In Praise of Slack Time
By | Abhijit Bhaduri |Keynote speaker, Author and Columnist
The world is just so over this whole phase of doing things more efficiently. Over those are still slaving away squeezing out an extra drop of juice out of an already disfigured and dry slice of lime. The world has already figured out how to get another day’s brushing out of the nearly-empty tube of toothpaste. The industrial age is so yesterday. Fred Taylor’s approach of holding a stopwatch over someone’s head to ensure that he/ she is giving you full sixty minutes worth of work when you pay for an hour is just so 20th century. Such people will actually pause the timer when you breathe because if you are breathing you have not been working.They have not heard of multitasking, clearly.
In the early days of my career I had a kill joy as a boss who told me that work was meant to be joyless and anything that added happiness was taking away from my output. That was his way of dropping a hint about turning off the music I was listening to using a headphone. In fact if he saw me walk with a spring in my step he would advance the deadline for my project. This was the office equivalent of being told that one could no longer use ketchup to salvage a poorly cooked pasta. I used to hate my work, my boss and the Organization – not necessarily in that order. I think he just loved to see me miserable.
Today when organizations are competing on ideas and seeking to move up the value chain, it is important to harness the insights that the employees have. From these insights come innovations. Ideas are born when people hang out and chat. Bill Fischer says in his latest post in Forbes titled On The Virtues Of Having Strange People Close By:
“When it comes to innovation, conversations are the essential building blocks that make things happen. Ideas are the raw materials with which we’ll create the future, and an idea at rest adds no value. Conversations, be they face-to-face, virtual, paper-based, interactive/non-interactive are the basis by which ideas move from concept to realization.”
When a company like 3M announced years back that their employees were free to pursue their pet passions for 15-20 percent of their time. Google had given its engineers 20% free time to pursue their own ideas. This resulted in several products that the company was able to monetize. There is the initial phase when people just socialize. Don’t get alarmed. This socializing is necessary to help people feel comfortable about sharing their off beat and possibly out of the ordinary ideas with colleagues.
The smoke filled cafes of Paris have been the incubators of great minds. The run down Coffee House of Kolkata has seen poets, writers, painters and intellectuals come together in small groups and talk about politics, art and revolutions in the Coffee House before it found its way to the canvas or celluloid. Even today on a summer day one finds groups of jazz musicians practicing their craft Central Park in New York completely oblivious to the presence of gawking bystanders.
The biggest and most profitable organizations that have come up in the last five years have all been companies that have had a breakthrough idea. That needs people to have slack time to let their mind wander. As Jonah Lehrer says in his blogpost for New Yorker, “A daydream, in this sense, is just a means of eavesdropping on those novel thoughts generated by the unconscious. We think we’re wasting time, but, actually, an intellectual fountain really is spurting.” So don’t be afraid to take time off.
Republished with permission and originally published at abhijitbhaduri.com