Brandt On Leadership -- Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

Jan. 26, 2006
The corporate world has its own theory on relativity, and Albert Einstein has nothing to do with it.

After centuries of study and debate, scientists recently have concluded that our understanding of the laws of physics remains primitive, and that time itself may be more malleable than we ever thought. To which I say: For this we waited centuries? Anybody who's worked in a corporation for more than 10 minutes knows that time is far more complex than the linear tick-tick-tick of a watch.

To wit:

Time is Flexible: It took Albert Einstein an entire blackboard full of equations to prove his theory of relativity, which says that time is different depending on where you sit. It's obvious that Big Al never made a sales call, or else he would have figured out this relativity thing with a hell of a lot less math. Time, we corporate lackeys know, depends not on the laws of physics but on who's asking whom for cash. If it's you wheedling for the purchase order or budget line, you'll show up on time in a suit and tie, smelling of the best cologne you can afford. If, however, it's you who is being sucked up to, you can show up 45 minutes late in sweat pants with an obvious case of flatulence.

Time is Money: Yet another thing that Big Al got wrong: It's not e=mc2, it's t (as in time) =$. You prove this by hiring an economist to run opportunity cost regression analyses all day long, or you can just observe the lunch scene at your favorite expense-account hangout. If you show within five minutes of the appointed time, it's separate checks with no questions asked. If you're within the unofficial 10-minute grace period, it's still OK as long as you offer a heartfelt apology. Anything over 10 minutes, and you're buying. Over 20, you're buying twice. Over 30, see Time is Perception, below.

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See Brandt On Leadership: John Brandt's new blog about bad bosses, fictional employees, corporate misbehavior and the importance of never being 5 minutes late to work when you can get away with an entire hour.
Time is Perception: In one of those quirks of physics that puzzle eggheads (but not players), it turns out that not only does t=$, but also t=p (as in perception). As an alarm-clock-challenged person (one former boss, seeing me in the office at 7:30 a.m. asked if I had slept in the building's garage), I often had trouble getting to work on time during my management stint at a hospital system. What I quickly learned, however, was that if you're going to be late for work by five, 10 or 15 minutes, you might as well stop at your favorite coffee shop, have a cup of Joe and read the morning paper. Why? Because if you're even five minutes late, somebody in a nearby cubicle is bound to make a snide comment or, worse, silently note it for later use. But if you're an hour late, everybody will assume that you had an important meeting outside the building. If anybody does ask, tell the truth; because none of them has the gumption to pull a stunt like this, they'll assume that you're lying to cover up a secret project or a great job interview down the street. Either way, you'll enjoy a new level of respect from your bosses and peers, one which will very likely result in a promotion, thus proving the corporate corollary that if p=t and t=$, then p=$.

Isn't it about time?

John R. Brandt, formerly editor-in-chief of IndustryWeek, is CEO of the Manufacturing Performance Institute, a research and consulting firm based in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Also see Brandt On Leadership: John R. Brandt's new blog about bad bosses, fictional employees, corporate misbehavior and the importance of never being 5 minutes late to work when you can get away with an entire hour.

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