Fast Company reported recently on General Motors’ policy against using a cell phone while walking.
That means no looking at a phone on the way to a meeting. No taking calls while en route to the bathroom. No checking email while you’re going to the kitchen to get a coffee.
“We have asked people not to text and walk or walk and talk on phones because it takes your attention away from potential hazards,” says Jim Glynn, GM’s vice president of Global Workplace Safety.
Safety is important, especially at a manufacturing company. But we suggest that every organization discourage use of phones in common areas, and not just because someone could get hurt.
Chance encounters — in hallways, elevators, kitchens, anywhere — are fertile grounds for conversations that plant the seeds of ideas. Steve Jobs knew this, which is why he took a personal interest in the design of Pixar’s headquarters. In his biography of Jobs, Walter Isaacson quoted the legendary entrepreneur on this topic:
“There’s a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by email and iChat,” [Jobs] said. “That’s crazy, creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘Wow,’ and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.”
Not every unplanned conversation will yield results, of course. Most won’t. But it’s impossible to know which ones could. Richard Fiorelli, a design professor at the Cleveland Institute of Art, talks about “kinships in time,” his term for suddenly seeing possible connections between the seemingly unrelated. You’ll never know how many of those moments of insight are passing you by if you stare at a little screen instead of engaging with a colleague or stranger.
So instead of reading an email on your way to the restroom, ask someone what they’re working on. Instead of checking Twitter while fetching coffee, solicit input on your project from someone who wouldn’t ordinarily weigh in. Seize those moments. The messages will still be there when you get back to your desk.