Channeling My Inner Bulldog: The Case for Stubbornness

We should all act a little more like these guys.

Without question, my favorite animal is the English Bulldog. Known for their affinity for slobbering, massive heads, stubborn demeanors, and undeniable sweetness, I’ve been told that I tend to resemble them on a number of levels. (Insert big head joke here.) I could write for hours about these adorable little creatures but, for now, I’ll just tell two little stories.

In Manhattan a few years ago, I once saw a small woman of no more than 100 pounds trying to walk her bulldog (Billy) across the street. Billy wasn’t having any of it; he liked where he was, thank you. I laughed as the woman gave up trying to move him after about five minutes. (For those who don’t know, fully grown English Bulldogs are very strong and compact; they can easily weigh 55 pounds or more.)

So, why am I writing about bulldogs?

Because I can relate to them, especially the stubborn part. Once bulldogs set their mind to something (like not moving), it’s pretty much a fait accompli. For better or worse, I tend to exhibit similar characteristics while writing and consulting. And in this post, I’m going to argue that this is generally a good thing.

The Costs of Multitasking

We’ve all seen people make mistakes at work because they were trying to juggle ten things at once. I’m certainly no exception here and I’m not going to claim to be perfect. But I worry about the increasing number of interruptions that we all face every day and the consquences of those distractions. My fears are being confirmed as I read Maggie Jackson’s excellent book Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age (affiliate link). For now, let’s just say that we are unable to focus on one thing at a time. Jackson argues that this is a net negative.

She’s right.

Bulldogs are able to focus on only one thing at a time. Sometimes, that’s a good thing.

I remember an incident from a few years ago. I was on a project in upstate NY and we had manifested a problem on a system upgrade. It was around lunchtime and two of my clients wanted to grab a bite with me. We sat at the table as we got to know each other a bit better. I knew that our problem had to have a solution and I was determined to figure it out. After about five minutes of eating, one of the women looked at me, smiled, and said, “You’re thinking about the solution to the problem, aren’t you?”

I just smiled and said, “Guilty.”

This is just how I’m wired, I suppose.

Simon Says: Embrace stubbornness.

Look, I’m not completely detached from reality here. I can recognize that people have many things to do, especially as companies have cut back in light of recent economic turmoil. I’ll also cop to the benefits of being able to quickly move from one thing to another. I’ll even argue that, when faced with a particularly vexing problem, some time away from your computer is entirely beneficial. I can’t tell you how many problems I’ve solved on a treadmill listening to RushMarillion, and Dream Theater. But I find it hard to believe that many people can solve complex problems while answering emails, phone calls, texts, tweets, IMs, etc.

Feedback

What do you think?


For my friend Jim Harris’ response on the benefits of being a Beagle, click here.

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6 hopefully intriguing thoughts:

  1. Jill Wanless

    I could not agree more! These days we are expected to multi-task at work AND at home and it can cause problems if we don’t take the time to digest all the information needed to identify potential solutions.
    Instead, because we are so busy, we read the first 3 lines of an email, scan Powerpoints for the diagrams, and  read the executive summary and concluding remarks of research papers and books (yours notwithstanding of course)!
    And although I find big value in social networking, there are times when a bit of a break is needed in order to focus on a challenging dilemma.
    Today is not one of those days 🙂

    Reply
  2. Jim Harris

    Channeling My Inner Beagle: The Case for Hyperactivity

    More often than not, I think multitasking gets a bad reputation in general because of the particular tasks involved.
     
    Many of our daily tasks are “busy work” that we simply don’t need to do, but have allowed ourselves to be conditioned to perform. Most studies find, for example, that nearly 80% of e-mail is SPAM–therefore, why do we bother to keep e-mail open all day long, especially with pop-up reminders alerting us that “You Have SPAM!”

    Additionally, when we do find a break in our otherwise hectic day, “nervous energy” often causes us to feel like we should be doing “something” with our time–and the vicious cycle of busy work begins all over again.

    Therefore, I would argue that what we really need to do is learn how to become BETTER multitaskers.
    Shifting our focus when necessary between PRODUCTIVE tasks. By eliminating the useless tasks that give multitasking its bad reputation, we can get more done in less time–with less stress.

    Perhaps we have finally discovered the topic for our second official Blog-Bout:

    Bulldogs vs. Beagles, The Rumble in the Dog Park

    🙂

    Reply
  3. Julian Schwarzenbach

    Phil,
    I fully agree with your post, it is getting increasingly difficult to be able to focus on one thing due to the number of other distractions. Trying to concentrate on a difficult problem when you have emails, phones, twitter etc. can be a challenge.
    Whenever I have a tough problem to mull over, I will leave the phone behind and go for a brisk walk. Walking uses enough mental energy to give my mind a base level of activity, the rest is then free to concentrate on the task in hand. Frequently I have solved a problem in 10-15 minutes this way that would have taken far longer if attempted with all the usual distractions.
    Julian

    Reply
  4. Don Frederiksen

    Great post, Phil
    I used to feel good about my ability to multitask.  However, after reading Brain Rules by John Medina, I began to take his perspective that multitasking is a myth and that there is no scientific basis to multitasking.  His web site elaborates on this.
    Despite this new thinking, the realities of our environments seems to demand that we juggle.  What can we do?  Minimally, I try not to perpetuate the problem for others.  Beyond that I am still searching for a good system that works for me.
    @Julian  I also like to walk.  Walking is good
    Phil, Really like your comment environment.  It really invites connection.  Can you share details?
    don
     
     

    Reply
    • philsimon

      Don

      I read that book as well and was a bit underwhelmed. I do agree with you that we vastly overestimate our ability to effectively juggle multiple things. I like to think that I’m pretty good at this but, truth be told, probably only do thing 80% as well as I can if I focus….and that might be a bit generous.

       

      Reply
  5. Tony Marciante

    Watched an amazing study of Harvard students (in 2009 I believe) who all SWORE they were super multi-taskers and just regaled at the fact that they could update Facebook, be writing a paper, and checking email, etc…better than anyone.   Of course, end of day, they were all run through a litany of test that determined the opposite, many times a serious lack of coherency in their writing, concentration and other output.
    We’re all guity, but I suggest trying a complete single minded task, like putting a puzzle together with your loved one.  See how long it takes you to get AWAY from having your phone close by, a TV on, or to be thinking about anything other than enjoying the moment at hand.  Perhaps some light music in background is fine, but other than that…DISCONNECT.  Try it…you will find it mentally stimulating..and good for your relationship possibly.  🙂

    Reply

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