A New Way Forward for Board Directors
Leading in the Age of Distraction
Today, we are experiencing a tidal wave of rapid changes sweeping every industry. Most boards of directors are ill prepared to confront the current and future challenges posed by new technological innovations, such as AI, machine learning, cyber security, robots, digital convergence, IoT, robo-advisors, complex omni-channels, and more.
The early 21st century has taught us that we cannot always predict the future. How can an organization develop a competent, future-focused board of directors that is resilient, innovative, technically savvy, and agile enough to rapidly respond to sudden changes and embrace new opportunities?
One path forward is equipping board directors to be more resilient and reflective, as well as to suspend judgment, to not jump to hasty decisions without sufficient dialogue, and to take into account legal, regulatory, and financial risks. In addition, being mindful of the implications of government regulations, community relations, and human resources requires thoughtful dialogue to ensure that ethical- and values-based leadership are always positioned as key anchors for operating a board. The successful boards of today and tomorrow have one powerful resource for guiding their dialogue: data.
However, the sheer volume of data explosion drives our world and results in an exponential cognitive overload. The size of the digital universe will double every two years at least, with a 50-fold growth expected from 2010 to 2020. Human- and machine- generated data are already experiencing a growth rate that is 10 times faster than that of traditional business data, while machine data is increasing at 50 times the growth rate. Everything around us is becoming smarter – technology is in everything.
As humans, we are no longer as cognitively alert as we were just 10 years ago. On average, we are able to focus on something (without being distracted by a new incoming thought) for less than 10 seconds; just 10 years ago, our attention lasted for 20 seconds, on average. This decrease in human cognitive focus has been fueled by mobile connectivity. While we are plugged in 24/7, our productivity is being severely impacted by our cognitive dissonance.
What this means is that we are constantly distracted. So, how can we help board members be more attentive during board meetings, and how can we help them focus on making decisions that are reflective, thoughtful, and values centric? This is not an easy question, as the role of the board is to provide business and strategic advice to management and to approve the company’s long-term strategy.
A New Board Skill: Mindfulness
By building mindfulness skills, board directors can learn to make better, more reflective decisions. The simple ability to pause and ensure that all factors are explored from multiple viewpoints is rapidly becoming a survival skill required to manage the explosion of person– machine interfaces.
Mindfulness is a translation of the Pali term sati, an important element of Buddhist teachings. This practice is used to develop self-knowledge and wisdom. Large population-based research studies have indicated that the practice of mindfulness is strongly correlated with greater wellbeing and health benefits. By practicing mindfulness as a leadership development skill, executives and board members can learn to look at the world from multiple perspectives: political, economic, environmental, sociological, technology, etc.
In the boardroom, mindfulness is the capacity of a group of people to think collectively and deeply, with a sense of unified coherence and purpose. A skilled, mindful board weaves conversations around the different agenda topics to ensure the development of multiple reflection points. In this way, the members give value to the past and present while looking forward to the future. Board deliberations require thoughtful dialogue regarding not only the impact a decision will have on an enterprise, but also on how decisions can impact the industry, society, and the world at large in both the short and long term.
Develop a mindful board goes far beyond personal mindfulness practices. The future mindful board director could go well beyond behavioral mindfulness – that is, mindfulness practices could be integrated with AI or augmented reality technologies.
Moving forward, board directors will need to practice mindfulness in order to operate more effectively and efficiently in the Age of Distraction. As human and machine interfaces continue to blur, it will become increasingly important for business leaders to have a sense of ethical responsibility. Only in this way can we unlock a future in which we use sound judgment to guide our organizations forward. In the interim, we can develop increased harmony in our behavioral practices by applying mindfulness techniques to improve our cognitive decision making.
Keeping an eye on the future is a major responsibility of board directors – especially during this important time of transition, during which AI, robotics, and sensor technologies will come to influence every aspect of our lives.
Is your board ready?