I’ve been fretting about the ‘3 minute rule’ for a couple of years now. What I mean by that is that observations of executives at work reveal that the maximum uninterrupted time they spend is 3 minutes. The future of work suggests that there is little that will reduce this figure. I guess, the rub is that there is not much you can do in 3 minutes (ideas on a postcard please!)
The 3 minutes came back to me last week as I was re-reading Richard Sennett’s book on craftsmen. You may recall that I drew some interesting parallels between the medieval craftsmen and some of the new emerging occupations.
My line of argument is that high value in the future will go to specialists who have achieved some form of mastery and then switch mastery over the journey of their working life (what I refer to as ‘serial mastery’). In this blog I’d like to explore what we loose with the ‘3 minute rule’:
Concentration Sennett reminded me of the work of the psychologist Daniel Levitin who studied the development of mastery in a variety of professions including composers, basketball players, fiction writers and ice-skaters. He reports that ten thousand hours is the common touchstone for how long it takes to become an expert. That translates to practicing three hours a day for ten years. What’s important about these daily hours is that the development of these expert skills requires concentration of a very high order. People master these high order skills because they have the ability to concentrate for long periods of time. This skill of physical concentration is based on how people learn to practice, to repeat what they do, and to learn from repetition.
…with the ‘3 minute rule’ we loose any ability to develop deep expertise through concentration.
Watching The subject of what you are mastering undergoes subtle changes as those learning the skill slowly transform their capability. These complex skills are learnt through watching – or absorbing the master’s lesson and becoming immersed in their demonstration.
…with the ‘3 minute rule’ we never have time to learn through prolonged watching and of course no more time to mentor.
Sympathetic Illustration If like me, you loved the recent film Julia and Julie, you may have been charmed by Julia Child’s descriptions of how to create French classics such as Poularde a la d’Albufera. Child’s sympathetic illustrations empathised with the novice cook on her journey. As a consequence her instructions for the dish take over 6 pages – way more than a precise direction of the recipe. What this more elaborate, humane and emotional description actually does however, is connect the reader with their imagination
…with the ‘3 minute rule’ precise and short directions will always win over the more whimsical sympathetic illustrations.
Stumbling So much of what enlarges our imagination comes through ‘stumbling’ on the unexpected, unforeseen. Readers of my book Hot Spots will recall that I make much of this under the title ‘boundary spanning’. It’s about creating sufficient time and space in an every-day working life for the unexpected to occur.
…with the ‘3 minute rule’ we never have time to stumble – instead always walking the straight and narrow path.
So – how can we elongate our time and spend more time concentrating, watching, listening to sympathetic illustration and stumbling? I think it’s a crucial question for now and even more tough for the future of work. I made some suggestions in my last book Glow – I guess really in the nature of realising the problem and then trying a range of techniques to elongate time. You can download a couple of the chapters on www.hotspotsmovement.com/downloads.