Ever have days when you can’t seem to get focused?
We take a dim view of distraction. We think we should be constantly paying attention – as if we were all hard wired for acute focus.
What if distraction is our brain telling us we need to take a broader view; that there is a lot going on and we need to monitor our entire environment, not just the minutiae.
What if we embraced our distraction?
Watching the Wallabies play England last year, I saw Kurtley Beale automatically do that.
You don’t have to know anything about sport to appreciate this example. Beale is an indigenous youngster with exceptional sporting skills. His peripheral vision is instinctive; his spatial awareness is apparent in every move. He plays with flair and grace, combined with an odd mix of concentration and abandon.
He also has the perfect position to utilize those abilities. He’s fullback.
Think about it. Standing on his own 25 metre line at the kickoff, he has the entire field before him. Immediately in front is his own team. He knows exactly who is where. In front of them are the opposition. He can see all of them too. Beale never stands still. He is constantly shifting - with every move of the ball, and with every move of the players in front of him. He watches the game unfold.
This is distraction at work
He monitors his environment and moves accordingly. This ability might be labeled inattention in the classroom. He may be seen as fidgety or unable to concentrate. The classroom might not be a place where Beale would excel.
But those characteristics turn into brilliance once the ball is in his hands. He instinctively knows where to go with it. He is already aware of the lay of the land.
His adrenalin has risen, the serotonin has kicked in and he’s focused.
He’s no longer distracted
It’s the odd flipside of the often-distracted personality. Once stimulated, they can move from apparent distraction to hyper-focus in a heartbeat.
The Wallabies lost the game, but Beale equaled England’s two tries with two of his own.
It was a blessing for Beale that his brilliance was recognized early. It helped him effectively self-medicate any shortcomings in other endeavors by ending up in a career that embraces the power of those same characteristics.
What if we all did the same thing?
How many children are considered to have an attention deficit when they are in fact constantly monitoring their environment?
This can be a skill, not a handicap.
Someone may be impulsive, but they are able to change direction quickly. They easily identify better opportunities. Richard Branson’s switch into making records -- not just selling them -- and his later move into airlines, were all critical decisions that turned into brilliant business initiatives.
In his autobiography, Branson thanked his distracted nature for his success. Some people may be impatient, but they are also action-oriented and able to generate a sense of urgency. Even people with a sense of impending doom are aware of the downside. They can be quick to identify problems and issues.
Whether you are managing people like this, or you are one of them, embrace the power of these personality traits. Do you, or they, need to change positions on the field? Do the people you work with have their responsibilities aligned with their abilities? Do you?
What can you do to mobilise the unrecognised power of these often-mislabeled attributes – in your team, or in yourself?