Tag Archives: time

Innovation and the ‘Creation’ of Time

I make no secret of being a huge fan of Matt Ridley’s body of work, and his latest addition to this, The Rational Optimist, seems like a welcome addition.

A wonderful summary of the book’s main theme–that innovation and the spreading of theories and ideas is the key to a prosperous future and we should be optimistic for what lies ahead because of this–has been written by John Tierney, with a nice look at one reason why innovation and its companions are important for progress:

“Forget wars, religions, famines and poems for the moment,” Dr. Ridley writes. “This is history’s greatest theme: the metastasis of exchange, specialization and the invention it has called forth, the ‘creation’ of time.”

You can appreciate the timesaving benefits through a measure devised by the economist William D. Nordhaus: how long it takes the average worker to pay for an hour of reading light. In ancient Babylon, it took more than 50 hours to pay for that light from a sesame-oil lamp. In 1800, it took more than six hours of work to pay for it from a tallow candle. Today, thanks to the countless specialists producing electricity and compact fluorescent bulbs, it takes less than a second.

On Meetings

Contemplating how to lead without meetings , The Washington Post asks three equally qualified people for their views on them. Daisy Wademan Dowling, executive director of leadership development at an unnamed Fortune 500 company, responded with the following:

The real reason leaders end up in too many meetings? Because it’s flattering: having your presence “required” at many meetings makes you feel important — it’s tangible proof of how much your people and your organization need you. But being in too many meetings every day wreaks havoc on your schedule and your ability to focus on bigger goals. I’ve seen too many corporate leaders sacrifice their own strategic vision — and ultimately, their own performance — because they’ve let themselves become hostage to Conference Room B.

That comes via Robin Hanson of Overcoming Bias, adding,

Much of business process functions to signal who is important and who is allied with whom, rather than to actually get stuff done. Huge efficiency gains await the organizations that can figure out how to expunge these parasites.

Behavioural scientist Reid Hastie recently reflected about meetings and why they often are unproductive (via Kottke): it seems that one reason is our misperception of time.

As a general rule, meetings make individuals perform below their capacity and skill levels.

This doesn’t mean we should always avoid face-to-face meetings — but it is certain that every organization has too many meetings, and far too many poorly designed ones.

The main reason we don’t make meetings more productive is that we don’t value our time properly. The people who call meetings and those who attend them are not thinking about time as their most valuable resource.

Hastie offers three tips on conducting effective meetings:

  • The uninspired, Whoever calls a meeting should be explicit about its objectives.
  • The excellent, Everyone should think carefully about the opportunity costs of a meeting.
  • And the surprising, After productive or unproductive meetings, assign credit or blame to the person in charge.

Here are some further tips on how to prepare for a meeting with venture capitalist Brad Feld. I believe these tips can be generalised and broadly applied:

  • Search the web for me.
  • Figure out the one thing you want to communicate with me.
  • Don’t make our meeting an endless stream of Planet Feld references.
  • Have one thing in your head that you think I can learn from you.
  • Don’t ask me to sign an NDA.
  • Pay attention to time.

On-Hold Music and Time Perception

With the correct choice of music and by giving the perception of progress customers on-hold in a telephone queue underestimate the time they have been kept waiting and will stay on the line longer before hanging up.

Newsweek summarises a number of research studies that have looked at the psychology behind telephone queues and on-hold music, noting the different reactions customers have when confronted with hold music, recorded apologies or estimated wait times.

Though it hardly seems possible that the Muzak (the term is often used generically, but Muzak Holdings LLC is a real company) pumped into malls could actually influence shoppers, the truth is, alas, that it does. James Kellaris, a marketing professor at the University of Cincinnati, says that music can have an impact on a wide array of customers’ behaviors, changing their perception of time, conditioning them to associate a song with a brand, or limiting their ability to critically analyze a potential purchase due to musical distraction. “When shoppers are exposed to music in a store, sales resistance decreases,” he says via e-mail. Our brains have a finite bandwidth for taking in and processing information, and clogging that bandwidth with music is sometimes enough to prevent us from making rational purchasing decisions, or worrying about the time.

The article also notes how we have the rather excellent Erik Satie to thank for the muzak phenomenon:

[Satie] developed a very cynical attitude toward the listener. Satie was so obsessed with the idea that music could no longer communicate to the audience, he concluded that music in the 20th century was destined to be a vacuous, comfortable apparatus best used as a background for other activities, much like a favorite chair.

via Mind Hacks