An essay crafted for my employer… it’s been scrubbed for general reading…
You’ve seen them all, heard them all, read them all. “Expect more. Even more.” “The world’s fastest 3G Network.” “We never stop working for you.” “More bars in more places.” “This is what’s happening now.” “There’s an app for that.” “The Now Network.” One tagline after another seems to merge into a stream of high-tech, high-speed consciousness; interchangeable in respective marketing missions, but singular in desired outcomes: get us more, more, more, now, now, now.
For such a low-scoring, three-letter word, “now” is packed with meaning: immediately, promptly, directly, straightaway, instantly. And each of these associations takes on deeper relevancy when coupled with technology and the communication requirements – or even demands – of the average consumer. However, attach the synonym “present” to fast-talking “now,” and we may actually have to slow down enough to blink. That is, if our obsession with immediate gratification and growing need for constant stimuli don’t get in our way.
“Present” – synonymous with being, exist, there, in the now, in the moment – represents a state of mind often incongruous with how we act and react in the agile, sometimes turbulent world of high-speed communications. When striving to deliver so much, so fast, and so often, the resulting tendency to overlook and even ignore inspiration and intuition in the simplest of moments can create roadblocks to how passionately, creatively, and strategically “present” we may be with our clients, teams and associates.
I was recently enjoying a movie (and when I spend roughly $50 for two tickets and snacks, I really want to enjoy it) when a woman in front of me pulled out her iPhone and started checking email. Not too intrusive at first, but then she switched platforms and texted someone, and then shifted to Facebook and started scrolling through status updates. I, of course, started fixating on her behavior. I finally leaned forward and asked her to put it away, but by that time had completely disconnected from the movie. This woman’s need to be connected to her world “now” completely overrode her ability to be “present,” in turn affecting my own. The result was that neither of us enjoyed the creative escape we anticipated from the film. We missed out because we weren’t “present.”
The same can be said for how we interact at the office with clients and co-workers. Do we field a conference call hands-free while simultaneously holding three IM chats? Do we mute conference calls and hold secondary conversations with our internal team while the client is still speaking? Do we participate in meetings at our desks via muted phones while answering other client emails, editing documents or checking out Facebook? If so, then there’s a good chance we’ve completely and successfully adopted this new, active definition of “now” – so full of action it may well become a verb, and so very far away from being “present.” Hey, count me in. I’m not a poster boy for living in the moment. Trust me, when I tell you I can’t claim innocence. I worked in a satellite home office for three years with two dogs and a parrot and became Olympically skilled at the mute button and the multi-tasking required to hold multiple IM conversations, email conversations and conference calls in tandem. I even threw in a load of laundry now and then for good measure. But when a client good naturedly busted me for my canned “mm hmm” response while clearly perusing other conversations online, I was embarrassed and humiliated. And, more importantly, I had completely missed an opportunity to be “present” with a client, one-on-one.
The challenge of being “present” isn’t just limited to the office. The New York Times posted an article recently (read on my iPhone app while commuting, personal “now” issues noted) about people injuring themselves – sometimes severely – texting while walking. New York City recently enacted legislation to keep taxi cab drivers focused on the road and their passengers, not on their cell phones. And, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, even teens are spending about 6.5 hours a day using some type of technology and print media for recreational use. However, because they are so good at multitasking, they are actually logging 8.5 hours of media time into those 6.5 hours. And that was four years ago. Common sense says their skills have advanced since then. More recently, Barilla funded a survey that found that adult work schedules (65%) and children’s schedules (56%) were keeping families from eating together. And seven in ten of those surveyed reported that activities such as TV-watching and cell phone conversations at the table actually competed with the typical family dinner. It’s simply tough to be “present.”
With so much pressure to succeed at home and at work, finding our own paths to “present” is vital for all of us. And it’s different for each of us. At the office, it can be a simple promise to leave your blackberry at your desk when heading into a client call or brainstorm; locking down the Office Communicator when on deadline; taking your laptop into a pitch room to write a deck. Outside of the office, it can be meditation or yoga in the morning; a jazz club on Tuesday nights with Thursday nights at a museum; season tickets to the Jets, the Knicks the Yankees or the Mets; Broadway in the Park; book clubs or poker clubs; even that 12-week baking course at the Institute of Culinary Education. Whatever it takes to ground each of us in the moment – to what makes us happy, what makes us tick, what energizes us – is what, ultimately, makes us so appealing to our clients and teams. I’d be willing to bet that it also played into why we were hired. How “present” were you during your interviews?
A certain level of action associated with “now” has its place in our business. Deadlines and urgency are a constant, but should always be tempered with being “present” – that state of being in the moment where ever we are, whenever we are. Without it, our ability to re-energize, rejuvenate, and re-engage our minds and passions for ourselves, our families and our clients may be seriously handicapped. The balance between being “present” in a world where everything and everyone are available “now” patiently awaits our individual definition. Perhaps finding such a balance is how we will truly pioneer thinking.