A dark cloud rolls in at 8 a.m. every morning.
That's when you arrive at your desk and start typing on your keyboard. If it wasn't for the loud clacking noise and the coffee slurps, you'd feel like you're in a morgue. No one seems to talk to you anymore. You are isolated from all social circles. It's becoming painful to even be in the office, and you miss making connections with co-workers. You need to make a dramatic change, but where do you even start?
One of the reasons people end up working in isolation in business has to do with our view of productivity. It's a flawed mindset: We think we are most productive when we work alone, answering email, solving problems, and researching issues. We head straight to the keyboard because we think that's where we will be most productive.
Guess what? It's not.
If you are feeling lonely at work, it's because you have bought into the viewpoint that personal productivity is the only answer. That dark cloud over your head is caused by a tragic error in logic, one that is incredibly pervasive--especially at smaller companies.
You've become too hyper-focused. It's not uncommon to see a dozen workers in a startup huddled over their own workstations trying to finish up tasks. My guess is that many of them are frustrated, overwhelmed, stressed out, and unproductive.
The most productivity you will ever find in business will come from a group discussion. Let's say you are trying to solve a troubling business problem such as how to fend off a competitor or raise more capital. The typical approach is for one person to start researching something on the internet. Or maybe you start emailing people you know or you read a book on the topic. If you leave out a group discussion, you will miss out on the best way to solve problems and push a company forward. You will remain isolated and won't feel as though you are making any progress.
The "lone light bulb" moment is never as profound as the "group light bulb" moment. It's in groups that people bounce ideas off one another and generate discussion. Almost every great idea I've ever had has come from a group discussion. Someone makes a remark and it triggers a thought in someone else, who then adds to the conversation, which then feeds me an idea. There's something much more effective about a group debate over a big problem. It may be the only way to solve the really tough problems.
The benefits are profound. When we create a shared idea, we are all connecting with one another. Several people can claim responsibility for the idea. In the process, there's a connection at a human level that trumps any discovery you make on your own.
I know this from personal experience. I'm guilty of thinking my own productivity at my desk is more important than group productivity. Yet, in countless situations at conferences and in meetings, the best ideas germinate when one person has part of the answer and other people fill in the remaining solution. We build a bridge together with ideas. I crave this kind of interaction. I spent seven full days at the SxSW conference last March engaging in frequent group discussions. It was amazing. I filled up an entire notebook. I could never have come up with those ideas on my own.
For me, feelings of frustration start when I just sit all day and try to stay productive on my own. I take comfort in a keyboard, but a keyboard alone just doesn't cut it.
How about you? Are you trying to tackle a problem all on your own? Are you guilty of clanging on a computer too much? The answer is to push the keyboard away like you are pushing away a plate of donuts. Stand up, find some co-workers, and start talking.