About James Hewitt
James Hewitt is a performance scientist, speaker, and author, researching knowledge work as a cognitive endurance activity, and focusing on how knowledge workers’ health and well-being lifestyle (or lack thereof) influences cognitive performance.
James’ fascination with human performance grew while he was a full-time racing cyclist, and subsequently during his work as a coach. Observing many of his clients pursuing endurance sports alongside demanding, high-intensity careers, he became curious about their working lives and began to apply tools and frameworks from Sports Science to quantify and improve his understanding of knowledge work.
James joins the Nordic Business Forum 2018 lineup as the winner of the 2018 Speaker Sourcing Contest. He emerged as the winner from an initial 170+ applications from across Europe. You can find out more about his journey here. We sat down with James to discuss his research and upcoming session at NBForum 2018.
Speaker Spotlight Interview
Nordic Business Forum: Hi James! Congratulations on winning our first ever Speaker Sourcing Contest! Could you give us a sneak peek at what to expect from you at NBForum 2018?
James Hewitt: The key message of my presentation is that to achieve the sustainable high-performance that we will require to survive and thrive in the future of work, we need to start living and working with more human rhythms of work and rest. I’ll be sharing a mixture of inspiration for what a more human approach to work could look like, new insights from my ongoing Ph.D research which investigates cognitive performance in knowledge work, as well as offering practical tips to help the audience improve their wellbeing and cognitive performance, sustainably.
NBForum: Tell us about your research. Can your findings and lessons be easily scaled to impact large companies?
JH: My research focuses on knowledge work as a cognitive endurance activity and how knowledge workers’ lifestyle & work patterns influence their well-being and cognitive performance, with a particular interest in how we can achieve sustainable high performance, without compromising our health in the process. Preliminary analysis of data from a recent study, in which I gathered over 1000 observations in a group of 100 knowledge workers, over a 14-day tracking period, suggests that health and wellbeing factors, including adequate sleep, managing stress, and positive mood, are some of the most significant drivers of cognitive performance. My wider team is integrated with this research, focusing on how employee health and well-being will become a business value of strategic importance, and a source of competitive advantage, at an organizational level.
Both individual employees and organizations need to work together, considering both individual responsibility and systemic barriers or enablers to health, well-being, and performance at work. Leadership, at all levels in the organization, plays a crucial role in forming and executing this integrated approach. I’m not sure if many things of real value can be easily scaled; a lot of effort it required, but I’ve seen first-hand, in my work with Hintsa Performance, that these findings and lessons can have a measurable impact on large companies, with the appropriate strategy, structures, tools, and leadership.
NBForum: What do you think is the mistake made by leaders?
JH: Too often, as leaders who are time- and resource-limited, we view life and work as a zero-sum game. We fall into the trap of thinking that life and work are two finite pots of potential. However, I think that we need to view life and work as an integrated system where decisions can have an ‘energy-generating’ self-reinforcing effect.
For example, when you wake up in the morning, aware that there are already important emails waiting in your inbox, it’s tempting to want to get started straight away. Before you know it, the 30 minutes you allotted for exercise has been eaten-up. However, creating a habit of exercising each day, even if that takes away time from work, is likely to be more than compensated for with the improved efficiency and effectiveness driven by more positive mood, more manageable levels of stress and even enhanced cognition, as a result of that brief bout of exercise.
NBForum: What’s one small step that someone can take to find a better work-life balance and become more productive?
JH: The first-step to work/life balance, and become more productive, is probably to stop thinking of work, life and productivity as trade-offs. The future of work is integrated, whether we like it or not. This doesn’t mean we should remove all boundaries, however; quite the opposite. Practically, I think that one of the most effective actions we could all take is to rediscover rest. Idle time is not a waste of time. Begin by eliminating ‘pseudo-work’. It seems like we can’t even queue for 2 minutes without taking out our phones. Next time you’re waiting in a queue for a take-out coffee, resist the urge to check-in with your smartphone. Take a breath, take a look around you. Maybe even say “hi” to the person standing next to you (if they aren’t on their phone) and ask the barista how they are doing. It may sound trite, but you’d be amazed at the impact it could have on you and the people around you.
NBForum: If people learn only one thing from you, what should it be?
JH: Progress is not linear. I stole that phrase from someone else, but I can’t remember who! I’m obsessed with peak performance, but my pursuit of the ‘secrets’ of peak performance has made one thing abundantly clear: perfection is a myth. We will make mistakes, unexpected things will happen, there will be setbacks. Keeping learning from everything, try to enjoy the process as much as you can and don’t be too hard on yourself. I’m still learning this, myself.
About Nordic Business Forum 2018
Nordic Business Forum will host its 9th annual business and leadership conference by the same name in Helsinki on the 26th and 27th of September 2018 for 7,500 C-level executives and business owners. Our 2018 main event will bring to the stage some of the world’s preeminent experts on strategy, artificial intelligence, and peak performance for two action-packed days.
NBForum 2018 is a place where you will uncover strategic success principles, discover how to apply new technologies to win in business, and learn how to drive and sustain personal performance. It’s also THE place to network and drive business development. The networking opportunities presented by our guests are unparalleled in the Nordics. You’re getting more than just a conference ticket — you’re getting access to some of the greatest business minds on the planet!
Nordic Business Forum is Europe’s leading conference organizer with events in Finland, Sweden, and Norway. Our 2018 event is sold out, but you can tune in to the event from anywhere in the world with our live stream licenses, which are tailored to individuals and groups (communities).