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"Hey, Boss, I'm Not Sleeping I'm Learning"

Posted Dec 05 2008 1:19pm

"I wasn't really asleep I was just meditating on unconsciousness."
--Author unknown(but I'm so jealous it wasn't me)


My experience with many companies is that, under stress, they actually increase the number and length of meetings. There appears to be a sense that if people meet more, analyze more, and crunch the numbers more, the situation will change.  One can only imagine the meeting schedule at the Big 3 automakers right now.

Consistent with this is a somewhat Western work ethic that has as part of its foundation: More Work is Always Better. I think the Pilgrims brought it with them.

My mother's ancestors came to America shortly after the Pilgrims and as a child I recall, during a close-knit family Thanksgiving filled with pumpkin pie, cranberries, and whiskey sours turkey, mom waxed poetic about how Priscilla Alden had stitched a sampler for the Pilgrim eCommerce site that said, "Thy Lifestyle Shall Be Governed By Mo' Better Hard Work." Or maybe she said 'Spike' Alden.

Hard Work, Sleep, and More Proof of What You Already Know

Either way, I'm a proponent of hard work because, with the right focus, it's how successful people become successful. (It also simply keeps a lot of people out of trouble).

Nap_time And: Everyone knows how important it is to sleep. Sleep refreshes, allows the body to prepare itself for the hours ahead, blah, blah, blah. We've only known this since the beginning of recorded history. It's common sense.  That, however, doesn't stop the human condition from trying to defy what it knows to be true.

Thus, I give you what the new, socially-engineered human condition demands: Research!

From Neuroscience 2008, the words of Dr. William Fishbein,

“We remember to sleep so we can sleep to remember!”

Here 's what the research shows:

An afternoon nap could boost your associative memory skills. Dr. Fishbein and Hiuyan Lau (City University of New York) tested participants' ability to remember the English meanings of familiar Chinese characters they'd learned earlier and to determine the meaning of unfamiliar characters that shared graphical elements called 'radicals' with the learned characters. Participants who took a nap between the learning and testing phase of the study were better able to identify the meaning of the unfamiliar characters. The findings suggest that a nap helps people connect separate and discrete pieces of information and to extract general concepts. "The role of sleep in memory formation is not passive; rather, it is a period that actively fosters deeper processing of what we learned during wakefulness," said Fishbein.

How To Use This In Business

1. Giving out information at the end of a long day and then asking participants to immediately make decisions won't get you the best decision. "Sleep on it" is a heck of a good idea.

2. Design meetings so that there are opportunities for relaxation and synthesis in between sessions.

I'd like to hear from folks on this one. My recent corporate interactions around meetings have been less than fruitful. The reason? The "cost-effective" mantra is being acted out by stuffing people into rooms for longer periods of time with fewer (or in some case, no) breaks. This is designed to allegedly show efficient management. My observation is that it shows a great deal of expertise in how to stuff people into rooms.

3. Presentation development.

Putting together important presentations is becoming a last-minute affair. I just watched a client give a stack of financial data to a secretary who plugged it into a PowerPoint template so the executive could retrieve it on the way to his presentation the next morning. However, the executive will not have seen the product until he's standing in front of a crowd. He knows what he have her. He has not had a chance to review, ponder, relax, and synthesize how the flow will play out visually.

Readers here are very much attuned to learning and learning organizations. So, I have three questions that I hope will help the community. Feel free to respond to one or more:

  • Is this hunker-down, sleep deprivation approach getting played out in your organization?
  • If so, what is the visible impact?
  • What practical suggestions do you have that can make use of Dr. Fishbein's research?

Bonus: My friend Dr. Ellen Weber has a terrific new brain-related site at Brain Leaders and Learners.

photo attribution:

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