Stop Looking So Busy

Stop Looking So Busy November 26, 2012

In most work cultures, an unwritten rule exists that you need to be busy all day long—or at least you need to look busy. Be busy, busy, busy—that’s the expectation.


For instance, when I was working as a newspaper reporter, it just wouldn’t have flown in the newsroom if, during the middle of the day, I had lain down on the floor with my arms behind my head and stared at the ceiling for half an hour.


But I propose that sometimes that’s exactly what a leader needs to do.


A leader needs to purposely step away from the fray of busyness to collect his thoughts, dream up new ideas, or figure out how existing ideas can be most effectively implemented.


The wise words of author and researcher Bob Passantino come to bear:


“Creative thinking is one of the most important aspects of good research.


“Don’t think that you’re not working if you’re not pounding on a keyboard or conducting an interview on the phone.


“Sitting and thinking through your research project, organizing your thoughts and goals, and creating a workable action plan is essential for good research.”


Oh sure, you’ve got to fit your creative thinking into the established cultural practices of your workplace. That might mean going for a walk around the block, or taking a drive, or taking a power nap in your office, or going on a retreat. However you think best.


But be skeptical of the leader who constantly trots around the office all day long with a piece of paper in his hands. He might look like he’s leading, but it may be he’s doing nothing more than running to the water cooler and back, worried he doesn’t look busy enough.


When it comes to the need for creative thinking in leadership situations, I’m reminded of the Herman Melville’s description of the whale harpooner from the classic novel Moby Dick.


In days past, when men used to row out in small boats to hunt whales, one man—the whale harpooner—was responsible for making the first strike into the whale. The harpooner sat at the front of the boat and needed to have a very strong arm and precise aim. Ultimately, the success of the entire mission depended on how effectively the harpooner did his job.


Ironically, for most of the expedition, while every man on board the small whaling boat was furiously at work, the harpooner wasn’t.


All the other men rowed in frenzy.


But the harpooner sat still and undisturbed.


The harpooner wasn’t trying to look busy. He was mentally preparing himself for the vital activity he needed to do. Melville wrote, “The harpooner sits in tranquility and rises with a sense of calm to do his work.”


Real leaders know their task is not simply to look busy.


It’s to sit silently, think creatively, and then in a burst of intensity,


strike the whale.



Question: How do you best collect your thoughts, dream up new ideas, or figure out how existing ideas can be most effectively implemented?



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