Cyber Efficiency vs. Hacker Threat: Is Innovation Losing Ground? 

 June 19, 2024

By  Jane Frankland

As we emerge from an intense season of industry conferences like Infosec and RSA, I believe the cybersecurity community finds itself at a critical juncture. While hot topics like AI’s role in combating hacker threats has dominated discussions, an equally significant issue has remained—mental health and burnout.

As an industry veteran, having spent over two decades in cybersecurity, I’ve been thinking a lot about the current state of the field—our relentless pursuit of productivity, and how we often find ourselves trapped in a cycle of continuous hard work — an endless grind of task completion, goal attainment, and often burnout.

And while the modern world champions the industrious individual, I posit that this push for unwavering productivity might just be the arch-nemesis of creativity and the innovation we need in cyber if we’re to win against our attackers.

Consider the paradox where the most innovative ideas often occur not when we’re buried in work, but when we’re relaxing and taking a break from work.

History tells us that it’s on the backs of such moments that Sir Isaac Newton pondered gravity, Sir Charles Darwin’s mind unraveled the theory of evolution, and Albert Einstein profoundly reshaped our understanding of the universe with his theory of relativity, all during moments of introspection and contemplation.

It’s in these times of relaxation, our minds have the freedom to wander and make connections that may not arise in a busy work schedule. Yet, our obsession with being productive and “always on” often leaves little room for the mind to wander and explore the vast expanses of imagination.

This industriousness, driven partly by economic demands, and an adrenaline addicted corporate culture, inadvertently establishes a framework where time spent idle or in leisure is regarded as someone being lazy, having a lack of ambition, and quite simply wrong.

But is it really so?

Let’s consider AI

AI’s integration into the cybersecurity landscape is not only optimising operational efficiency but it’s also paving the way for valuable downtime, crucial for ideation and problem solving. By handling routine and monotonous tasks, AI is now enabling cybersecurity professionals to divert their cognitive resources towards more strategic endeavours.

This technological partnership means that while AI manages real-time threat detection and basic incidence responses, human experts can engage in creative deliberation, deeper analysis, and strategic planning. This blend of human ingenuity and AI brings with it the potential to create a more cyber resilient defence mechanism and foster an environment where breakthrough ideas and novel solutions can flourish, ultimately contributing to more robust cybersecurity frameworks.

Story time

On a personal note, I recall the time a Managing Director at one of the companies I was working at joined a new team and stepped into a whirlwind of responsibilities. She believed in the power of relentless hard work until she took her first holiday with her family after joining this team and was forced to disconnect. Upon her return, she raved about the rejuvenation she felt from genuinely disconnecting, engaging in quality time with her loved ones, and stepping away from the all-consuming digital ties to her professional life, including an important tender which due date coincided with her holiday.

This break from constant productivity didn’t send her team into disarray. Quite the opposite. She returned with a wellspring of energy, each idea sharper, each decision crisper, an embodiment of how periods of rest not only restore but renew our creative spirit.

Harnessing the Power of Pause in Cyber

With cybercrime costs growing globally at the rate of 15% per year, AI technology expected to grow 4x in the next five years, and cybersecurity professionals burning out at a faster rate than frontline health care workers. I believe now is the time to ask ourselves whether the uninterrupted chase after productivity can be held responsible for dulling the spark of innovation within us and stopping the flow of good ideas.

Perhaps it’s in the moments of stillness, in the pause between the notes of our daily lives, that the symphony of creativity truly unfolds.

Practical Steps for Implementing Downtime in Cybersecurity Teams

  • Institutionalise Breaks:Encourage employees to take regular breaks throughout the day to refresh their minds and reduce stress.
  • Create Flexible Work Arrangements: Flexibility in work schedules allows employees to find their optimal working hours, leading to increased productivity and creativity. Consider implementing a four-day workweek, shorter working days to give your team time to recharge, or (if possible) giving them the freedom to find their most productive times without being constrained by traditional office hours.
  • Support Mental Health: Addressing mental health concerns is crucial for fostering a creative and healthy workplace culture. Invest in programs that provide resources for managing stress, building resilience, and promoting overall well-being.
  • Embrace AI Technology: As mentioned earlier.
  • Promote Work-Life Balance: Foster a culture that values time spent pursuing passions outside of work, whether it’s hobbies, family time, or simply relaxing.
  • Encourage Mindfulness Practices: Introduce mindfulness and relaxation techniques, such as meditation or yoga, to help employees manage stress and maintain mental clarity.
  • Lead by Example: Leadership should model these behaviours, demonstrating that taking time to recharge is not only acceptable but encouraged.
  • Contact companies who specialise in reducing burnout in cybersecurty: Cybermindz instantly springs to mind but The Mental Health in Cybersecurity Foundation via Sarb Sembhi‘s lead in the UK is doing some great work to unite groups, as well as Forrester for research via Jinan Budge.

To End

To entrepreneurs and corporate leaders, I say this: recognise that efficiency isn’t always the frequency of output but sometimes the latitude of the thoughts we breed. Offer the world of work the room it needs to flex the muscles of creativity rather than chain it down with timesheets and the weighty expectations of constant productivity.

Trust in your employees to deliver the best results when they’re given the freedom, space and guardrails to unlock their true potential. Embrace a culture that values taking breaks, pursuing passions outside of work, and allowing minds to wander. Reshape this understanding of what it means to be productive, and unlock the full potential of creative energies.

Because in advocating for periods of respite and a redefinition of a successful work ethic, you do not call for indolence but a balanced approach where industriousness does not become creativity’s stranglehold.

Now I want to hear from you…

Tell me about a time when you experienced a burst of creativity after taking a break from work. How did it impact your productivity in the long run?

Drop me an email or join me on LinkedIn so we can continue this conversation and find ways to embrace both industriousness and creativity in our lives.

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Jane frankland


Jane Frankland is a cybersecurity market influencer, award-winning entrepreneur, consultant and speaker. She is the Founder of KnewStart and the IN Security Movement. Having held executive positions within her own companies and several large PLCs, she now provides agile, forward thinking organisations with strategic business solutions. Jane works with leaders of all levels and supports women in male dominated industries like cybersecurity and tech. Her book, IN Security: Why a failure to attract and retain women in cybersecurity is making us all less safe' is a best-seller.


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