Distractibility in Aging: The Unexpected Boon to Business

Aug 28, 2017

Have you found that as you’ve gotten older that your mind is more prone to wander, daydream, imagine and reconsider? If so, you’re in the majority of your peers, according to a recent piece by Forbes. Science shows that as we age, our minds are less rigid, or in other words, more easily distractible. While distractibility often holds a negative connotation—it’s used to imply a lack of focus, even work ethic—a recent review of more than 100 studies published in the Trends in Cognitive Sciences journal upends that pejorative connotation, demonstrating that distractibility is actually a huge asset to businesses. Why?

Known in psychology circles as “decreased cognitive control,” distractibility really means that your brain isn’t necessarily off-topic, but rather that it’s increasingly receptive to walking off the well-worn path and examining (or perhaps more importantly reexamining) the conceptual landscape from a new angle. This means your brain is open to learning fresh concepts and approaching problem solving with greater creativity. Additionally, research has shown distractibility leads to greater meta-awareness—essentially inquisitiveness about how and why a process is working (or not)—leading older professionals to raise insightful and innovation-driving questions like “why is this my process when I work?” or “how might we make this more efficient?”. Insights gained from this kind of inquisitiveness are key to business innovation, growth and dynamism.

It’s hard to move into new territory when we’re set on controlling our path. When we’re set on controlling the course we miss valuable opportunities to observe, examine, and rethink notions of how and why. This rigidity stunts personal as well as professional growth for professionals and businesses alike. Happily, our brain is less likely to be so controlling of its cognitive direction as we age, and this means the view gets wider, the observations more dynamic, and the conclusions more creative and original. So, if you’re finding yourself increasingly drawn to pause in a task and rethink its process; to push back your chair, look out the window and let your mind wander and turn over new ideas before reattacking the problem at hand, be encouraged that this is actually a valuable skill that science shows will only grow as you age, and that you and your employers are set to gain from, in the fresh and inquisitive approach you bring to your work.


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