When Little Distractions Cause Big Problems

Talk about things you don’t expect – first the presidential election, then the Super Bowl, and now this. These days you just have to stay tuned in until the final moments or you’ll miss all of the excitement!

This time it was particularly relevant to me because I’m in the communications business and know things can – and do – go wrong, even in the most choreographed of circumstances. For anyone who missed it, the Best Picture award at Sunday night’s Academy Awards was given to the wrong movie, La La Land. It wasn’t until the third person’s acceptance speech was in progress that the correct winner, Moonlight, was announced. It was surreal watching it unfold, as the winners realized they were losers and vice versa.

What caused it was a classic communications snafu. The accountant in charge was supposed to be doing nothing else but verifying and distributing the envelopes. According to The Wall Street Journal, he was taking photos of celebrities and posting them on Twitter. While he said that the tweets didn’t cause the mistake, it seems to me that taking photos of A-list celebrities hanging around backstage would be pretty distracting. I’d bet that the distraction caused the error, just like it does with drivers who text, or any employee watching a video while trying to do their job.

Typical workplace distractions include:

• Sending/receiving text messages
• Gossiping
• Watching videos/TV
• Personal phone calls
• Email alerts that ‘ding’ with every new one received
• Interruptions from co-workers

These types of distractions can significantly increase an employee’s error rate. According to this study performed at the Michigan State University, interruptions of just three seconds doubled the error rate of a task, and interruptions of four-and-a-half seconds tripled the number of errors.

Taking and tweeting a photo takes about ten seconds, so according to these findings, the accountant’s error probability was significantly increased. So, whether you’re handing out awards in front of millions of people, or simply trying to finish up a project at work, it’s important to block out those distractions as much as possible.


(AP Photo: La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz, left, presenter Warren Beatty, center, and host Jimmy Kimmel right, announce Moonlight as best picture after mistakenly announcing La La Land.)

Frank Kenna III
March 1, 2017

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