The brain is not wired to handle multiple inputs at the same time.
You can certainly try, but if you have 17 different notifications pinging you on your phone at the same time, good luck managing all of them.
That’s why it was so interesting to settle in and listen to a long, complex, but brilliant discussion with Elon Musk using the drop-in audio app called Clubhouse.
I’ll admit right away that I listened to the recorded chat later because it would have been well after midnight for me when he finally went live with a group of over 5,000 listeners recently.
Apart from that nocturnal audio chat, I’ve tested the Clubhouse app countless times now, created my own rooms, and come to some distinct conclusions about its value. More on that in a moment, but back to Musk and what he said.
For the record, I’m just as fascinated by this brilliant thinker as anyone. If you listen to the entire chat, you can almost imagine the wheels turning. Sometimes, they turn quickly and he spits out an answer. Sometimes, it’s as though the processing chips are on overload and he pauses to articulate what he really means.
MORE FOR YOU
One particular comment really stuck out to me. Musk made it an off-hand comment, and one that almost seemed like a dad joke (he is, after all, a father). “Fear is not the mind-killer, context switching is the mind-killer,” he said. You could put that on a poster.
What he means is that constantly switching contexts and tasks is mind-numbing. One moment we are talking about Tesla electric cars and the next it’s Mars. One minute we are commenting on Twitter and the next we are answering emails.
Musk gamely answered questions from the Clubhouse gallery, and if anyone can context-switch it’s him, but there’s also the sense that technology and innovation have made us all into context-switching machines. At least with this new audio app, you can turn off notifications and learn something new.
Musk made another profound comment about how we are currently interfacing with phones at about 100 bits, typing as fast as we can or occasionally talking to them. He advocates for a future where we can process much faster, mostly by forming a physical connection with machines. (I happen to think that’s a bit scary.)
Interestingly, Clubhouse is tailor-made for the salience network in our brains (e.g., the portion that controls focus). In my countless audio chats, both as a host and as a listener, I was able to focus on one topic at a time. You can’t listen fast. You can speak a bit faster, but really the entire forum is meant for one-to-many interaction that is focused on one topic at a time.
There’s something monumental about hearing Musk this way (and other high profile individuals). You feel like you are in the same room. I participated in a recent chat with Guy Kawasaki, the famous Apple marketing guru and book author. I didn’t raise my virtual hand to ask a question, but I have in many other chats. Clubhouse is like an interactive podcast or maybe more like a panel discussion, except that you can decide to go up on “stage” and become part of the panel.
This is where something merely new becomes something useful.
During this period of working at home, those who manage to focus the best are the ultimate winners. When I’ve hosted a Clubhouse chat, mostly to ask people about innovative new gadgets and ideas, I’ve always had to focus. There’s no way you can also check your email at the same time. If you do, you’ll miss what people are saying.
This is how we are wired. Our brains want to tune out the junk and tune in to the important topics. We’re constantly determining what is valuable and important. Our brains are also amazingly good at ignoring things that are not worthy of our full attention; that’s helpful when you are surfing Netflix and trying to pick a show to watch. It’s a problem when you visit the ice cream store, because they all look good.
That ability to focus is what creates new products and new companies. It helps us write books. It will determine the outcome of the pandemic.
With focus comes resolution, success, and improvement.
Musk proved one thing during his long Clubhouse chat: those who focus build great things. Here’s hoping Clubhouse itself becomes great.