The Most Important Machine of the Year
It’s not artificial intelligence, electric vehicles, or anything coming out of CES
“Life is very short and anxious for those who forget the past, neglect the present, and fear the future...For they dash from one pleasure to another and cannot stay steady in one desire.” — Seneca, 49 B.C.
I popped into a local jewelry shop earlier this week.
As with most strip mall jewelry stores, this one had the familiar arrangement: glass display cases that formed a giant 'U' beginning on the left, stretching to the back and across, and back up the right side of this mostly empty rectangular mineral deli.
There was no need to take a number, as the proprietor was helping the only other customer in the place, a middle-aged woman who seemed as uncertain about her options as the owner did about continuing to help her.
He called me over and asked what he could do for me.
“I need my watch battery changed,” I told him.
Normally I change my own batteries, but the thin watch I prefer has a back panel that takes more skilled hands than mine to free from the casing.
“It’ll be about 15 minutes. Would you like to wait or come back?”
Having no desire to make an aimless trip around town for a quarter of an hour, and with nothing more pressing than a dentist appointment 45 minutes from then, I decided to stay put.
I plopped down on the overstuffed sofa in front of the window and settled in.
While I waited in this spartan emporium (there wasn’t much to look at aside from what was under glass), I watched the shopkeeper tend to his waffling and fussy customer.
Not once did I detect exasperation or impatience from him; quite the opposite. He was gentle, asked her a few questions to help guide her, and listened to her responses.
Then he excused himself for a moment to head into the back and reintroduce power to my comatose chronograph.
Less than two minutes later, he emerged from his bejeweled operating theater, as pleased as a hepatic surgeon who just completed a 15-hour liver transplant. My waiting time was under five minutes.
“All set! That’ll be $15.”
“That was fast!” I said as I handed him cash, thanked him, and told him I’d be back.
There’s more on this topic coming later this week — but only for paid subscribers. Lots of links to timely stories, thought leadership, and recommendations for listening/reading. Don’t miss out:
On my way out the door, I realized something: this jeweler — who regularly buys, sells, and repairs watches — doesn’t deal in silver, gold, and diamonds. He deals in time.
The minutes, hours, and days people spend considering what they’d like from him; the precious moments of questions, information, and solitude he gives them to make their decision; and the speed with which he finishes his work.
Time is our most valuable asset and the clock is the most important machine of 2024.
The clock isn’t just a marker of time — it is an important tool that helps us frame our place in the world around us.
The Perfect Symbol
In a 1989 speech, David McCullough made an observation about our timepieces in a speech he made to Congress that referenced a sculpture containing a clock that Simon Willard designed and it sits in the House of Representatives.
“I have decided that the digital watch is the perfect symbol of an imbalance in outlook in our day. It tells us only the time it is now, at this instant, as if that were all anyone would wish or need to know.”
He stressed the importance of understanding where we’ve been, our place in history, our connection with those around us, and knowing where we’re heading.
And looking up at Willard’s clock, he ticked off:
“It is also a clock with two hands and an old-fashioned face, the kind that shows what time it is now . . . what time it used to be . . . and what time it will become.”
A Culture of What’s Next
In 49 B.C., Seneca wrote admiringly of the philosophers who “not only keep a good watch over their own lifetimes, but [they] annex every age to theirs.”
He understood how putting things from the past in perspective could train the mind to anticipate what’s coming (something I do with my coaching clients and in this newsletter).
We can’t undo the past, so we shouldn’t dwell on it. Any good leader needs to focus on a path forward.
And that path requires creating a strong culture.
Whether you’re doing it by deliberate implementation or by neglect, culture gets traced back to leadership.
Culture change requires individual behavior change across the entire organization.
Individual behavior change on a mass scale — that’s a tall order.
It starts with how leaders conduct themselves. By watching what leaders do, employees learn how to behave.
We tell other people what matters to us by what we spend our time doing.
If you see how a leader listens to customers, vendors, and employees, that in turn will teach you what’s important to that leader.
When leaders drum into their teams a need for "customer centricity," but have policies in place or take actions that are decidedly non-customer-centric, those policies and actions speak volumes about what truly matters.
It all comes back to the kind of culture you’re creating.
History may not supply us with all of the answers. But the evolution of how we think about time should also inform how we think about the humans who experience it — whether they’re customers, leaders, employees, or vendors.
Just like that jewelry store owner who knew when to speed up and when to slow down.
What are you spending your time on?
It’s later than you think.
There’s so much to learn,