No Time for KM

Clocks 1 Everyone is busy. No one has enough time. We’re racing to get as much done as quickly as possible.

Welcome to the real life version of Beat the Clock.

If we superimpose on our busy lives the legal industry’s focus on the billable hour, we end up with some challenges about how to spend our time. Clearly client service needs trump all other demands on our time. Then there are the business development needs, and the continuing legal education needs, and the law firm administrative needs.  All of this adds up to more work than we can complete in a reasonable work day.

Now please tell me: where do the lawyers in your firm find time for knowledge management?

The Secret Powers of Time

If this wasn’t bad enough, have you considered that the time perspective of your law firm colleagues may also have a negative effect on their willingness or ability to contribute to KM efforts? To be honest, until I saw the video below on The Secret Powers of Time, I hadn’t given much thought to time orientation. I had just assumed that most of us were in identical races against the clock. As with many things in life, it turns out that things are a bit more complicated.

So what makes our relationship with time more complicated? According to Dr. Philip Zimbardo, it’s that people can have different time orientations or, has he describes it, they can inhabit one of six different time zones:

  • Past positive: These people focus on “the good old times”
  • Past negative: These people focus on past failure and regret
  • Present hedonistic: These people live for today — seek pleasure (avoid pain), sensation, novelty
  • Present fatalistic: These people believes that their future is a matter of fate so there is no point in planning
  • Future positive: These people work and plan for the future
  • Future negative: These people believe that life begins after death

According to Zimbardo, we all begin life as present hedonists. He believes that one key function of the family and, especially, of schools is “to take present oriented little beasts and to make them more future oriented.” (While this may be true in the US, he acknowledges that some cultures aim to make the child more past oriented).

But there’s more intriguing news about our relationship with time:

  • Geography affects your perspective on time: the closer you live to the equator, the more likely you are to be present oriented.
  • The pace of life differs from place to place and culture to culture. In the US, researchers have ranked 60 cities according to the pace of life in each city. They found that in the cities with the highest pace of life, men have the most coronary problems. (See The Geography of Time by Robert Levine.)
  • A recent study shows that by the time he is 21, a boy has spent 10,000 hours by himself playing video games. This means that he is used to a virtual world in which he has more control, action and excitement than he has in the real world.  And, since he has been alone at his computer, he hasn’t learned key social skills or developed emotional intelligence.  His brain is being digitally rewired and he won’t fit into an analog world or in an analog classroom that emphasizes passive learning.
  • All addictions are addictions of present hedonism. However, most public service messages are focused on future consequences.  This is a message that resonates with future-oriented people, not the present hedonists suffering with addictions.
  • There is a fundamental change occurring in our society with respect to how we view time. People now get angry while waiting for technology– especially when waiting for their computer to boot up or for something to download. This anger is disproportionate given that these functions usually occur in a matter of minutes. Even so, we consider waiting for even a short while to be a complete waste of time and we increasingly have a negative emotional response to waiting.

If a lawyer in your firm is oriented towards the present rather than the future, it will be difficult to convince that lawyer to work on a KM project that promises future rather than present benefits.  If a lawyer is future-oriented, they should be more inclined to invest in KM now for a future benefit. This suggests that you should target your KM program requests carefully so that you focus on future-oriented people.  The others most likely will not participate with enthusiasm.

I’ll give Dr. Zimbardo the closing word:

I think many of life’s puzzles can be solved by simply understanding our own time perspective and that of others. Lots of conflict we have with people is really a conflict in different time perspectives. Once you’re aware of that, you stop making negative attributions like you’re dumb or you’re childish or you’re pigheaded or you’re authoritarian. It’s really the most simple idea in the world.



See also, The Time Paradox: The New Psychology of Time That Will Change Your Life.

[Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds]

3 thoughts on “No Time for KM

  1. Very interesting post, Mary! Thanks for pointing me to the video and Zimbardo’s work.
    I was thinking the post would be about something  else, based on the title… 🙂 Cause I hear lots of people saying they have little time for KM. And I think they can rightly say that. KM and document management is not at the core of most people’s work. It’s something extra to them. To me it’s interesting to see how we can integrate KM into people’s work, so they do it with little effort and/or implicitely. This is one of the reasons I like social tools so much: it helps people with little time to manage knowledge. I don’t think we’re there yet. I think even more barriers have to be removed, but it’s a good step. It would be much easier for people to share knowledge if they wouldn’t have to write it down, but could just talk (share audio or video), for instance.

    1. Samuel – 

      You’re right that social tools hold a lot of promise. The challenge in the legal industry is that we tend to do “above the flow” KM rather than “in the flow” KM. That’s why the issue of time orientation is pertinent. If we can find a way to use social tools to facilitate “in the flow” KM, that would be a huge step forward.

      – Mary

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