In the Hour Glass of Time

Speed is the distance divided by time. If miles we have to go before we sleep but we don’t know when we’d drift away to different world, we better be fast to reach whatever we set out to reach.

But in life, goal posts change. And it’s the journey and not the destination that makes life enjoyable, admonish Nirvana experts. Say that to corporate honchos or shareholders, and we may attain ‘Nirvana’ faster than we prefer.

Because, people get paid to do a certain thing in certain time, whether you are a blue collar worker or a Corporate CEO, you need to show results in a time bound manner.

“Slow and steady wins the race” my mother advocated long time back. “Fast and fantastic makes the race worth watching” I remembered to have countered impudently at that time.

When I took up debating at College, I noticed a certain advantage if students spoke at 200 words per minute. My college mate Huggy Rao, now at Stanford, would out- speak everyone to run away with first prizes. The judges invariably were much slower witted than Huggy. Many times, their minds could not process fast enough to capture what he was saying. When I first ran into this Huggy phenomenon at our under-grad debating competition, I silently slipped away without speaking, because I didn’t want to be run over by that verbal bullet train.

Years later, in the University B-School debate, I used a trick or two learnt from that amazing experience of listening to Huggy. Alas, I too walked away with first prize to the surprise of many. The trick was to talk too fast. Dazzle the crowd with a rapid gush of words. Flow’s more appreciated than full-stops. When Zakir Hussain plays Tabla, drut is the tempo at which audience break into applause, not vilambit.

Enter the corporate world, I used this sense of speed to a superb advantage. If others could do a project in months, I would complete it in weeks. And the magic was, I realized that contrary to what many thought, speed actually helped me maintain precise quality; a race car driver can’t afford to make even the slightest mistake.

But then why we notice people generally take more time than needed? The reason could be people are saddled with instincts of self-preservation. If you do your job in half the time, which means most likely you have no job for the other half of time you saved for the Company. Instead of being jobless, intuitively, everyone exaggerates the time they’d actually need to complete the work. Add up the margins everybody puts in and you have a colossal time overrun .

To mask our sluggishness, we tie ourselves in knotted red tape of arguments, queries and objections. Passing the parcel in perplexing patterns is not only the privilege of bureaucracy. When Max Weber described this style of management, he did not include red tape into that, but self-serving corporate world likes red tape for a simple reason. Longer the time taken, stronger the survival.

Take for example the simple thing of buying an insurance policy. It ought not take more than a few minutes if you have all the information. It’s beside the point in a metaphysical sense, all the information is an oxymoron, unless you are God, the omniscient. In matters of assessing mortality for life insurance, some may have divine right to delay things. If they don’t delay asking questions, they have no job to do.

A few weeks into my career as a young executive in a leading Insurance Company, I realized its unmitigated hogwash to take weeks to issue a policy. It took me years to implement with what I believed is basic respect for customer’s time- issue a policy in 3 minutes time. The world record at that time was 7 minutes and at IndiaFirst, we could beat the world record for fastest policy issue.

How about claims? Be fast in taking money from the customer and be excruciatingly slow when you pay money to customers, is very unfair. Claim settlement could be simplified to make it a doorstep service where money could be credited in minutes once due diligence is done. But then you forfeit the revenue earning opportunity that accrues to the company with every day of delay in settling the claim.

There is money to be made for workers, employees and service providers to slow down and delay things. So intuitively some are hardwired to say ‘No, not now”.

Many things could be done in half the time if we do two things; one simplify the process to remove all the clutter and two, change the attitude to be more disciplined about time management.

Interestingly, quality need not suffer if speed is enhanced. Speed and accident rate need not be proportional except in driving on Indian roads. That brings us to the real problem, most of the time, speed is a victim because the road is bad. Does the road always have to be that way? What do we do to lay expressways in our mind? Remove all the potholes of doubt, encroachments of non-essential tasks and pave the path with super smooth gravel of simple, sure and speedy processes?

We need not be engineers to do this kind of process re-invention. We have to be honest to recognize that ‘revenue earning opportunities” in self job preservation is not worth the time lost. Those who finish things ahead of time, know how to find more valuable things to do in their lives. Having time on your side is a perfect privilege; it’s a sure formula for successful leadership.

So not just in debates, you can truly win your life’s joy if you respect time and conserve it. Of all non-renewable resources, time is the most priceless one. As I crossed the half a century mark in age a while ago, I know the glass is at the most half full and every grain of sand represents a task to be completed in record time. That’s why nothing excites me more than doing it Now and only Now.

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