A New Paradigm to Yield More Time

"The process starts by encouraging the people we influence to feel comfortable measuring their status and worth not only by how much they have but also by how much they are."

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"Time and space will no longer be barriers to communication, income inequality will shrink and computer technology will set people free. There will be only four workdays per week of seven hours per day. The year will be comprised of 39 work-weeks and 13 weeks a year of vacation... All this within a single generation." - The New Yorker of November 28, 2011, profiling Peter Thiel referencing The American Challenge written in the '60's by French writer J.J. Servan Schreiber in which he envisions a "post industrial utopia" for America in the year 2000.
But why didn't it happen that way? Why has Servan-Schreiber's vision not materialized, in fact the opposite has happened. People are working longer hours, with less vacation time, enslaved by technology rather than liberated by it and income inequality has diverged more than ever. The answer is that Servan-Schreiber predicted technology development and its potential impact on life but failed to factor in the way people would respond to the possibilities that technology offered. He did foresee the passage of technological development, but failed to predict people's behaviors and the value-choices they would make in the face of newfound opportunity and freedom. This post-industrial utopia could absolutely have materialized, bit it needed a shift in American values different from the shift that occurred. American society now defines itself by what it has (or has not), no longer by what it is. We have become a society that puts work and business above all else to fund its consumerism. Work before family, work before education and personal development, work before spirituality and human values. We measure prosperity and success only in dollars: how many $$ did it cost, and how many $$ is it worth? With this set of values, the disposable time and freedom that technology gifted us simply became an opportunity to make more money. We use every newly available moment to work more, longer and harder. We became two-income households, and many took to moonlighting to provide additional income. The values-shift we needed was for Americans to value disposable time more highly than disposable income. We needed to be a nation that measures status by how much free time an individual has and what he or she chooses to do with it, rather than by how much money they have and how they spend it. It is true that money and free time are often correlated: people with more money can free up more time, but firstly this correlation has proved to be the exception rather than the rule as many very wealthy people struggle with the same time-famine from which we all suffer. But measuring success by disposable time rather than disposable money gives less wealthy people the opportunity to choose to work less and earn less, and instead invest their time in pursuits of higher value. These pursuits could be philanthropic and social, spiritual, or self-developmental. These choices, if time was seen by society as more valuable than money, would command as much status in society as wealth does in our current society. The existential opportunity for America at the turn of this century was for people to grab with both hands the possibilities of having more time even at the expense of earning (and needing) less money. However, instead of downsizing our material lives and expanding our intellectual, spiritual and emotional lives, we have used technology to expand our consumerism chasing more hours of work to generate more dollars to spend on more things that haven't made us a better, happier or a more prosperous nation. There is an opportunity now for a recalibration of societal values. The economic system is is so broken that we are beginning to recognize the need for a different way of thinking about our lives and our work. The economic system is broken because our value-system is broken. Economics, the technology of the production, consumption and transfer of value, is dependent on the choices that people and markets make. These choices in turn reflect individual's and society's values. We cannot fix the economy without also addressing values. Considering the amount of time that most people spend at work and the importance to them of that time, the workplace is the most powerful arena in which to begin a national values-shift. As corporations and their leaders seek higher purposes for their own lives and for the core economic activities of their businesses, the millions of people who work in these businesses and organizations will sense the changes and embrace them too. They will embrace the changes to more healthy values and higher purpose. They will embrace these changes because purpose and values are indigenous to humankind and we have been thirsting for them. They will embrace the change because there is no more sustainable way to grow value and increase prosperity than to refocus our measures from the purely quantitative to embrace the qualitative too. The process starts by encouraging the people we influence to feel comfortable measuring their status and worth not only by how much they have but also by how much they are.  

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