The Great Time Robbery

The Great Time Robbery

You are now probably buying lots of things online, dealing with official bodies and generally conducting a substantial part of your life via the internet. You will be aware of some of the dangers and you will have calculated that the trade-off in terms of convenience will be worth the risk. Pause for a moment to think of the consequences of what is happening.

A European National who has lived in Britain for some years is put into a precarious position by Brexit. To remain in Britain, where their job and family are, they must now complete an 85-page form. It may have been intelligible to the committee that invented it but it is incomprehensible to those required to complete it. Why is that so outrageous?

Because the enquirer (the Government) is making the assumption that the respondent (the form filler) time of no value. How long the form-filler must spend on this exercise is of no interest to the government. “My time is valuable, yours is not,” they imply. “We do not care”, is what they actually say. That is outrageous.

The last time you engaged on the internet did you have to provide a lot of information most of which was unnecessary to make the simple purchase you wanted? Were you referred to endless FAQs? Were special conditions that apply to you not covered by the procedure? Did you try to reach a human being? Did you succeed? Did the person (or Artificial Intelligence) you spoke to know the answer or put you on hold?

The time of the other person is valuable, you see. Yours is not. So the more of your time they can use up to save their time, the better – for them. Making others wait is nothing new. Some people pathologically turn up late for meetings, events, parties. Doctors notoriously stack their patients in line long before they can deal with them. Bosses make subordinates wait in order to demonstrate their power.

None of this is acceptable. Time is the only real asset we have. Early in life we think it stretches forever. Later we realise how little there is. Stealing my time is worse than stealing my money. Difference is, you don’t get punished for it. It is time you did. Wearables monitor our heart rate and will soon tell our doctor our state of health minute by minute. Why not a time wastage wearable? Lawyers and plumbers have billable hours; so should we.

How would we value our time? Same as they value theirs? Not necessarily so. We want them to take as little of our time as they need so the logical thing is to pay them more for less. At present we often pay by the hour. That motivates our supplier to take as many hours as he can. When a major building contract job runs over time the contractor is penalised by receiving less money, not more. But it is difficult for us to judge the cause of over-run time. Sometimes it is our fault, other times the responsibility lies with the supplier.

So how about working towards a system of reward by results. It has several advantages. First it makes us say what success will be. Second, it compels us to judge as well as possible what effort (time) is required to be successful. Third it ensures that we have a measure all parties agree. Sounds simple? It is.

Why are we so slow to adopt it? It would do more for productivity than many of the sophisticated analytics we read about. Those involved in innovation are making a brave attempt to bring results to the judging line. Can we make it work?

No system is going to be totally fair. As with all systems the way into it step by step. Take a simple part of your work with others. Seek their cooperation in an experiment to reward by results. Set the criteria and determine the rewards for success. Treat it as a game.

The result will be startling. You will save a lot of time.