Maybe distraction is what we’ve been waiting for?

I’ve been thinking about yesterday’s post and I think there’s actually a more interesting question to be asked.

The post suggested that, counter-intuitively, the more noisy, disruptive and distracting a work environment is, the more it might actually encourage the generation of quality ideas.

The example I gave is the change I see in my own behaviour as I’ve adapted to the point where I spend my day toggling between Facebook, Twitter, my work and personal emails, several websites and a couple of phones (a scenario played out right around my office). This looks on the surface like a productivity nightmare. But maybe it’s not the impact on productivity we should be interested in.

Because while I’m not more productive, I am producing better ideas. It’s certainly my experience that distracting yourself with micro issues can liberate your brain to deal with macro issues. Out of the supposed distractions are coming ideas that seem random when related to the micro tasks of the day, but that are absolutely relevant to a macro issue I’ve been thinking about.

So here’s what I think is the more interesting question:

Are we adapting to a new environment in which noise and distraction are the norm and thinking differently as a result? Or is it because of this new environment that the quality of thinking and the rate of innovation seem to be increasing?

What if the distractions are actually what will make this period more conducive for significant thinking? What if distraction is exactly what our brains need, and that a distraction-rich environment is exactly what we’ve been waiting for?

Maybe in ten years we’ll be acknowledging that Twitter helped cure cancer, Facebook inadvertently helped solved the energy crisis and the iPod helped avert irreversible climate change.

Maybe distraction is what we’ve been waiting for?

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