Thursday, November 18, 2010

Women Do Focus Differently

by Tracey Collins

When it comes to splitting one’s focus on many different activities, women are better than men at more accurately and efficiently completing the important tasks. So are women better able to focus on multiple tasks because of evolutionary practice and social expectations, or is it because of the way a woman’s brain is hardwired?

Here at The SmartGirls Way we’ve been exploring an emergent theory in gender brain chemistry related to the corpus collosum -- a little part of the brain that handles communication between the two hemispheres.  The corpus collosum is biologically more active in women than and in men and this is one theory as to why women can split their focus more efficiently.
When comparing women to men, it is believed that men think with ‘tunnel vision’ (using single cues to solve a problem) while women use their minds to synthesize multiple cues from the environment.   Perhaps this focus is what allows my husband to visually call-up obscure facts when consulting patients in his medical practice.  This same deep-dive focus may also explain why he has a more difficult time transitioning from one task to another in the midst of our domestic ‘background’ noise.

Two recent studies (one in the UK and another at the University of Missouri) found that women are better at honing in and keeping track of the details that matter because they are more spatially aware of their surroundings.  Unlike men who tend to focus their brains like a laser on a problem, a woman will direct her thinking like a spotlight that expands in a circle all around her.  When this spotlight is working effectively -- and with purpose -- women have been proven to posses the ability to better plan ahead or reflect upon a problem while simultaneously juggling other commitments, than men.

This is why - even when there is a lot happening around us– we can suddenly hone in with clarity on a business problem or make a snap connection to another solution, business connection or idea.

Spotlight scanning allows us to:

  • Think more broadly about an issue rather than getting stuck in one place.
  • Avoid becoming myopic and create a bigger sphere in which to operate.
  • Go beneath the surface of a challenge without excluding ideas that are on the periphery of our awareness. 
  • Act with purpose and prioritize the activities we need to devote our attention to.
  • Spend more time thinking about the things that make us more effective and/or bring us satisfaction.

This unique ability could lead to a rather protracted and uncomfortable debate about the relative capabilities and attributes of the genders and the different ways that men and women multi-task. Rather than debating or seeking to qualify or vindicate, why not just embrace our inner spotlight.  It’s about time for women to teach men the benefit of taking off the blinders and using the unique skills that women offer.

In particular just imagine how using this spotlight to look at a business (preferably your own) with a broad and “high” view can make a difference. You pass over the wide circle of your market, customers and competitors and suddenly your spotlight illuminates a unique opportunity.  Suddenly you have clarity of purpose.

Tracey Collins is guest-writer for The SmartGirls Way.  She is President and Founder of Mirror Group Consulting; a consultancy focused on content, executive coaching and change management.  

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