In a world that seems to become more and more complicated every day, it can be challenging to stay focused on what is important each day, what we need to accomplish each day, and how we make use of our limited time each day. More and more we are introduced to new ways to increase our productivity, improve our time management, or convincing us to “multitask like a pro” (which does not exist by the way – multitasking is a misnomer). I have found however that in our current world of bigger, better, faster, and with anyone being able to publish a new app that guarantees to improve our day, we lose sight of one thing – The Basics.
There is no doubt that the current state of our society is fast paced and is also an exciting time in which to live as we have seen some amazing advancements in technology, science, medicine, and entertainment / leisure activities. Over the last hundred years we have seen more advancements, more rapidly, than in the thousands of years prior. It is a great time to live – amazing things are happening.
With that said, I believe that we are also losing sight of how the basics can and should be adhered to. Maybe you heard the story about the use of a ‘space pen’ versus a pencil when the USA and then Soviet Union were in the space race during the 1950’s and 1960’s. It is claimed that the USA spent millions of dollars on a pen that worked in space, while the Soviets just used a pencil. It is a delightful story of simplicity and not complicating a problem with over engineered solutions if a more basic and easy solution already exists. Well, you may or may not know, that story is not true. Both USA and Soviets used pencils, and the Fisher pen company developed the space pen and provided it to NASA for their use as NASA wanted to limit objects that could be easily combustible. I know, a pencil is small, but the pen was designed to write on many surfaces and work in zero gravity, so there were more advantages over a pencil.
The point that this story is meant to make however is still very valid. In a fast-changing world with an ever-increasing sense of wanting to be on the cutting edge, having the latest gadget first, and keeping up with our peers, we often overlook the basics and may spend more time dealing with an app to solve our simple problems rather than sticking to applying the basics. Having access to and using the latest technology can also give us a false sense of sophistication. That somehow having the newest smartphone makes us more productive, and we can show off to our friends on how cool it looks. Sure, it is nice to have the latest high-tech toys, and yes they can solve some problems for us, and I will tell you that the first television I had that could also play MP4 movies directly or connect to the internet for streaming content was pretty cool – but at the same time I have to say I did not buy the television for those features – there were just there when I needed another television.
Recently I was at a small group meeting and a question came up about what the monthly cost is if we were paying $170 every six months for a service. Quickly people started to pull out their phones to get to a calculator to answer the question – while me and another person just said, “a little less than $30 per month” ($180 divided in 6 months = $30 – so $170 would be a little less than $30 right???). All I could think in this moment was how we have been trained to look to technology to solve problems rather than ask ourselves if we can solve it quickly by applying some basics.
Another factor that I have seen happening more and more is the use of complicated language and high-tech buzz words in conversations. Why do we try to use big words when in conversation with others? Is it to impress them with our knowledge? Does it improve the transfer of knowledge? Are we speaking in code for our friends?
If you are in a specialized field like medicine or science, then being able to speak the language and use terms that have specific meanings can improve the conversation as your peer group has also learned these specific terms and why they are important. You may get a laugh from a group of chemists when you tell them that you received a burn while heating the acid dihydrogen monoxide on your stovetop. For the rest of us, that would be boiling pure water.
Using sophisticated sounding words really does not improve the conversation, and in some cases might be used to create a sense of being more important or to try to exclude others. Maybe you have had the experience where you did not understand what someone else had said, were not familiar with the terms, and asked if they could explain what something means – to then be told, if you don’t understand this, maybe you shouldn’t be in this meeting. So what do we do, we write down the terms we don’t know, we stay quiet, and we look it up later. The problem is, when we look it up later and see what the meaning is, and then we realize that our involvement in the meeting would have been very different had someone defined it in basic terms, that we would have added much more to the conversation and could have had an impact on shaping the outcome of the meeting for the better. Certainly we might feel like we missed out on a contribution, but worse is that the team may have missed out on our contribution that could have made a big change to the company. I believe that a good leader is someone who also makes sure that all team members understand what is being worked on and that the use of complicated terms and buzz-words are not a part of a productive meeting. Everyone in the meeting should clearly understand everything that is being discussed.
This is why I think that so much more can get done when we stick with the basics. When we speak plainly using basic language, the whole team or group can be a part of the conversation and more easily have input without the fear of not understanding. When we realize what we are capable of doing without the aid of technology or apps on our phones, we can be more productive and achieve things faster. Our self-confidence increases.
Sticking to the basics is not a sign of weakness, it can be a sign of strength. Sticking to the basics can increase our contribution as we focus on what we are good at, what we can achieve, and what we can offer to those around us. The more time we spend trying to act or appear more sophisticated through more complex tools, complex language, and complex ideas, the less we can be our true selves. If you are one of those people who thrives on and makes the most out of the latest advancements, that is great – you probably are living your true self. For many of us, that is not our true selves and we all know when we are feeling overwhelmed, left out of the conversation, or have become dependent on technology to provide simple answers. Sticking to the basics can help you define and remain in touch with your true self – I promise that you will see an improvement in your personal growth, your productivity, and your accomplishments when you stick to the basics.
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