Cone of Silence

Do you need to retreat to the ‘cone of silence’ more often?

Former Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, says she wishes she did.

Gillard, now chair of the Global Partnership for Education, recently told a Melbourne audience that three leadership lessons had crystalised for her during her short-lived time as prime minister:

  1. the importance of having a sense of purpose,
  2. knowing the difference between what she termed “the urgent and the important”, and
  3. nurturing a very strong sense of self.

“It is vital to know what you are trying to achieve. To have that incredibly, clearly, defined in your mind; to know what you want your life to be about,” she said in a 20-minute speech.

On the challenges that incessant communication and media streams pose to anyone, let alone a pioneer prime minister, Gillard said:

“Never before in human history has the urgent been so privileged for our attention. It beeps and buzzes and pings at you 24 hours a day, seven days a week, always grasping for your attention. So it’s harder than it’s ever been to carve out the thinking time, the quiet time, the unplugged time, to work out what is important, rather than just attending to the urgent.

When I was prime minister I sought to do that. I would carve out time for thinking by myself, or with the best of my colleagues or external advisors. I would announce to my office that I was going into the ‘cone of silence’ because every high-functioning team needs to use words from Get Smart periodically,” Gillard recalled laughingly.

“Looking back on it now, even though I did carve out that time, I didn’t do it enough, I should have done it more. And I strongly recommend to you that in a world that is so pressurised you do find that clear time to think and reflect, to talk to the best of your advisors. It will help steady you. It will help you stay on course. It will help you see around the corners and work out what is going to come at you in the future.”

“And third, I would say nurture a very strong sense of self.”

The Antidote to Chaos

As someone that grew up regularly watching episodes of Get Smart on TV, I found wisdom in Julia’s light hearted reference to the ‘cone of silence’ from my own experiences of serving as a CEO. There have been times when I have felt like my own head was spinning – with the complexities and competing demands of different managers, directors, shareholders, clients and suppliers – not to mention trying to meet the needs of other stakeholders, outside the office, including my own health and wellbeing.

Do you need to retreat, in order to advance?

I wasn’t thinking of Max and The Chief when I founded nLIVEn back in 2000. We haven’t installed any technologically advanced listening chamber devices in our offices like those that featured in the TV show. However, we have created a calm, quiet and highly confidential space at nLIVEn, specifically designed to help executives and entrepreneurs regularly do their best thinking – away from the ‘front line’.

Retreating to the ‘nLIVEn cone of silence’ in order to re-center and determine how to best advance is a great antidote to the chaos modern managers need to navigate.

However, I am pleased to say that at nLIVEn, shoe phones are standard issue to each of our operatives…

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Article: Julia Gillard: I should have gone into cone of silence more

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