We’ve all done it. We forward reams of information to people in preparation for a meeting. It’s convenient and it saves trees. But there’s a problem. We may be unwittingly influencing how the reader thinks about the information.
Researchers have found that how we consume information determines how we think. In short, when we view information in a digital format, we tend to hone in on details and think more concretely.
On the other hand, when we consume the same information in an analog fashion (on paper), we have a tendency to think much more abstractly and ‘big picture ‘.
Now, when CEOs were asked what the most important leadership quality is, the majority cited creativity. The second quality -integrity, and third, global thinking. Those are all pretty abstract concepts. Yet, we are consuming so much of our information digitally and accidentally narrowing our thought processes.
So what’s the one thing we should do to make sure we look at the big picture?
Think about why we’re reading what we’re reading.
In other words, ask yourself if what you’re reading needs laser focused thinking or big picture, abstract thinking.
If you need to think ‘big picture’, then print out your email/presentation/document/etc. If you are totally committed to not using tree-derived paper, then you can start using tree-free papers made from alternate materials. If you don’t want to print stuff out at all, then gather information that helps establish the context of what you’re reading. Deeply understand the context before starting to read. This will help you deal with the information in a more broad-minded way.
If you’re prepping for a brainstorm, or in a brainstorm, pass things around in paper format. Make copies and circulate them around. Make it easy for people to make notations, mark things up, to encounter ideas without the borders of a screen.
If you’d like to be laser focused, if you need to understand the facts, then just read digitally.
Remember, reflect on your purpose for reading information. It’ll make you a better thinker and a better do-er.