plasticity.

A client and friend in Brazil, also sent me another article (in Portuguese). Its title is: ”Would you prefer to be someone multitasking or efficient?” For this interesting paper, written in 2016, the damageable point about multitasking is “the change of context”, i.e. endlessly changing tasks, often prior to completing what we were busy doing and the inner energy cost associated to it.

Working in a disruptive organisation should not be a corollary of multitasking. Many years ago, an MBA participant to one of my courses had come to the conclusion that, to strive in a VUCA environment one should themselves be volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. I am not sure how far he went with that.

Disruptive organisations are not VUCA themselves:

  • They have a very clear, shared, lived and emotionally engaging higher purpose.
  • People are incentivized to create vibrant and inclusive networks inside the business so as to work both at the efficient transactional level but also in a trust and transparency building, relational mode.
  • Leaders understand that they must switch from a dependency creating “Content Leadership” (or “leading because I know better”) style toward a “Context Leadership” (by enabling my people to lead). Empowerment, not abdication reigns in a disruptive organisation.

It is the duty of leaders to ensure that:

  • they do not bombard their people with conflicting and egocentric orders but coordinate their actions for the benefit of the organisation (this is how a real matrix can work).
  • Their people have clearly understood the higher purpose and translated it into tasks that they own.
  • That their people are aware of the risks of multitasking.

Enjoy, one step at the time, your leadership journey!

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2 Responses to “Multitasking does not belong to the Disruption Economy”

  1. Didier:
    So far you are hitting the corner shot and running to head the ball. So you are effective multitasking.
    Problem occurs when you start hitting the corner kick with your head!

    Reply
    • Love it,Gerson 🙂

      Reply

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