Have you ever sat in the audience of a small child’s dance recital? If you picture the stage, it is one of the cutest, most entertaining events that you will ever witness. There is a colorful explosion of costumes- some that fit really well and some that obviously were made for a child at least a foot taller. Some of the aspiring ballerinas are confident and happy to be on the stage “showing their stuff”, while some try to hide and fade into the background. A few of the stars and starlets are so conscious of shining for the crowd that they find center stage, pose, and smile from ear-to ear, while at least one little boy is so oblivious that he stands calmly and proudly with his finger two inches up his nose. It really is quite an experience and one that should be cherished and treasured. Now… picture the same recital but this time instead of looking at the stage, look at the audience. It is beyond comical. Mothers standing awkwardly in the aisle with more camera equipment than most Hollywood film crews. Fathers sitting in the crowds, not watching the stage, but trying to watch their daughters through the two inch by 3 inch view screen on their iPhones. Teachers trying to figure out the logistics for taking pictures after the event in a session that takes three times longer than the recital itself. Truly, there often is a far greater production in the audience than there is on the stage!
So why do we do this? Why do we visit something as majestic and awe-inspiring as the Grand Canyon and instead of soaking it all in, we instead fill up our camera’s memory cards? Why do we take dozens of pictures of store-bought birthday cakes that we will never look at again? Why do we rush to post our “pride” on a social media site (in 140 characters or less) before we hug our sons and daughters? What is it that we are so afraid of or what are we trying to accomplish? At the end of the day, I believe that we are trying to capture the moment so that someday in the future when we have more time, we can go back and enjoy it. I think it is a desperate attempt to slow down the crazy pace of life and compensate for the lack of brain space that we have available to process the moment by trying to store it in a mental “external hard drive”. This is crazy of course, as there really is no substitute for the moment itself, but it is a compensatory behavior to help us try to find a concrete keepsake from an important event… it is because we fear that we will otherwise lose the moment forever in the tornados of our busy lives and minds. Essentially, we often let our fear of forgetting an amazing experience lead to us to behaviors that do not allow us to actually enjoy the experience itself.
I sometimes am envious of people who lived in the times before all of the technology we have today… when life was slower and there was more time to think, enjoy, and reflect. I sometime wish that we could throw away our cell phones, laptops, and iPads and spend more time fully engaged in the moment (although, I’d like to keep the modern luxuries of indoor plumbing, grocery stores, and toilet paper!). But that is not the world in which we live, so we need to find ways to allow ourselves to fully engage and experience important moments in our lives.
And while the examples above are easily brought to life in the “real world”, these issues are at least as big of an issue in the workplace as well. How many meetings have you attended where the team’s primary focus was on capturing action items and next steps rather than on contributing to debates and discussions? How often do you attend a meeting where one person is talking or presenting, while the other nine people are investing more energy in their computers and phones than on the meeting itself? How common is it for individuals to attend a team meeting just so that they can check a box and document progress rather than investing the time in actually contributing to progress themselves? This lack of mental investment and commitment and this spirit of capturing follow-ups rather than truly experiencing and participating in debates not only is wildly inefficient but ultimately hinders true innovation. We often feel like our ability to multi-task and to attend a meeting, write a summary, and answer emails- all at the same time- actually makes us more productive because of all of the extra activity that we can capture. In reality, our true contributions are drastically reduced by doing multiple things with partial effort than by investing in a smaller number of things in which we can fully invest. While we may have a documented “portfolio” of progress, illustrating that we were contributing to many innovation projects, we are not able to truly invest the time in actually driving the big innovation that we seek.
So what can we do differently…
1) Can we spend 95% experiencing and 5% capturing? Whether on vacation or in a meeting, clearly there is still a need and desire to create a snapshot, document, or keepsake to recall the event itself. But we can discipline ourselves to actually first engage in the activity and capture it at the end rather than focusing on capturing something so that you can try to experience it later.
2) Turn off our “capturing” devices and turn on our brains. If we have a camera or computer in our hands, we are going to use it. Keep it in the bag until the event is over, and invest our full selves in the event. Full engage while in the moment and keep distractions out of sight and out of mind.
3) Be choiceful with your time- if you can’t invest your whole self, don’t attend. We often feel like we are doing ourselves and our teams a favor by trying to do 3 things at one time. In reality, we are often compromising everything… slowing down all 3 things and actually diminishing the innovative potential of each activity.
Life is moving way too fast and there is often far more to get done than there is actually time to do it all. It can be overwhelming, and it is easy to feel fear that life is going to pass us by. Benjamin Franklin once said, “You may delay, but time will not, and lost time is never found again.” The passage of time is inevitable and no matter how hard we try, all moments will pass us by. We cannot capture a moment, so let’s have the discipline to fully invest and experience in the key moments of our lives. Let’s allow ourselves the license to sit back and enjoy the full splendor of life’s “dance recitals” and worry less about trying to capture them in an album.