“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on it, I would use the first 55 minutes determining the proper questions to ask, and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”Albert Einstein
We love being productive because productivity is a drug. Our neurochemistry gets juiced with dopamine or seratonin every time we check that box.
We do the same thing at scale — at the end of the day we measure our contribution based on the volume of boxes we checked. Sometimes as leaders we measure this based on the boxes our team checked, but even though the scope is distinct the unit of measurement is the same. We naturally place premier value on output, because our brains are wired that way.
This isn’t wrong, it’s just incomplete.
Diligently executing our plans is an important part in running our businesses, or our careers, or our lives. That steady pace of production is the engine that steadily moves us forward. We need to grind to get anywhere, and so it’s useful that nature gives us happy drugs for doing this hard work.
But we tend to level up, as individuals and businesses, in an entirely different way. We make steady progress by checking boxes, but when people or businesses take huge leaps forward it’s more often due to a change in our internal operating system (a new skill, a new direction, a new connection) which only comes when something new is introduced.
Searching for these revolutionary new elements is therefore important work, but it runs counter to our nature. The problem, as anyone who has lost their car keys will attest, is that whatever you’re searching for is always in the last place you look. So until you find what you (often didn’t know you) were looking for, this type of searching work does not give us any of the happy neurochemical feedback that we get from staying the course and producing.
We’re chemically wired to stay busy, even if we’re solving the wrong problem.
Think about how abnormal it is to read a book about your field or discipline in the workplace. Books are someone’s considered attempt to provide the most valuable information possible in the best package possible, and so are one of the highest-probability searches one can undertake. But we too often see reading as much less valuable than executing the next task.
Success, whether personally or in business, is necessarily built on a combination of producing (steady box checking against the work that we know needs doing) and searching (constant exposure to potential improvements to our internal operating system, even if no such improvements are guaranteed). Both sides of the coin are necessary if we’re to reach our potential.
Given that, it’s worth remembering that production places our brains under the influence of drugs, begetting a need for more production, and if we don’t make it a point to invest in the search we risk drastically limiting our ability to revolutionize our companies or ourselves.