Want To Be A Better Explorer? Turn Off Your Phone

Here in the Northern Hemisphere the Dog Days of Summer have arrived, sultry days of heat and humidity. Iced tea enjoyed by the swimming pool or a family trip to the mountains or sea are proven ways to survive the month of August, and this month I hope that you are able to find time to rest and relax.

And yet, if you’re anything like me, over the past decade you’ve noticed that it’s increasingly difficult to create the separation from daily responsibilities necessary to truly relax and unwind.

Thanks to technology we’re never untethered from job and personal responsibilities. There is an expectation that we’ll immediately respond to incoming email. We dip into social media streams that sweep us into our own little online world, never having to look up or look around.

And our actions and behaviors reinforce the mental conditioning that our always-on lifestyle means, in fact, that we are always online.

I do have friends who espouse the virtues of their 1990s era flip phones that only do one thing: make telephone calls. You know, where you actually talk to someone if they answer.

But I’m not suggesting we avoid technology. It’s too powerful and enables us to be more productive, both personally and professionally.

However, if we fail to recognize its power and how our brains respond to and crave continual engagement and stimulation, we may fall victim to its dark side.


Let’s conduct a short experiment.

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Here in the Northern Hemisphere the Dog Days of Summer have arrived, sultry days of heat and humidity. Iced tea enjoyed by the swimming pool or a family trip to the mountains or sea are proven ways to survive the month of August, and this month I hope that you are able to find time to rest and relax.

And yet, if you’re anything like me, over the past decade you’ve noticed that it’s increasingly difficult to create the separation from daily responsibilities necessary to truly relax and unwind.

Thanks to technology we’re never untethered from job and personal responsibilities. There is an expectation that we’ll immediately respond to incoming email. We dip into social media streams that sweep us into our own little online world, never having to look up or look around.

And our actions and behaviors reinforce the mental conditioning that our always-on lifestyle means, in fact, that we are always online.

I do have friends who espouse the virtues of their 1990s era flip phones that only do one thing: make telephone calls. You know, where you actually talk to someone if they answer.

But I’m not suggesting we avoid technology. It’s too powerful and enables us to be more productive, both personally and professionally.

However, if we fail to recognize its power and how our brains respond to and crave continual engagement and stimulation, we may fall victim to its dark side.


Let’s conduct a short experiment.

Take out your smart phone or tablet and find the power button. Now place your finger over the button and press. Keep holding until you’re prompted to power down your device.

Go ahead and do that, watching as the last screen pixels dim and go dark.

Now, put the phone or tablet back into your pocket or bag and observe what you’re thinking and feeling.

If you’re reading a paper copy of EXPLORER go back to reading and notice your reading patterns. Are you actually reading articles, or skipping from titles to sentences, dipping in and out as your eyes skitter across the page?

I wonder what my friends are saying on Facebook.

Oh, how is the stock market doing today?

“If you’re like most of us, you’re wondering what the Internet is doing to your attention span,” writes David Brooks. “You toggle over to check your phone during even the smallest pause in real life. You feel those phantom vibrations even when no one is texting you. You have trouble concentrating for long periods.”

Brooks, author and New York Times columnist, used his July 10 op-ed to distinguish between two types of intelligence: Fluid intelligence and crystallizing intelligence.

The online world, Brooks explains, helps create and hone fluid intelligence, the ability to be mentally agile, quickly grasping the general concept and moving on. He cites neuroscientist Susan Greenfield’s observation that “expert online gamers have a great capacity for short-term memory, to process multiple objects simultaneously, to switch flexibly between tasks and to quickly process rapidly presented information.”

Fluid intelligence is important. If you are a stock trader or air traffic controller you need a strong ability to read the situation as it’s unfolding and to react properly.

In contrast, the formation and development of crystallizing intelligence is the result of years of experience, of reading, of absorbing information and exploring relationships between data, discovering and uncovering as you go. It’s deep and develops over time.

It is the difference between observing and understanding.

When you ask advice of your mentor you’re hoping to tap into their crystallizing intelligence, their wisdom accumulated over time.


Reading Brooks’ column I saw some interesting parallels to the exploration and production business and the development of the next generation workforce:

The operations focus of unconventional plays, for example, requires drilling large numbers of wells. Over the past decade freshly minted geoscience graduates were geo-steering those wells, finishing one and immediately moving to the next.

They got better with time and experience, of course, but fluid intelligence is what made them good.

Developing a play concept or prospect, in contrast, is a process of collecting and sifting data, searching for the elements of a working petroleum system.

These geoscientists need to develop a story about the play or prospect, teasing out the thread holding the story together. Then they need to convince someone to spend money and test the idea.

Both types of intelligence – fluid and crystallizing – are necessary in our business, but we have to actively cultivate them.

Everything in our digital world is streamlined to facilitate our fluid intelligence.

But if you want to be an explorer – to find oil and natural gas – I’d encourage you to cultivate the skills of reading and thinking –including offline – to enhance your crystallizing intelligence.

It’s not difficult, but you have to make mental space available for it. And that takes determination and will power.

Hey, is that your phone buzzing, or mine?

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