2 BUILD FOCUS

Ready to work in groups? Then understand some basics about how to thrive in groups!

By now we are practicing how to create space. That was stage one. This gives us a focusing tool. So how do we best use our focus? This is what we will focus on in stage 2.

Focus is a weird thing. It is weird because we all suffer from an illusion. That illusion is that we have the capacity to see everything around us. That we can choose whatever we want to focus on. The reality is much different. In reality, our consciousness — or ability to take in input about what is around us — is limited. We can take in around 120 bits per second. BTW, I take this idea from Mihali Csikszentmihalyi. And we cannot raise this capacity. It is an outer limit.

To see this, imagine we are having a conversation in a cafe. Listening to me and responding might take up around 40 bits per second of your conscious capacity. That gives you a lot of excess. So you might hear the music and notice what a nice dress the young lady on the other side of the room has on. You might find your mind wandering to what you will do later that day. But if a second person sits at our table and starts talking faster, the conversation will take up more of our conscious capacity. Let’s say we are now using up around 80 bits per second. We will notice less. Now let’s say a third person sits down and starts speaking in a different language. It is a language that we understand, but it is not our mother tongue. We are now more likely to be around our limit. We will notice little of our surroundings and may start missing pieces of the conversation.

The point is that focus is about efficient use of conscious capacity. The more we waste, the less we can learn.

So how do we get better at this? The first step is learning how to say “no”. Steve Jobs famously said, focus is about saying “no”. Say “no” to good things that distract you from great things. To do that requires committing to a few things rather than spreading our attention around. Csikszentmihalyi brings out in his book “Flow” that this is hard to do. Why? In our modern world, culture poses a huge distraction. Everything we see has a man made message with it. And that message suggests that you as an individual need not worry about what is going on around you. You can be passive and just take pleasure from stuff. BTW, he goes a lot further. He notes that there is a huge difference between taking pleasure and finding happiness. More on that later. For now — we just need to understand that saying “no” is hard. We need to practice it.

There is a second step here. Bruce Schneier brings this out in his TED talk. Bruce points out that our evolution limits our ability to see. In our early days, we had to manage threats, like predators. So our minds became quite good at seeing threats and reacting to them quickly. Indeed, we have an overdrive mechanism that triggers an automatic “flight or fight” response (the amygdala). This means that we are hardwired to look for threats that we can see. But in the modern world, nearly all of the things around us pose threats that we cannot see. Like getting on an airplane. We have no way to know how safe the plane is. The actual level of risk of getting on the plane is determined by a process that is used to control known risks. The more we get fixated on the overall risk, the less we will be able to understand that process. But to get smarter, we need to see things as processes. We need to peek behind the curtain, so to speak. Think of that great scene in the Wizard of Oz film when the dog pulled back the curtain to the old man working the dials and levers to make Oz look so scary. That is what we want to do in order to focus.

So I am talking about mastering two steps to use focus. First, is learning how to say “no” to distraction. To commit to great things rather than accept lots of good things. Second, to control our instinct to stay on the surface of things. To learn how to peer behind the curtain. If we learn how to do both well, we will start seeing things around us in a new light. We open the door to learning how things really work in the groups where we work.

Take Five level 2 training is all about bringing better focus into groups. We already have some great communication tools. At this level, we will take a look at a model that explains a key limitation that we all have in groups. I take this form Dave Logan. With this model in hand, we can begin to see more clearly what capacities our groups have and how we can upgrade that capacity. We can also use this to form new groups around key ideas. Essentially, this is what markets do. So you can think about level 2 training as learning how markets for ideas function.

Books to read

  • The Effective Executive, Peter Drucker
  • Tribal Leadership, Dave Logan
  • Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  • Influence, Bob Cialdini

Here are a few questions that we are thinking about

And here are some links that might be of interest

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