Expert Offers Tools & Strategies for Getting ‘Unstuck’
A New York Times best-selling author and professor of marketing and psychology spoke with parents and Upper School students around the topic of screen use and how to get “unstuck” from technology and in life more broadly.
Adam Alter, professor of marketing and psychology at New York University, Stern School of Business, spoke to parents in an evening assembly on January 30 in Baker Theater, and to Upper and Middle school students in similar visits the next day.
Alter told parents that across the board, screen use has been a force that has made us feel more stuck as a population. Data shows that, over the last 15 years, screens have taken over almost all discretionary time, and that takeover was intentional by the tech industry as it worked to eradicate something Alter called “stopping cues.”
While in the 20th century these “stopping cues” were everywhere, they have been engineered out of today’s ever-present technology.
“We can’t seem to remove ourselves from screens,” Alter told parents. “When it comes to social media, everything is bottomless. The bottomlessness of the feeds we experience is in the service of engagement over time on the device.
“This is why we’re mired,” he said. “We just don’t have the time anymore. Much of it goes here – to screens.”
Alter offered five principles for getting unstuck. The first he called “Explore and Exploit.” By way of explanation, he pointed to painter Jackson Pollack and filmmaker Peter Jackson, who both spent years exploring different interests in their fields before landing on one to “exploit.”
“This turns out to be a really useful approach in career selection as well,” Alter told parents. “You can’t know if a particular thing is worth pursuing if you don’t explore. The bigger that catchment net, the more options you have.”
Alter also detailed four other strategies for getting unstuck in the service of breakthroughs, including the “Creative Cliff Illusion,” which is rooted in the idea that a person’s last five ideas are dramatically superior to the their first five, as well as working the “Wisdom of the Crowds,” “Action Above All,” and “Changing the Scenery.”
“By getting the ball rolling, you overcome the inertia of inaction,” he said.
“Find the smallest unit of action in the direction that might be fruitful, and that is a great way to get going when you or your kids are stuck.”
Alter said he and his young family moved out of the city in part to have access to open spaces like Tod’s Point in Greenwich. He called walking a “massive” unsticking device.
“One other incredible unsticking device is to change the scenery,” he said. “The most effective version of that is to go outside. Walking is an unsticking device, but also: Are you outside?”
Alter also took questions from parents. He is the author of Anatomy of a Breakthrough: How to Get Unstuck When It Matters Most and Irresistible. His visit served as another installment of this years’ ’WICK Center Speaker Series, which brings leading health and wellness thinkers to campus.