Exceeding the Speed of Distraction

A couple weeks ago, while preparing for my talk at Gartner’s Business Intelligence & Analytics Summit, I began to think more about the idea of enabling analysts to work at “the speed of thought.” It’s one of those phrases that is frequently used and intuitively appealing…even if it is oddly vague. Full disclosure: I was going to use it in my talk until I began to do a little research into “the speed of thought.” Based on that and subsequent research, I am wondering if we should instead talk more about ensuring that analysts can work at a speed greater than the speed of distraction.

The article that stopped me from using the phrase in my talk and, truth be told, in general was written by Tim Welsh, the Principal Investigator at the University of Toronto’s Action and Attention Lab. In “It feels instantaneous, but how long does it really take to think a thought?”, Welsh wrote:

" …trying to identify one value for the ‘speed of thought’ is a little like trying to identify one maximum speed for all forms of transportation, from bicycles to rockets. There are many different kinds of thoughts that can vary greatly in timescale."

As an analyst, this makes a lot of sense: in some cases, I “know” something and just need to chase down the source and make sure that my understanding is still valid. In other cases, I need to spend time thinking about what question I am really trying to answer is before I can even begin to think about what data I might need and what methodologies I might use . . . and that is before performing the first iteration of my analyses and discovering flaws in my thinking, the data, the analytic methodologies employed, etc. Much like Wiley E. Coyote, I often find myself trudging back to the drawing board to address unanticipated and—in some cases unanticipatable—flaws in my research design.

The challenge is that, as an analyst, I try to achieve what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyia would call a flow state: the state of being completely absorbed in and enthralled by the work I am doing. In many professional environments, achieving this type of flow state is really difficult: there are e-mails, instant messages, notifications, ringing phones, people swinging by the desk, meetings, etc., all of which conspire to keep us from the work.

The more time that passes between me wanting to ask a question and getting a response, the more likely I am to be distracted in ways that pull me out of a flow state.

In addition to being abundant, these distractions come at a high cost. In 2013, Drake Baer, writing for Fast Company, reported:

"According to University of California, Irvine business professor Gloria Mark, we get hit with a minor interruption—something that takes a moment to take care of—every three minutes . . . . the kicker is the time it takes to recover from such sundry slips of attention: It's a full 23 minutes until we get back on track, meaning that we're losing hours of work to all these interruptions. Every day."

So, the question here is, “Do the systems you use allow you to get into and stay in a flow state…or do they create openings for the myriad of distractions that chew up our days?”

 If you would like to learn about how 1010data’s advanced analytics platform can help you and your analysts exceed the speed of distraction, consider attending our annual Insight Summit this May. It will be a chance to hear how data scientists and analysts quickly explore and derive value from large volumes of diverse data.


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