Caves, campfires and why they’re important.

John Roberts
Oct 8 · 6 min read

We live in a world saturated with information.

It seeps into all the available cracks in our waking hours.

Waiting for a coffee is now a chance to check email. The line at the grocery store is a prime moment to devote to what’s happening on Instagram. Couch time is now for binge watching.

Time we used to spend thinking, daydreaming, and processing the world is now spent trying to stay at the crest of an information wave that will never reach shore.

This is why now, more than ever, we need to think about our “head space.” What is that? you ask. It’s allowing ourselves the room, aptitude, and opportunity to focus on creating better solutions from the most important computer we will ever have — our brains.

Here are a couple of Truths to help contextualize what is happening around us.

Truth 1:
Eric Schmidt of Google has said that every two days, humanity creates as much information as we have had since the dawn of civilization to 2003. Every two days.

And he said that 9 years ago. Predictions have grown 50-fold since then with the popularization of voice-activated devices, wearable sensors, and AI learning.

Truth 2:
In 2000, a human attention span was thought to be around 12 seconds. Microsoft has since estimated that our attention span is now just eight seconds and shrinking. It’s no longer an insult to tell someone they have the attention span of a goldfish (which clocks in at nine seconds). It’s a universal truth of humanity.

These points, in combination with what we all live day to day, reveal a monumental problem: There’s not enough head space, and there’s too much to put in it.

To truly flourish as people, we need to find ways to cultivate opportunities to create more head space. Not just for ourselves, but for our teams and organizations.

It’s no longer an insult to tell someone they have the attention span of a goldfish.
It’s no longer an insult to tell someone they have the attention span of a goldfish.

In advertising especially it’s an imperative of business to provide the mental room for people to create the work that will live up to the expectations of today’s ambitious marketers. The success of a company depends on a culture where ideas and creativity thrive.

So here are THREE ideas that can help throw some elbows and make room for concepts and creativity to flourish.

First is the physical.
In the modern professional environment, there’s an enthusiasm for tearing down the walls as a means to foster creativity. It works … to a point. The Workplace Productivity Index in this age of open-plan offices is actually down 6%. In an enthusiastic rush to create an open, welcoming space, an unexpected issue has surfaced: too much time together! So, in our workplaces we need to think of CAMPFIRES and CAVES.

Campfires — the open place for coming together and for fostering conversation, storytelling, and learning.

Caves — allowing for places to retreat to so that people have their own private space to focus on the big things that really matter. Ask yourself: At work, can you create your own spaces where individuals can be more creative without distraction and then come together to share, build, and refine those ideas?

Daniel Kahneman the behavioral economist said: Thinking is to humans as swimming is to cats. We can do it but we’d much rather not.

And that leads to the second area of learning:

The psychological.
People aren’t very good at thinking. As Daniel Kahneman, the behavioral economist, said: Thinking is to humans as swimming is to cats. We can do it, but we’d much rather not.

It’s true that we tend to avoid thinking, and that’s a potential danger in this age of Information. It’s actually too easy to access information from our smartphones. The more involved we are in the learning process, the more likely we are to retain the knowledge. That’s why hand-written notes are proven to lead to better retention of information than typed notes. It’s because we are engaged with the process in a more active way.

We’re always on, that’s true. But we’re not really on; we’re just in a constant stage of inattention, avoidance, and waiting for the next ping, tweet, or snap. It’s called FOMO — Fear of Missing Out.

The term “screen” means “barrier.” It’s a barrier to our world. How can this be addressed? Perhaps we need to create JOMO — Joy of Missing Out.

There have been many, increasingly urgent discussions about the need to unplug, with some going so far as to call for “unplugged days,” when people deliberately disconnect from the interruptions. We all actively seek this; what if everyone tried it? We all know what we’re doing next week, and likely the week after. But what if we all created a day of the week in one month’s time when our digital diaries were made to be clear? And keep it. Unplugged.

It’s what makes an acoustic musical performance so special. Everything is stripped away from the performers except the music, the essence of what they do. Apply this to our real lives. It’s not just about the constant chatter of interruptions, but the skill and craft of what we love laid bare. Like an acoustic musical set it allows us to savor the very soul of what we do.

So third and lastly, let’s talk about the metaphysics of time and space.

It’s true: It’s not possible to create more hours in the day. But we can fit into the hours more of the things that really matter.

The unexpected is to be expected. Car trouble, flooded basements, and more unfortunate things crop up in life constantly. Those things are not planned on any calendar, and yet we manage through them without missing a beat in our work.

It’s proof that time really is elastic and that we can find ways to determine what’s important: what we focus our head space on first, when we really, really must.

So what if we took that and applied our head space more deliberately to what really matters in our lives and work?

Start by proactively creating head space for your employees on their calendars. Twice a week, no meetings and no exceptions. Allowing people the time and space to actually focus on what matters most to them.

Try to limit meeting times. As an example, one-hour meetings become 55 minutes to avoid the always late, catch up, and rush in the workspace. What if your meeting day actually ran on time the whole time? It’s hard to say how much more productive we would be in the meeting, but it would at the very least reduce the angst of always rushing.

So why does this all matter?

Head space is critical in allowing us all to flourish, creating better solutions for life and work.

Our modern world will increasingly force its way into every aspect of life, and we need to become protective of our head space and value it as a crucial part of our lives. It requires the ability, the opportunity, and the aptitude to focus, to think, and to create. These are increasingly precious in today’s world.

We’re entering into a new era. It could be a dangerous period of crazy or a wonderful opportunity for change from the crazy, always-on, cluttered Information Age. It’s time to move forward into the Insight Age.

Insight, not information. An age where less is more, where we can focus on just the information that matters to create more understanding. That kind of learning can’t all be done by an algorithm or by an assumption. It has to be deliberate.

The exploration will be important, because the trying matters as much as the changing. Try to see the feelings and benefits of exploring insights over information.

It’s a noble goal and one we will only achieve with the answers we find in the quiet spaces we make for ourselves both in the real world and in our own heads.

Higher Order

A quest to be better, do better and create better for the greater good.

John Roberts

Written by

Chief Strategy Officer, relentlessly curious, born optimistic, learning to be a dad.

Higher Order

A quest to be better, do better and create better for the greater good.

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