In the film “Clockwise” John Cleese plays a manic headmaster obsessed with time.It struck a chord about busy, busy lives. Today we seem to believe being on time is more important than being good at what we do. Railways parade their 93% or whatever punctuality achievements. Fast may be the modern default speed but isn’t life about more than that?
And I discovered it was as I waited at the Africa Centre. The occasion was the African Creative Industries Investment Summit. Registration started at 8am. The keynote speech was due to happen at 915 after introductory remarks. As we drank coffee and met, mingled and chatted time flowed.
Everyone was in a good mood. They hadn’t planned on being anywhere other than here and this was an opportunity to talk and enjoy the warmth of relaxed ideas. I’d heard about “African Time” and I think it may work better than “American Time”.
In the same way I wonder if agenda-less meetings may not be the way forward. The African way is “monochronic”. These were people doing one thing at a time – not the “polychronic” or multitask way - the same way that Rachel Bell, Chairman of Shine Communications and the leader rated as number one in small businesses in the Sunday Times last year, stoutly renounced.
“Focus 100% on what you are doing and when the time is right move on. Never, ever multitask.” She says and she incidentally whilst remarkable for her success is not particularly remarkable for her punctuality – and no one seems to mind very much.
I used to think that time saved was a kind of time profit but I’m beginning to wonder especially in the creative world whether we are spending our time well. Too much is going on labour not on thinking or listening to and being with people.
The story about Picasso is another slant on time.
Legend has it that Pablo Picasso was sketching in the park when a woman approached him.
“It’s you — Picasso, the great artist! Oh, you must sketch my portrait! I insist.”
So Picasso agreed to sketch her. After studying her for a moment, he used a single pencil stroke to create her portrait. He handed the women his work of art.
“It’s perfect!” she gushed. “You managed to capture my essence with one stroke, in one moment. Thank you! How much do I owe you?”
“Five thousand dollars,” the artist replied.
“B-b-but, what?” the woman sputtered. “How could you want so much money for this picture? It only took you a second to draw it!”
To which Picasso responded, “Madame, it took me my entire life.”
As with Picasso it’s the result that matters not how long or short a time it takes to achieve.
Last week at the Africa Centre I learned three things.
1. Relaxing and listening is a great way of soaking up stuff
2. Time is ours to use: it’s not our master
3. African Creative Industries will thrive
If you question this last assertion, spend as much time as you can find (and you can find it) listening to Parminder Vir who spoke at the Conference, brilliantly and inspiringly, putting the possibilities for Nigerian Film Industry in front of us. She took her time. And it worked.
Efficiency is sometimes not as appealing (or effective) as passion and expansiveness.
Eat your heart out Twitter.
Written for and first published on "Business of Culture