The Impatience of the 21st Century

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What ever happened to “all good things come to those who wait” ? !

We live in interesting times, do we not ? !  You order today, the delivery arrives tomorrow – my sons gets impatient if if does not! You want to watch a film, no need to wait for a DVD to be delivered, you just stream it. You want to play a game, you just download it and get started. You no longer wait for photos to be developed, you cannot only have a look at them, you can modify, print, share them, instantly.  Does it not almost sounds ridiculous to point this out? Instant gratification has become the norm for so much. everything is about speed:
grow a company quickly (to sell it), Manipulate gens, inject hormones so our food grows quickly, ignoring Molière’s
wisdom that “Trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit” and never mind that we throw away a large portion of it! In fact, in the UK alone we throw away 15million tonnes of food, with people like you and me (ie individual households) being the biggest culprits – see graph (from love food hate waste).

One rather annoying thing is that we still have to wait to move from one place into the next, no ‘beam me up Scottie’ just yet.

Annoying, is it?

What ever happened to patience, and waiting, and anticipating? Can Chronos finally declare victory over Kairos?  If you are wondering what I am on about, I found a lovely explanation of these terms by McKinely Valentine:

The ancient Greeks had two words for time, and kairos was the second. The first was chronos, which we still use in words like chronological and anachronism. It refers to clock time – time that can be measured – seconds, minutes, hours, years.

Where chronos is quantitative, kairos is qualitative. It measures moments, not seconds. Further, it refers to the right moment, the opportune moment. The perfect moment. The world takes a breath, and in the pause before it exhales, fates can be changed.

How much do we react, rather than pause, then act?  Chronos rules the world, it seems.  And what might the consequence be? As if on cue I just spotted the following tweet by Vinay Gupta (@leashless): “Most of my co-workers worry that we are not moving fast enough. I worry that we are not going in the best possible directions.” While running so fast, do we indeed check whether we are heading in the right direction? Will we even notice if, like the lemmings, we are jumping over the cliff, running fast because everyone else does so?  I am certainly guilty of that.  Those who are at the receiving end of my sometimes cryptic emails or texts can attest to that: in the desire to respond quickly I do not even take the time to read what I have written.  Sometimes the consequences are funny, some times rather rude!  Yet there are more important reasons to take time to slow down.

Let me explain hat I mean in a round-about way. During my PhD work I came across the work of Guy ClaxtonIn his book ‘Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind’ he makes some interesting observations about the way we think.  In addition to ‘instinct” (an automatic response where we do not think consciously about the situation and a possible response) he identifies two further modes of responding to a situation.  The first of the two mode is based on ‘conscious, deliberate, purposeful thinking’. Claxton calls this the ‘d-mode’ or the ‘hare mode’. The following is an extract from the traits he has identified for the d-mode:

  • D-mode is much more interested in finding answers and solutions than in examining the question.
  • D-mode treats perception as unproblematic.
  • D-mode values explanation over observation.
  • D-mode seeks and prefers clarity, and neither likes nor values confusion.
  • D-mode relies on language that appears to be literal and explicit.
  • D-mode works with concepts and generalisations. 

It seems to me that we could replace ‘d-mode’ with ‘management’…  Traits of the d-mode are important and necessary for completing a task: a preference for structure, the ability to plan and organise, to be in control.  Structuring and planning help within keeping to a set time frame.  Hence, the d-mode is efficient and effective when the problem is clear-cut and when there is one possible, straight-forward solution.  

The d-mode is less appropriate when the situation is intricate, ill defined or complex – does that not just sound like innovation? If faced with such a task Claxton suggests that the second mode of response, the ‘tortoise mode’, is more likely to yield satisfactory results. Here we are more concerned with understanding the questions than with providing an answer fast. This mode of responding is slower, less conscious and less ‘provable’ which is why results of tortoise mode thinking often feels like they have come ‘out of the blue’. Interestingly, Claxton remarks that ‘time pressure increases the likelihood to rely on existing habits and knowledge’. From an innovation perspective, speed, or time pressure, and the d-mode does not sound very promising!  

How about a different perspective on patience and taking some time: “Patience is power. Patience is not an absence of action; rather it is “timing” it waits on the right time to act, for the right principles and in the right way.” Fulton J. Sheen‘s wisdom, not mine (though I fully subscribe).

If you are not yet convinced, let me throw in one more argument. I am sure many of you will have heard the 21st century being described as ‘the VUCA World’ whereby VUCA stands for volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous.  Which mode of mind do you think might work really well in VUCA conditions?


Writing this I feel reminded of my first (and only ever) boss, architect and town planner Manfred Tennert.  He would often sit and stare out of the window.  Others in the office would comment on it, make fun of it – and I think I would have to include myself in ‘others’.  yet when he stopped ‘sitting and staring’ and started ‘doing’, remarkable solutions would emerge.  Perhaps we should all take he following poem by William Henry Davies’ (1871 to 1940) heart:

What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs

And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,

Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,

Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,

And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can

Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

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