Everybody expects their colleagues to be constantly connected. Beth Comstock, who runs marketing for one of the world’s biggest corporations—General Electric—says unplugging is vital to managing effectively.
By now, it’s common for executives to feel overconnected. If the sun never sets on your business empire, it’s unlikely that your smartphone ever goes dark. Being constantly available projects an image of productivity to colleagues—who doesn’t feel gratified when a late night email is returned within minutes? But, over time, it reduces our communications to their most basic and transactional. As most of us already know intuitively, it also kills our creativity. While shedding our devices is an appealing idea, it’s a practical impossibility for most of us. So, when I’m thinking of a critical project at General Electric, I practice what I call selective disconnection.
Over the years, I’ve learned that being disconnected is not the same as being on vacation; it’s another form of productivity. Not only does it improve people’s sense of work-life balance, as Harvard Business School Leslie Perlow showed in her study of smartphone-addicted consultants, Sleeping With Your Smartphone it also helps nurture new ideas. GE pioneered processes such as Six Sigma to institutionalize excellence, but innovation demands that we constantly develop fresh approaches. And that requires space and time to think—sometimes in a group, but oftentimes alone. Or as far away as possible from distracting emails and texts. Sometimes, the best place for that is 38,000 feet over the Pacific or at the local library, with my devices at a safe distance from me, or better yet, unable to get a signal.