Innovative thinkingA study was conducted with on-call anaesthetists, with just one night of sleep loss. When they were required, in a spur of the moment decision, to use a novel approach to solving a problem, their lack of sleep impaired their ability to be innovative in their decision making. Not all decisions require us to be innovative, but often in fast-paced SMEs, where every choice has the potential to be magnified, where differentiation through innovative practice and/or innovative thought may be critical, this approach can be crucial. What happens when tried and tested measures fail? This is when innovation, flexible thinking and creativity are needed, and this is what may be a market differentiator.
FocusKey to efficient and effective decision making is the ability to focus attention on the task at hand, and avoid distractions. Sleep deprivation of just one single night means we may struggle to retain focused attention. It becomes much more difficult to ignore distractions.
Keeping track of eventsIf a decision is complex, you will be gathering information and making decisions about what to do next. Do you need more data? Are you ready to act on the information? Do you trust the metrics given to you? Whatever the decision, you will need to consider all of the information available and update your strategic thinking as new data becomes available. It is this updating of information and keeping track of events that is also vulnerable to sleep loss.
Individuals who are too tired often fail to update their strategic decisions based on the information they are receiving, and instead, ignore it, relying on “tried and tested” methods. This “set fixedness” means we stick with an old solution to a new problem, even when data suggests it may not or will not work.
Self-awarenessPerhaps all is not lost. Surely self-aware leaders can monitor their decisions and provide corrective strategies when the decisions are not successful. Right? Perhaps not – research has found that individuals who are sleep deprived become more confident about vague or ambiguous decisions and even after 350 milligrams of caffeine (three to four cups of coffee) there was no improvement in participants’ ability to accurately monitor their own effectiveness. Even if we ground our conclusion away from the world of space travel, as a leader of an SME you will inevitably be involved in decision making. Without proper sleep, you are likely to be side-lined by irrelevant trivia, will lack innovation, lose track of what was recently said, become more distrustful, less able to negotiate and have less insight into your own behaviour. So why take the risk? Vicki Culpin is professor of organisational behaviour at Ashridge Executive Education, part of Hult International Business School. Her book, The Business of Sleep: How sleeping better can transform your career, is out 8 March 2018 (Bloomsbury).
Of all the awareness days, World Sleep Day brings to the forefront one crucial fact about the British workforce we tend to neglect – that one in three UK workers suffer from sleeping problems.
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