Friday, May 23, 2008


I mean multi-tasking! Actually, the issue had been hitting me since many days, since I saw my teenage nephew multi-tasking like mad on an everyday basis; as I really hate it when, while talking to me, he takes out just one earpiece [of his iWhatever], keeping the other in at full blast, at the same time mumbling away half words that he’s “givin’ me full attention!” Didn’t I say thoroughly inefficient? I knew that with statistical research, I would be able to convince my nephew not to multi-task ever! Well, the famed Ram Charan (Fortune magazine’s favourite management guru) had told me during a lunch last year that “mastery of the subject” one is practising is its own reward. Obviously, you can’t do that if you multi-task, can you?! I was sure the world’s greatest CEOs focus on “mastery” of the subject than on multi-tasking, and decided to do a quick review of what really works for the world’s most specialised leader, Bill Gates! More so as he’s kind of an icon for my nephew...

It was personally shocking for me when I read the NHS Report of the world famous Institute for Innovation and Improvement, which profiled Gates and reported that “Gates is the original multi-tasking man...” In fact, Gates’ belief in multi-tasking is so supreme that “once, Gates hung a map of Africa in his garage, so he could have something to occupy his mind for the precious seconds spent turning on the engine of his Porsche.” Time magazine reported in an inside story on Bill Gates that when Gates was in the sixth grade, due to his behaviour, “his parents decided he needed counselling!” After one year of counselling sessions and a plethora of tests, the psychological counsellor reached his conclusion. He told Gates’ mother, “Mary, you’re going to lose. You had better just adjust to him!” That he can eat food with both hands (in fact, he’s ambidextrous) was something I learnt much later after getting to know that experts describe him to be a master of “parallel processing” and, uhh, “multi-tasking.”

The noted Dr. Louis Csoka’s pathbreaking research (International Communications Research, Dec 2006) shows how great multi-taskers – people who handle more than one job, one designation, one profile at a time – are not only more educated than non-multi-taskers (78% more), but also are better paid (a whopping 200% more)! The benchmark IMF research paper (Enterprise Restructuring and Work Organisation) proves with conclusive findings that world-class organisations of today are slimmer and have an increased number of multi-skilled workforces where, “workers have to be able to handle a multiplicity of tasks and be very flexible.” Dr. Levenson (University of Southern California), Dr. Gibbs (Chicago Graduate School of Business) and Professor Zoghi (Bureau of Labour Statistics) moved the management world three years back when, in their world beating research (Why Are Jobs Designed The Way They Are?), they provided definitive quantitative evidence from the world’s largest and best performing organisations that its ‘multi-tasking’ instead of ‘specialisation’ that “leads to greater productivity.” Dr. Jaime Ortega in a Centre for Labour Market sponsored research, statistically showed that for increased profits, it’s ‘job rotation’ rather than ‘specialisation’ that should be followed!

My arguments against multi-tasking were growing thinner by the minute. That’s when I called up my professor from b-school to take his help. He asked me just one question: “What’s common between top CEOs like Paul Wilbur, Thomas Wright, Carlos Ghosn, Steve Jobs, Larry Page, Larry G. Stambaugh and a host of others?” I didn’t even wish to answer a losing question. Forget multi-tasking at a job level, these world beaters serve as CEOs in two companies at the same time! While few know that Jobs is the single largest shareholder of Disney (apart from being the CEO of Pixar – now with Disney – and Apple together) or that Google’s Larry Page is a top board member at Apple, fewer perhaps know that Carlos Ghosn is the CEO of both Nissan (Japan) and Renault (France), spending half of the week in one country, and half in the other. I was shattered further when my professor shared that there perhaps was no better a multi-tasker than Ram Charan himself, who runs the boards of three global companies (Tyco, Austin Industries and Biogenex) at the same time! These days, every time my nephew saunters across my home sniggering away at me, my blood boils, but there’s little I can do... And yes, for the sake of mentioning, if the only place you think you can multi-task is talking on the cell phone while driving, forget it! I’ve tried it! Not got arrested; but fines have burnt emotional holes larger than my nephew’s smirks!


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