Time on our hands: la durée

The idea is really just this: time on a watch is not the same as time in your head. An hour can fly by or seemingly drag for eternity. Time as we actually experience it, rather than as we measure it, is subjective.

We all know this intuitively, and our culture has idioms for it (“time flies when…”) but it’s helpful to remember that this phenomena occurs on both sides of a many of our interaction at the same time, and in opposite directions.

The rule seem to be that the more urgent, important, personal something is to us, the less comfortable waiting becomes, and the more slowly time seems to pass (i.e. the longer a given amount of time seems). Conversely, time goes faster and a given amount of time seems shorter when the opposite conditions are true. Quality of relationship – levels of trust, how positive our disposition towards the other, the history of the current “waiting” – plays into things, and cultural norms will shape our feelings too.

Note that none of this is “reasonable” – it’s just how we seem to work.

Conclusions and applications

  1. A reply to a message probably needs to go a bit earlier than you think to seem courteous and pronpt. In my case this means that the extra day’s delay in replying to messages that “can wait” is less okay than I think it is.
  2. The flip side of 1: you should take longer to assume you’ve been disregarded or snubbed.
  3. Remember that people reading novels exist in different time zones. “Reasonable response time” is twice as long as is usual… which will stretch to at least four times as long as seems reasonable to you if you’re looking after children and waiting for relief.
  4. Get off the phone / out of the bathroom faster than seems reasonable – especially if someone is waiting to use it.

This is all a long way of saying that it probably behooves us (and will almost certainly benefit us) a to be a little more attentive to others and respond a little faster, and to be a little more patient and forgiving.

Resource: Seth Godin on Systems Thinking

Akimbo Season 4 Episode 20 (July 10, 2019) – Systems Thinking

This is a great episode of riffs on how systems create – and constrain – possibilities, and the opportunities that open up when systems change. Featuring Mr Heinz and the fictional (!) Betty Crocker.

Akimbo Season 4 Episode 18 (June 26, 2019) – Find the others: Apollo 11 and the making of culture

This episode isn’t flagged as an episode about systems or systems thinking, but that’s really what this telling of the story of going to the moon is all about. We watch the Space Race grow out of the wreckage of the Second World War and unfold across a network of more-and-less-and-un- expected connections within the complex adaptive systems of science, science fiction, culture and politics. I loved it.

Highly Recommend.

Gifts

What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?

Paul of Tarsus – First Letter to the Corinthians

Count your gifts: knowledge, skills, dispositions and attitudes; assets, wealth, health, time; places; people.

  • Where did they come from?
  • What are you going to use them for?
  • Are you going to leave more of them, or less?
  • What are you going to give, and who is it for?

Seth Godin on fear and reassurance

The way [of handling fear] that doesn’t work is reassurance. Reassurance doesn’t work because you need an infinite amount of it. Someone can give you reassurance for five minutes and then ten minutes later you go “Ooohh no no no.” So the number of times that you need to be told by someone you trust and respect that you’re going to be fine is too high to even ask for it.

For me, the alternative is generosity. That is an excellent answer to fear. That if you are doing this on behalf of someone you care about, the fear takes a backseat. So if you want to figure out how to make books, go to a charity you care about and make a book for them, because now your fear feels selfish. If you want to figure out how to make marketing work, go and market for an organisation that you believe in. If you can find a lonely person and make them unlonely, a disconnected person and make them feel connected, you can make a practice of that. And the upside is it helps you walk straighter and stand taller.

Seth Godin – on Love Your Work with David Kadavy

Podcast Recommendation: Econtalk with Alain Bertaud on Cities, Planning, and Order Without Design

This is a great episode of Econtalk. Bertaud uses labour markets as a lens for thinking about cities. Helpful examples of emergent order and the challenges (impossibility?) of planning in complex adaptive systems.

Highlights (coming up) include:

  • Discussion of the importance of culture and context in how cities develop;
  • Bertaud’s explanation of his broader-than-usual understanding of labour markets;
  • When planning and regulation is helpful and when it’s damaging;
  • The trade-offs made by new arrivals in a city (and the danger of planners trying to decide these for them);
  • The way that property markets can turn development costs into opportunities.

Highly recommend.

Finishing lines (4) – two numbers

Here’s Seth Godin with some of the best advice I’ve heard for drawing (finishing) lines. It’s especially relevant for businesses.

Q: I’m wondering about personal financing your company and where you draw the line if you’re funding it yourself?

Rule number one is you never put up your house. Don’t laugh. This means you can’t sign a personal guarantee on anything. “You want to rent this? Ok I’ll rent this, but I’m not signing a personal guarantee on anything.”

I have not signed a personal guarantee. I was bankrupt for eight years. I was this close from having to close down for eight years and I still never signed a personal guarantee for anything. That is a line I have chosen to never cross and I encourage everyone to do. The minute you do, suddenly there’s a 3-year-old at home who’s going to have to live on the street if you make a mistake. I just don’t know how to take risks when that’s at stake.

Then the advice that I give people is, if we’re going to be intentional about this, you need to write down a number and a period of time.

The number, it can be as big a number as you want, is the maximum amount of money under any circumstances no matter what that you’re willing to put in. And when you hit that number you can’t put in another penny.

People hate this. They say, “But what if something blah, blah, blah.” NO. There just has to be a number.

The second one is, “How much time before you give up?” And again, it can be 20 years. Fine. But you can’t say, “19 years and 11 months into it, but wait there’s one more deal that might come through.”

You just have those two numbers because if those two numbers are in place and your spouse is aligned with it, you never have to worry about it again. It’s off the table.

This whole situational thing, “I just need $2,000 more,” that’s lying to yourself. The discipline early on is so valuable because then you can spend 100% of your time focusing.

So you raise more money than you think you need and you treat it like it’s the last money you’re ever going to have. It’s way better than always wondering where that next nickel is going to come from.

Seth Godin – Start Up School Ep 11: Cash Flow
From a transcript by Kevin Evans

Finishing lines (3)

In the probably-quite-unlikely event that your project will last longer than you do – or at least lasts longer than your desire or ability to keep it alive – you’ll need to have a personal finishing line in mind.

  • When, ideally, will you let go of the project?
  • What state do you hope to leave it (what needs to happen so that you can leave without killing it?)
  • Under what circumstances will you leave before the ideal time?
  • What do you need to do and how do you need to frame your departure so that you and others feel good about you leaving?
  • Will it be a clean break, or are there ways you’d continue to support the project?
  • If things go wrong after you leave, what circumstances (if any) would drag you back?

Finishing lines (2)

Recognising the possibility – or rather, the inevitability – of the death of your project will focus your mind:

  • Given that we can’t do anything in the time available, what’s most important?
  • Will people miss us when we’re gone?
  • Will your project’s main legacy be something physical you’ll leave behind, or an idea or value, or a change in people?
  • Given that the cause that motivates your project will probably remain, what can you do to seed new projects and make it possible for new people to pick up the ball?
  • How can you avoid a painful decline and death-spiral – that is to say, how will you make sure the project dies well?

Values and vision: the acid test

Peter Drucker and Stephen Covey ask the same simple question to get at the heart of these:

“What do you want to be remembered for?”

Covey asks you to imagine your funeral:

  • Who is there?
  • What do you hope they’d say about you?
  • Is this consistent with how you live now?
  • Which goals and relationships matter, in the end?
  • Which work and stresses fall into insignificance?

The answers to these questions are your compass.

Interesting problems: a definition

A problem is interesting when…

1. It’s important to someone

Presumably because solving it will make things better.* The problem won’t be important to everyone, so by definition it won’t be interesting to everyone either.

The problem will be valuable in proportion to the number of people it is important to, and how intensely they feel its importance.

This means that problems exist in a network, and gain their importance and value from their position within the network – this is true of both their actual and perceived importance and value.

2. A solution isn’t immediately obvious or available

Sometimes (rarely) a problem is hard to solve because it’s actually new and unique – a world first. More often it’s because interesting problems are actually systems (or networks) of smaller problems, and are closely bound up with their local context, which means that there won’t be a simple, discrete solution: a ‘system’ of problems will require a ‘system’ of solutions.

It also means that what looks like an old problem in a new context (a new place, time, group of people, culture) is likely to respond differently to previously successful solutions. A new configuration of the problem ‘system’ will require a newly configured set of solutions – and the solutions that work best will change with time.

3. It doesn’t have a perfect solution

If you understand a problem as a system, you understand that predictability and perfection are impossible once you move beyond the most basic or theoretical level. Instead we need to understand the best solutions as those which most improve the disposition of the problem system, giving the best chance of a ‘good enough’ outcome.

4. We may not even be able to find a satisfactory solution

If you can’t fail, it’s not interesting.

5. The solutions to the problem are dynamic

If interesting problems are dynamic systems within changing contexts, ‘happily ever after’ isn’t possible from a single (fixed) solution: old solutions will become less effective (or less acceptable) as the context changes. Both the solution ‘system’ and the system that generates the solution need to be dynamic too.

What do you think? What problems does this perspective help with? Where does it fall down?

*Stopping things from getting worse is a way of making them better