keeping busyLemmings are a misunderstood animal.  As a small member of the rodent family, they migrate in large groups. Sometimes they choose to swim across a large body of water in search of a new place to live. If they did not plan well, many may drown on their journey. This odd behavior has become known as lemming “suicide”, and it is a frequently used metaphor in reference to people who go along unquestioningly with popular opinion. Poor little guys. What an unfair way to be so widely known.

Even with this clarity, I still can’t resist using the catchy, if inaccurate, analogy of “Lemmings in Suits”, to describe what I see as an epidemic in business circles of blindly following trends, often to personal and corporate detriment. Probably the most troubling for me is the culture of chaos that not only exists but seems to be accepted and even promoted in our world.

You’ve all had this experience. You meet someone whom you’ve not seen in a while, and after the initial greetings, followed by the awkward silence, the person asks “So, keeping busy?” Now you know what the “lemming” response is. So you respond “Oh yes, crazy busy. How about you?”

Being “busy” has become a badge of honor. It is what we expect of any useful human being. If you don’t believe me, try this next time you are asked the “keeping busy” question.  Say “No, actually I am not”, and then pause and smile.  Warning – be prepared for your acquaintance to twitch and stumble for what to say next. Then, before they can recover, ask “What about you? Are you keeping busy?” Now they’ll be really confused as to what to say.

Why do we have this expectation and desire to be “busy”? If we were ants, it would be understandable. But we’re not. We are the only creatures on the earth who can appreciate humor and beauty, and the only ones who can dream and imagine new and wonderful things. But we have been swept along with the tide of “busy”, and it leads us to confuse activity with accomplishment (more on this in my next blog).

I have spent my life and my business career trying to make “busy” the exception and not the norm. As a business leader, my employees who are chronically “busy” are difficult to work with. Every encounter is rushed. As well, they have no capacity for emergency situations, which inevitably arise and require their attention. Ronald Reagan once said “Tired people make bad decisions”. And then, those bad decisions need to be fixed, usually by the same “tired people” who made them.

Start becoming un-busy. Create the capacity to use your creativity, to build strong relationships, to coach and mentor others, and to anticipate and deal with the inevitable troubles that come your way. And join me on my next blog when I share my three rules for being productively un-busy.