Time-out from digital crucial for high performance
Baroness Susan Greenfield – a leading neuroscientist and crossbench peer – was a keynote speaker at our Cegos Cognition event in London. In her presentation, she warned of the dangers of too much digital, and spoke of the need to train our people to enhance cognitive skills for high performance. Here are the highlights.
We are bombarded with messages these days on how we should get with the digital programme if we want to stay ahead of the competition. No doubt there are merits to using the latest tech for our organisation’s benefit, especially if it makes us more productive.
According to Baroness Greenfield, however, overuse of digital technology can actually impair our performance.
Much of our interaction with the digital world results in a release of dopamine – a chemical in the brain that makes us experience pleasure; something highly valued in our desire for instant gratification. Video games are a prime example of how digital interaction releases dopamine – think of the moment you score a direct hit and the momentary pleasure that triggers. On a more personal level, dopamine is released when you get a positive response to an email or a ‘like’ on your Facebook post.
There’s nothing wrong with simple pleasures, of course. But we are in danger of allowing our interactions with the online world to override our human interactions. Body language and face-to-face communication are essential to our cognitive development, and if we a starved of these – as we are in our online interactions – then we can reduce our cognitive functions and become ineffective.
Excessive online interaction and not enough ‘human’ can lead us into zombie territory. There is already some evidence that too much digital leads to short attention spans, poor interpersonal skills and superficial thinking.
In scientific terms, denying the part of the brain that deals with cognitive function the right kind of stimulation can weaken it substantially. This leads to all the above behaviours and a certain amount of recklessness – emphatically the kind of behaviour we don’t need in the workplace.
How, then, do we take a healthy attitude to digital technology – using it in ways that that genuinely make us more productive – while increasing our cognitive abilities to become smart performers?
1) Learn to be creative
Creativity helps you become more individual in your outlook, which can be a desirable trait in those seeking to be better leaders. Creative people consistently challenge the status quo, make unusual associations and engage in meaningful activity. If you’re a leader, being creative will naturally enhance your ability to have vision and the confidence to manage risk.
2) Take plenty of physical exercise, preferably outdoors
While stimulating activity, like a game of Sudoku, can be great for your brain, physical exercise is even better. Running, for example, releases endorphins and leads to the healthy growth of nerve cells in the brain. Ultimately, these benefit cognitive development, making you a sharper, more agile thinker.
3) Read challenging material
We’ve all heard people ‘boasting’ about how they don’t read. But research suggests this only makes you more superficial in the long run. Reading material that challenges superficial thought and encourages deeper thinking boosts your ability to empathise – a necessary trait in a leader, or anybody dealing with people.
4) Slow down, interact with others and reflect on the world around you
As humans, we need to interact on a physical level with other humans. It’s hardwired into our genes. If we do more of this, we feel comfortable in ourselves, more assured and better equipped to deal with the occasional stresses. So, slow down, dine with your friends and loved ones instead of having too many TV dinners, and learn to enjoy life.
Much of all this is what you’d consider common sense. But it’s also common sense to use digital technology in moderation – a message that appears not to be getting through.
Those companies who choose to push the over-use of digital are only doing their people, and their business prospects, a disservice.
On the other hand, companies that inspire a more balanced approach to digital technology, while encouraging the well-being – emotional and physical – of their people, will be the ultimate winners.
Cegos delivers courses that help people cope with the demands of digital technology whilst improving their cognitive skills. Contact us to find out more.