Guest AuthorPavan Soni

Inflexion Point, September 2021

By | Dr Pavan Soni | IIM-B Innovation Evangelist

In this edition, we look at the means to increase your attention span, how engineers adopt mindfulness to develop divergent thinking skills, what Apple’s Tim Cook has to say about the future of innovation, occasions when mindlessness can be more useful than mindfulness, and the power and pitfall of gamification. 

How to coach your brain to increase your attention span

We are perpetually deprived of attention and it has two sources: internal and external. One of the biggest internal factors is the lack of sleep and if you intend to address this with caffeine remember that while it would make you more alert, it won’t help your brain process and store information more effectively. Also, frustration and boredom are associated with a lack of attention and a good way to overcome such feelings is to take a break and then resume the work. As for external factors, the key is to have ‘no emails and no phone’ slots during the day such that you can get through important activities, such as compiling this edition of Inflexion Point. (Source: Fast Company)
Divergent thinking, which is core to creativity, is often overlooked in most engineering programs, as engineers are taught to focus on a linear progression of narrow, discipline-focused technical information. Mindfulness, which is based on the premise of intentionally paying attention with openness, kindness, and curiosity, helps develop divergent thinking. Based on a study of 92 engineering students at Stanford University who went about a 15 minutes mindfulness session before a test of ideation, it emerged that their propensity to generate novel ideas went up. In a larger group, it was found that mindfulness predicted innovation self-efficacy as it enabled a beginner’s mind in the participants. (Source: Harvard Business Review)
A decade ago Tim Cook stepped into the big shoes of Steve Jobs, arguably the greatest showman of his times. Over the next ten years, Apple’s stocks went up by 1000%, making it the world’s most valuable company and getting Cook into 2021 TIME100 honoree list. The first impression about Cook is his humility and eagerness to listen. As he puts it, “I learned very quickly to remember that I had two ears and only one mouth, and to listen very carefully to people that I’m surrounding myself with, because I have some of the best and brightest people around me. And they’re smarter than I am. ” Along with diversity and equality, Cooks call out privacy as the most pressing problem of our times and sheds light on how Apple is committed towards sustainable growth. (Source: Time)
We have heard about the benefit of mindfulness, including the preceding pieces, but is it a useful practice in all circumstances? Perhaps no. Recent research suggests that paying too much attention to what you’re doing can have damaging effects, particularly when you perform well-practiced skills. Being mindful is useful when performing a task involving high cognitive load, such a learning something new, but focusing too carefully on the execution of well-practiced motor sequences can cause mistakes. So ‘just do it’ may be good advice, overall. (Source: Scientific American)
Gamification is the means of adding symbolic rewards, competition, social connections, or even fun sounds and colors to make something feel more like play. 
It works not by changing the activity itself, but by changing its packaging, and making goal achievement a bit more exciting as a result. Companies like Amazon, Uber, and Wikipedia adopt it regularly to encourage contribution and productivity. But on the downside of this popular technique, recent studies reveal that gamification is unhelpful and can even be harmful if people feel that their employer is forcing them to participate in “mandatory fun.” It concludes that gamification works when it helps people achieve the goals they want to reach anyway by making the process of goal achievement more exciting. They need to buy into it first. (Source: Wired)
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