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5 Ways To Find Focus In The Distraction Economy

"Do you think they’ll resolve this political gridlock?" "Did you update your Facebook
status yet?" "Do you think this fiscal cliff could be a reality?" "Wow! Take a look at this tweet!" "Cut it out! It’s our money on the line…" "Ok, but let me just reply to this text first!"

These are not random statements but an actual and recent dialogue between two perfectly intelligent young professionals. It transpired right next to me as I waited for my flight at JFK.

Welcome to "Distraction Economy." The world is kicking and screaming for our attention—the economy, the environment, madmen with guns! Would you please put your smartphone away and listen?

Look back at the year gone by; perhaps the biggest downside of the past 12 months was the global impasse, the near-complete deepfreeze on decision-making. Thinking about it now, I cannot help but question whether if it could be connected to the "Distraction Economy."

The downtime and switchover costs from multiple distractions may not be our only problem or our biggest yet. But it is, without a doubt, a widespread malaise and one that is threatening to compound every other problem.

Matt Richtel could say he forewarned us as he wrote about this power of distraction among school kids in his New York Times article Growing up Digital, Wired for Distraction. A New York Times/CBS News poll confirmed the issue among adults as well. Today, we see it all around us. Research from Workplace Options estimates that distraction costs US businesses $650 billion annually, suggesting there is a significant financial price to be paid.

Undoubtedly, we need a new sense of discipline to prevent us from drowning in distraction. Judging by the turbulence anticipated in global economic projections for 2013, the time is now.

So what must we do differently in the year ahead? To put it simply: We need to focus.

Focus on Point A: We’ve all worked to overcome the downslide last year. Yet, things haven’t quite shaped up the way they should’ve. We all knew where we wanted to go but did we misread where we are today? What is needed is a deep understanding of the present situation to understand the nuances of the present circumstances together with its changing landscape. What is needed is a sharp focus on Point A, first. Only then can we carve our path to where we want to be.
Focus at street level: Now is not the time for aiming too high, nor is it the time for looking too far ahead. The global business environment is in flux and we need to be intensely attentive to the kaleidoscope around us in order to spot the changes. We need to keep a steady gaze on the movement on our road and map out a "street strategy" to maximize the bends along the way.

Focus on agility: We are only as relevant as our last action, or the impact of our last decision, so we must adapt ourselves to change – constantly. Similarly, to ensure that the products and services we offer stay relevant, we need to anticipate change. Gone are the days of the five-year plan. Even an annual plan is a luxury. It’s more likely to be a monthly planning cycle for some time to come. Agility is no longer a choice, it is the only way.

Focus on abundance: The past year has seen us go round and round in circles debating scarcity and inadequacy. But as Arianna Huffington wrote earlier this year, we must focus on abundance and surpluses instead. Let’s focus on the power of our collective intelligence and wisdom, the game-changing advances in technology and the endless possibilities they open up.

As Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler note in their book Abundance: The Future is Better than you Think, a Maasai tribesman living in Kenya today with a cellphone has better mobile communications than President Reagan had 25 years ago. And if it’s a smartphone with an Internet connection, the tribesman has instant access to more knowledge and information than President Clinton had just 15 years ago.

Focus on trying even harder: We must sail through this storm. So throwing up our hands up isn’t going to work for sure. If we’ve been trying so far; we just need to try even harder. Whether it is our political leaders trying to work out a solution to avert the fiscal cliff; or our innovation teams trying to find technology solutions to new challenges; or even our marketing teams trying to find new business in difficult times. What is needed is that extra push to reach critical mass.
We need to be intuitive, even counter-intuitive and try uncharted routes. As a case in point, in view of the economic and social re-set caused by the recession, my company made a decision to invert outsourcing in its conventional sense, and create jobs in local communities of our market operations. We’ve committed to create 10,000 jobs in the U.S. and Europe during the next five years. And to ensure we make good on it, we are investing in partnerships with local colleges and universities to impart the necessary skills to students who will then form our talent pool.

We have to do what it takes, make mistakes and take risks and be ready to think and rethink on the fly. The variables are new, the challenges unprecedented—we need to put on our blinders and focus on just one thing: moving forward, one step at a time.

—Vineet Nayar is vice chairman and CEO of HCL Technologies, a $4.3 billion global information technology services company. He is also the author of "Employees First, Customers Second: Turning Conventional Management Upside Down" (Harvard Business Press, June 2010). He is a Governor for the ICT industry, as well as a member of the Global Advisory Board of Women Leader's and Gender Parity Program at the World Economic Forum (WEF).

[Image: Flickr user Benson Kua]