Be more bored, says Twitter vice president

Tuesday 4 June 2019

Twitter vice president Bruce Daisley recommended boredom as one of the most efficient ways of getting the best ideas and improving the work experience.

Great ideas come when staring out of the window, in the shower, and on walks, The Joy of Work author told the NLA breakfast talk on the changing world of work. ‘Give yourself space for cognition’, he said. ‘What are you doing when you have your brightest idea? I suspect you did not have that idea while you were staring into your laptop or clutching a pen staring at a piece of paper. You will probably be in a distractable mode. Boredom seems to be the place where our ideas happen.’ 

There is no use thinking that we can ‘hard-work’ our way to success, as entrepreneur Elon Musk might suggest, with the decisions we make during the day prone to fluctuation, he added. And despite his massive output, even Charles Dickens did not work in the afternoon, instead going for walks to allow his ideas to percolate and foment through his brain. ‘I think modern work would be brutal to Charles Dickens’.

Daisley got into the broad subject of improving the office experience when he realised that Silicon Valley companies were guilty of ‘mass misdirection’ when it came to work culture, claiming to be differentiated and enlightened compared to the rest of the world. But Daisley, who used to work at Google and YouTube, feels that quite often workplace culture is used as a marketing device rather than real culture – ‘people cuddling dogs on beanbags’. 

Two key concepts can make our work lives more sustainable, he advised – positive affect, or the impact of mood on the performance of an individual; and psychological safety – feeling safe to be yourself and for interpersonal risk-taking or ‘being given the benefit of the doubt’.

But one of the key problems affecting the workforce worldwide is burn-out, something Daisley witnessed in his colleague’s eyes before he interviewed psychologists and neuroscientists and the research they put forward on the way work was affecting us, especially since the arrival of the BlackBerry some 15 years ago. It is estimated that as much as half of the workforce is affected, with the working day having crept up from 7.5 hours to 9.5 hours, and people regularly accessing emails outside of work and on mobile. The result? ‘Four bars of stress’, and the resultant stifling of creativity. ‘We’ve created this system where people are just habitually stressed in a state of anxiety’.

In the future, we must concentrate on the things that computers cannot do – creativity and innovation – especially as Gmail has even started finishing your sentences said Daisley.

Loneliness at work is also an issue – one study shows that this has an impact equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and 42% of workers in the UK say they have no friends at work. Feeling in sync with your team drives happiness, said Daisley, and things like bring-your-dog-to-work days could help, especially in ‘engineering random discussions’, forging unexpected connections and increasing workplace collaboration. 

Creative offices are also characterised by many face-to-face interactions, so offices need to be engineered to allow and support this, he added. At least the narrative on sleep has changed, with evidence suggesting that those who claim they need less shuteye to cope being disproved. Perhaps, suggested, Daisley, the world of work may go the same way, with Stanford research into physical labour showing that productivity peaks at 56 hours a week. But our brains are finite, like the batteries on our phones.

‘The secret of modern work’, said Daisley, ‘is that we need to re-engineer work in a more human shape.’

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