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Gustin Partners | November 02, 2015 |

Our Changing Sense of Time – Part 2

By Thornton May
Futurist, Senior Advisor with GP, Executive Director & Dean - IT Leadership Academy

Time perspective changes behavior. Time – not just how we manage our personal time but how the individuals on a team/in an organization thinks about time are powerful leadership leverage points.

Time Constraints and Collaboration
In 1973 social psychologists John Darley and Dan Bateson conducted a classic experiment with Princeton Seminary students. [See: The Time Paradox] A group of seminarians were given the assignment to prepare a speech on the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Members in Group A were individually told they were late for their presentation, were expected a few minutes ago and that they must hurry to the studio.

Members in Group B were told they had plenty of time but might as well head on over to the studio.

Individuals in both groups encountered a person hunched over coughing in the hallway. The “cougher” obviously needed assistance. With no other people nearby, the seminarians are faced with the choice of helping a stranger in distress – as a Good Samaritan should do – or passing him by to fulfill the obligation to give a speech about the importance of being a Good Samaritan. 

The experiment was designed to ascertain whether students in the “late” condition would be as likely to help a stranger in distress as students in the “on time” condition.  As expected –the majority of students in the “on time” condition stopped to assist the “cougher”. 90% of the seminarians in the “late” condition did not STOP TO HELP.

What does this say about a society/economy that generally always labels itself as “being behind”; of always being “in a hurry”?

The results of this social psychological experiment seem to show that thinking about norms [i.e., preparing to give a speech about helping people] does not imply that one will act on them [several of the seminarians quite literally had to step over the distressed cougher on their way to give their speech]. How do leaders create “urgency” [i.e., the desire to get things done quickly] without sacrificing the ability to collaborate and help colleagues?

The Pace of Modern Life
According to Isaac Newton, time “flows equably without relation to anything external.” For Newton time was absolute and set apart from the universe. Einstein thought differently. With relativity, time became more complicated; it could be squeezed and distorted and was different in different places. Saint Augustine [354-430] concurred that time was confusing:

“So what then is time? If no one asks me I know; if I seek to explain it, I do not.”

Whether we understand time [e.g., is it a fourth dimension, continuous or atomistic, straight line or cyclical] two of the most important metrics in the economy today are:

a] How long will something last?
B] How long will something take?

How Long Things Take/How Long Things Last
It took Allied scientists four years to “build the bomb”. It took NASA eight years to “go to the moon”.  Increasingly we are comparing times as in “We live in an age when pizza gets to your door faster than the police” or the poignant scene in a recent Madam Secretary where the Secretary of State chastises the National Security Advisor regarding the time it takes to import an animal [two days] or allow trusted allies to emigrate to the United States [infinite].

Leaders get to “set the clocks” of their enterprise – setting the norms regarding what is “too long” and “not fast enough”.

What are the critical processes you are currently recalibrating timings for?


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