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CBC host Terry O'Reilly's book This I Know, which came out last year, concludes with a litany of truths picked up over the years, each introduced with those same words: This I know.

So today, my own complementary package: This I know not to be true.

Of course, one can never really know. So I share suspicions, hunches, leanings – ultimately unproven, but with logical backing. In each case, I am tackling widely held beliefs that are worth reconsidering, if not jettisoning.

It takes 42 years to recover from being interrupted

I exaggerate, for ridicule. The original study by a University of California researcher found that when interrupted, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task. That does highlight the fact that when interrupted, we can become immersed in the issue of interruption before returning to the original task, which can be a good thing if the new issue is vital, or we could check our e-mail (perhaps good), Facebook (not so hot) or my column online (brilliant use of time).

But the notion has grown that interruptions in a multitasking world have to be avoided because we supposedly have trouble returning to our rhythm and original focus when we do. I know that's not true for me and I suspect it's not true for you. And interruptions can spark new ideas or creativity when you return, or at least break up the ennui from an uninspiring task, which is why, within reason, I welcome them and you should as well.

E-mails should be very short

That's only true if you like a whole bunch of e-mails floating back and forth because the original sender was too terse.

Most sages calling for short e-mails are heavy smartphone users and see such brief messages as necessary because they are always in a frenzy. However, those wizards are frantic in part because smartphones encourage curt e-mails that lack sufficient information and thus inspire more e-mails. If they threw their smartphone in the toilet and returned to a desktop or even a tablet, they might communicate better.

E-mails need sufficient information to be understood. That includes, Richard Saul Wurman noted in the classic Information Anxiety, where the other person might go wrong with your directions. For a message to a group, it requires you to be longer, not shorter, because the information needs of the people you are communicating with will be more diverse.

Yes, some e-mails can be very terse. But most shouldn't be if your purpose is to inform, not obscure, and to save yourself (and others) endless e-mails afterward.

No meeting should be held without a clear purpose

The coffee chats our management team used to hold first thing in the morning didn't have a clear issue every day but were useful. (The purpose was simply to meet and bond and see what came up.) The weekly meeting many staff teams hold don't have one clear issue but are workable if not vital (even if they seem wasteful). Committees in volunteer groups usually can't meet often so the agendas tend to be a potpourri of items, not one clear purpose. Certain kinds of meetings can benefit from a clear purpose, but should be open to change, as discussion takes them). Others are fine without.

Just because meetings aren't exciting doesn't mean they aren't useful.

Business books are useless

This will usually be told to you by somebody who has never read any. Ask if they had read Peter Drucker, Henry Mintzberg, Jim Collins, Malcolm Gladwell or Warren Bennis, for example. Business books are information. If they are useless, it's because you leave the ideas in the book rather than taking them into your life.

Subordinates shouldn't bring you problems, they should bring you solutions

That's a noble thought, of course, empowering staff. But according to CEO coach Sabina Nawaz, who tackled the topic in Harvard Business Review, the approach can "cause employees to shut down in fear, breed a culture of intimidation, and prevent some problems from surfacing until they're full-blown crises."

Sometimes the solution will be better if it is developed in a discussion of which you are a part. So my solution to this problem is to be wary of the common saying about not bringing problems to a boss. And some of the other myths I have raised as well.


  • Could a supermarket gain an edge by offering its clientele bags for vegetables and buns that are not so flimsy it takes a few minutes’ struggle to open them?
  • Dumb move of the week: Dos Equis in 2016 ditched the most interesting man in the world for a younger replacement. Result: Flop. So now, rather than return to what worked, it’s trying a new “Keep it Interesante” campaign, and to keep us focused on that (or keep us from noticing their stupidity) they have wiped the brand’s You Tube channel of the effective ads of the past. So much for giving customers what they want.
  • McGill University professor Henry Mintzberg warns about CEOs who gamble with other people’s money: “nice work if you can get it.” But he also points out CEOs don’t just collect when they are winning but when they simply appear to be winning and even when they lose. Know any real gamblers who collect on golden parachutes? The big culprits, of course, are board members who go along with these practices.

‘Their sessions were an hour, an hour and a half long, every six to eight weeks, sometimes involved a plane trip, and the agenda’s were mailed in advance’

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