Glenn Williams

by Glenn Williams


Overcoming the obstacles of interruption and speed

Interruptions get in the way of productivity no matter what size the organisation is.

In 2006, Dr. André Martin conducted research on a sample of 800 leaders and identified four global trends.[i] In The Risk of Collaboration we addressed the first two: ‘The Ground Truth of Globalization’ and ‘The Rise of Complex Challenges’.

The third trend was The World of Interruption.

Martin states that 11 minutes is the average time spent on a task before an interruption, and 25 minutes as the average time it takes to return to the task. We live in a world of continuous partial attention or what he describes as “Organizational ADD”.

In the 1940’s, Intelligence Quotient (IQ) was a huge factor in determining a person’s job suitability; in the late 1990's and early 2000’s, a person’s Emotional Quotient (EQ) came onto the scene via Daniel Golman’s outstanding work; and today, a person’s Fluid Intelligence (FI) is considered to be increasingly important –

FI is not what you know, but how quickly you can access the information you need. It is the ability to overcome the two major obstacles of interruption and speed.

This has obvious implications for organizational leaders that want to be successful. Careful consideration must be given in setting up workplaces that suit different work styles, new processes, schedules, and cross-functional teams (where specialized skills can cross-pollinate).

The fourth global trend was, Leadership for Longevity.

For the first time in 100 years, the next generation could see a decrease in their lifespan in comparison to their parents. In developed countries, 70-80 percent of health costs are attributable to lifestyle behaviors: poor diet, drinking too much, smoking, stress, and lack of exercise.

Health issues have a significant impact on organizations. Martin presents the following equation to identify the interrelationship between key factors:

Complexity + Interruption = Stress = Higher Health Risk = Lower Performance

If leaders don’t respond effectively to the world of interruption and speed, more than likely they will burn out along with their organizations.

What’s the bottom-line?

As Daniel Forrester states,

There’s an intangible and invisible marketplace within our lives today, where the products traded are four-fold: attention, distraction, data, and meaning. Yet we rarely step back to question the pace, personal impact, chaotic information flows, unpredictability, and a lack of meaning that swirl within our organizations.[ii]

Below are some things to consider:

  • Look for leaders who don’t feel insecure when others know more about something than they do. There is a need for leaders to adapt and collaborate like never before.
  • Incentivize teams to pause, reflect and evaluate what could have been done better, rather than blaming someone for what went wrong.
  • Make health and fitness a part of leadership development and ensure that performance reviews for staff include health and fitness goals.

[i] André Martin, “A New Map of Leadership: Global Trends Impacting Leaders and Leadership Development,” Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), (accessed April 16, 2011).

[ii] Daniel Patrick Forrester, Consider: Harnessing the Power of Reflective Thinking in Your Organization (New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan, 2011), 4.


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