Let Your Mind Wander

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When my family went on vacation this April, we all needed the break — kind of desperately. The kids were tightly wound from school and activities. Everyone was having trouble sleeping. I was even starting to worry about short-term memory loss. On our way out the door, I realized I had forgotten my daughter’s medicine. After 10 minutes of retracing my steps, I discovered that I had inadvertently stashed it in our kitchen junk drawer, maybe while fishing for a pen. It’s hard to say.

We’re familiar with the costs of burnout: Energy, motivation, productivity, engagement, and commitment can all take a hit, at work and at home. And many of the fixes are fairly intuitive: Regularly unplug. Reduce unnecessary meetings. Exercise. Schedule small breaks during the day. Take vacations even if you think you can’t afford to be away from work, because you can’t afford not to be away now and then.

What many of us don’t realize, though, is that leisure time in particular does two important jobs for us. Recharging is the obvious one — it can help prevent or reverse the effects of fatigue. But as Kellogg School of Management professor Adam Waytz points out in the this issue of MIT SMR, leisure can also heighten our powers of creativity, thanks to the cognitive benefits of occasionally letting our minds wander. And that, Waytz says, can give us a leg up on automation as we’re looking for ways to keep contributing and stay relevant in organizations and industries that are planning to incorporate AI into more and more of their processes. He draws on findings from several studies to make his case. I find it compelling.

That article opens our special package on talent in a digital age. You’ll want to check out the other pieces, as well. Will Poindexter and Steve Berez, partners at Bain & Co., argue for a fresh approach to hiring and managing technical talent (this is adapted from their online article about getting the most out of agile approaches). Harvard Business School professor William R. Kerr looks at the obstacles that older tech workers face in a global market and urges companies not to overlook the value these employees bring. David Waller, a partner at Oliver Wyman Labs, explains why forward-looking companies train people to conduct and share business analysis in code, not spreadsheets and formulas. And Paul Michelman, MIT SMR’s editor in chief, catches up with Paul R. Daugherty and H. James Wilson at Accenture — coauthors (along with Nicola Morini Bianzino) of the hit article “The Jobs That Artificial Intelligence Will Create” — to find out what they’ve learned about new job categories spawned by AI since their initial round of research. I hope you enjoy the issue.



Our expert columnists offer opinion and analysis on important issues facing modern businesses and managers.
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