By Todd Smithee

The amount of “noise” in our lives is increasing at a staggering rate.  Instantaneous access to information is not only available, but forced upon us.  Email, cell phones, podcasts, text messaging, and news alerts not only interrupt our lives, they invade them.  If we are not careful, simply managing that daily influx of information will become a new form of unskilled labor.

Managing data, forecasts, reports, and figures are important.  You cannot run a business without critical day-to-day information.  But expanding and growing into new markets, creating new products and services, and thriving in the new economy requires something more – time to think.  Yes, that is correct: quiet, uninterrupted time to think.  Increased profitability and lowered operating expenses can be achieved by analyzing reports and spreadsheets.  And yes, in today’s competitive economy, efficiency is a must.  But the benefits of increased efficiency are fleeting.  What would have happened to IBM if it had simply continued to look only at operating expenses and production schedules?  Would IBM have had any chance of competing with offshore competitors that manufacture computer hardware and peripherals?  I think not.

To remain competitive and thrive in the long-term (and “long-term” is not what it used to be), you need to take time to get outside of the echo chamber of weekly and quarterly reports and look for opportunities to add new value and innovation for your customers, both present and future.  To grow and thrive today takes more than constantly cutting cost and maximizing efficiency.  You must innovate and bring new ideas to market.  You do this by thinking, talking with customers, and thinking some more.  Deep thinking does not necessarily have to take place in a library, office, or den.  It can be camouflaged as an enjoyable activity, such as riding a bike, fishing, or going for a drive.  Don’t feel guilty if you actually enjoy your thinking time.  That is what an economist might call a “positive externality.”  Quality thinking cannot be done, however, with constant interruptions from your cell phone.  So be sure to take time to shut off the computer, cell phone, ipod, and all of the other electronic interference encroaching on your life.  Take some time and really think hard and long about how you can do things better and differently for your customers–and yourself, while you are at it.