Deep Work = Success [#Collaboration #Distraction]

This post is a culmination of an interview and Ted Talk by Brad Feld, American Entrepreneur and venture capitalist that I came across back in 2010. Brad had built companies, invested in numerous companies, ran marathons, read books but always connected to the ubiquitous internet. Brad decided to go off the grid for a week once a quarter without any device.

In a world which Follows the Sun 24 x 7 to support customers, enable employees, coordinate with global suppliers to collaborate seamlessly. Collaboration is to bring people to learn together and or solve problems, the task at hand. In the modern workforce context, collaboration demands that employees with varied skills in various departments coming together to solve mission-critical problems or maybe their unique problems.

Examples could be

  • For a nonprofit, it could be a wrong receipt sent to a donor

  • For a retailer, a wrong product shipped to a customer

  • For an airline, it could be a passenger waiting to take off for a flight (this happened to my wife as her airlines had to send a charter from Stockholm to Denmark to procure an airline spare part)

The organization pitches into throw collaboration tools for employees, customers, and suppliers to communicate. Collaboration when it comes to Communication is excellent but when it comes to solving real deep problems creates a distraction. Organizations empower employees with collaboration tools cos it is easier to measure with tools while the aspect of undistracted work by an individual or collective can go unnoticed.

One can argue that even modern workspace does not allow one to collaborate effectively. It is hard to focus and work on deeper issues with open cubicles, standing desks, planned and swinging by the desk meetings. The ubiquitous technology in hand such as phones ringing, a sound of notification popping up on different tools such as desktop email, mobile phone notifications sound popping from personal Facebook, Messenger, Twitter, LinkedIn, Youtube, Whatsapp, WeChat, Slack, Chatter to cite a few are a deterrent. Collaboration can lead to distraction at work.

You can do real work or go to meetings, but you cannot do both

~ Peter Drucker, a management thinker

Conduct collaborative meetings online or onsite which

  • are well prepared and thought through by each participant

  • have defined problems, solution recommendations, scope, priority

  • has clear next steps and ownership instead of folks joining in and asking others to “bring them up to speed or fidgeting for the meeting notes.

Of course, the counter argument is Jack Dorsey, who runs Twitter and Square multi-tasking two companies. Mornings at Twitter and afternoons at Square. Moreover, then there was Steve Jobs and now Elon Musk. A funny incident and the unvalidated story of how Omid Kordestani met Jack Dorsey as a driver for a meeting.

“Leaders are hoping for A (collaboration) while rewarding B (individual achievement)” ~ Steve Kerr

All is not lost yet with the above HBS study results. Relevant collaboration tools with adequate access and training such as Slack,’s Chatter, Microsoft Yammer and VoloMetrix (recently acquired by Microsoft), can help employees assess network hierarchy to make informed decisions. The social aspect of interaction is paramount such as body language, eye contact, confidence, anxiety, preparation, interaction, Q&A that tools cannot measure.

Most of the team sports track assists in addition to goals. The modern organization can use network analysis, peer recognition programs, and value-added performance metrics.

The counter to collaboratively distracted work is to allow employees to focus on their daily work and do deeper and meaningful work. Author Cal Newport in his newly released book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World talks in depth. As per the author, Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task.

Deep skill allows you to

  • master quickly complicated information

  • produce better results in less time

  • be better if not the best at what you do

Richard Feynman, a legendary physicist, extolled the virtues of “active irresponsibility” when it came to taking part in academic meetings.

The author flips the narrative on distraction to show the power of serious work. The author cites the massive benefits of deep work with examples of author Mark Twain, Philosopher Carl Jung, Entrepreneur and Philanthropist Bill Gates to physicist Richard Feynman suggesting to create a good work habit and presenting a series of rules to transforming your mind and habits.

Brad Feld stuck to his word and in a recent blog post is still staying off the grid, now for an entire month to recharge, rekindle to do deep work.

To quote the author “DEEP WORK is an indispensable guide for anyone seeking focused success in a distracted world.”

Peter Drucker Quote: The collaboration curse | The Economist

Steve Kerr Quote: Collaborative Overload | HBR

Credit for rekindling the idea : Facebook Message by Stan Kuruvilla