Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Who's Kidding Who?

I was driving home this morning from picking up the morning paper at the coffee shop. At the corner to my street I stopped and waited while a young man jogged by. He was in his running outfit, T-shirt, shorts, favorite sneakers, dripping wet with sweat from the effort he was making and the pace he was setting. And he was pushing a high-tech stroller, with a young baby tucked inside.

I looked at the jogger. He was working hard, getting in his work out.

I looked at the face of the baby. He was getting jostled, bumped, knocked from side to side as his daddy took him for a jog--in the stroller.

Who are we kidding?

I'm sure that dad thought he was multi-tasking: He gets his work out in, the baby gets a nice ride in the stroller.

Doesn't match reality, unfortunately.

Dad gets his work out in; baby gets banged around while dad jogs.

It's the same with the myth of multi-tasking that goes on in most organizations, and in most of our work lives.

The temptation of technology is to try to do too much: talk on the phone, surf the web, answer email, sort through papers on the desk--all at the same time.

Can't be done--at least not well. Something's gotta give.

It applies to entrepreneurs and startups as well.

I remember years ago when Tina Brown was launching Talk magazine.

The idea was a magazine as a platform: Talk would have great journalism, the best articles would migrate into books, and the books would turn into adaptations for movies, and her investors, Harvey Weinstein chief among them, would have a multi-media platform with a virtuous circle: celebrity journalism, celebrity books, celebrity movies, and then the magazine covers the movies, and the merry-go-round spins again.

I also remember thinking: It's hard enough to launch a successful magazine! How can Tina possibly also launch books and movies?

The answer was, she couldn't. I don't think anyone could, not on that scale.

You can go for a jog. Or you can take the baby for a stroll.

You can't do both at the same time and do either one very well.

When it comes to all this multi-tasking, the question is, "Who's kidding who?"

I suspect we're all kidding ourselves.

All kidding aside, it won't work.

All Rights Reserved 2009 (c) Alan Webber, Rules Of Thumb