- Facebook has the largest open floor plan in the world with 3,000 employees spread over a 10-acre expanse.
- Twitter’s developers work at long shared desks to encourage “serendipity” and casual conversations.
- IBM sends 2.5 million instant messages within IBM each day.
- 800 of the New York Times’ employees took up the company’s encouragement to tweet while at work.
These workplace trends—serendipitous collaboration, rapid communication, and an active presence on social media—work directly against the deep work that Cal Newport advocates for in Deep Work: Rules for Focussed Success in a Distracted World. While there are benefits in these trends, they are far outweighed by the damage done to the ability to learn hard things fast and produce at an elite level.
So what are the mind-sets and biases that have pushed businesses away from deep work and toward more distracting alternatives? Newport highlights the following:
The Principle of Least Resistance: In a business setting without clear feedback on the impact of various behaviors to the bottom line, we will tend toward behaviors that are easiest in the moment. The culture of instant and constant connectivity is easier than the isolation and concentration that deep work requires.
Busyness as a Proxy for Productivity: In the absence of clear indicators of what it means to be productive and valuable in their jobs, many knowledge workers turn back toward an industrial indicator of productivity: doing lots of stuff in a visible manner.
The Cult of the Internet: If it’s high-tech we assume it’s good. Case closed. We’ve made the Internet synonymous with the revolutionary future of business and government. Deep work is at a severe disadvantage in this culture because it build on values like quality, craftsmanship, and mastery that are decidedly old-fashioned and nontechnological.
As Newport says, “Assuming the trends outlined here continue, depth will become increasingly rare and therefore increasingly valuable.”