How the Greeks Hacked Time: Kairos Versus Chronos

Time is the most common word in the English language. This might actually be a bad thing - we may be over-extending the use of a single word that actually contains a broad variety of interpretations and meanings. The Inuit have more than 50 words for snow - how can english-speakers possibly have only one word for time? The vagaries of time can be a funny thing: even as we pretend that clocks rule our lives, and that seconds add directly to minutes that add to hours, the reality is that the way we often experience time is anything but linear. Time speeds up, it slows down, sometimes "time stops.” 

The Greeks, in their wisdom, had two words for time, “chronos” (χρόνος) defined as linear, sequential and quantitative time and “kairos” (καιρός) defined as qualitative, in-the-moment time signifying the opportune moment for action. I like to think of chronos as clock time and kairos as human time. Throughout Greek writings in history, kairos was the word more often used to describe how events unfolded. As we consider our businesses, practices and interactions with leaders and employees, which kind of time is more important today? 

The etymology of kairos brings even more clarity to the meaning ascribed to the word. Kairos’ roots are to the moment when an archer releases an arrow at a target, where everything happens at once and the trajectory is set. From Wikipedia, kairos is “a passing instant when an opening appears which must be driven through with force if success is to be achieved."

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Consider the interactions we have daily in our businesses and relationships: even as hours and months of chronos time elapse, big shifts often take place in moments not minutes, hours or months. The passing praise of a coworker, feedback shared in the hallway after the meeting, the hug of a tear-stained toddler, the breakthrough of “a-ha” ideas – all these meaningful exchanges rest on the mantle of chronos but are ultimately kairos moments of human time and connection. 

So, how can we all wrangle kairos time to benefit our lives, relationships and companies? One of the most powerful ways is simply to recognize that small moments can really matter, more specifically that the value of an increment of time is not related to its duration. If we raise our awareness to the untapped potential found in the small moments we can expand our influence and leadership in ways that matter in the broader context. 

A smile, a nod, a kind word, a quick course-correct, listening attentively, applauding loudly – all these simple aspects of everyday life are, as it turns out, incredibly important. Cast back for a moment to remember “one of those days” where everything was going off the rails and you wanted to crawl under your desk. Then, just when you wanted to call it a day and go home early, someone dropped by your office, and with just a few kind words re-energized the rest of your week. That is kairos at work – a special form of time magic where trajectories can be re-set in seconds, and months of momentum can be released in moments. It is time: It is time to bring your kairos watch to work.

Life is Long if You Know How To Use It...

Time, by most conceivable measures is simultaneously finite (we all have a terminal illness called "life") and infinite - in that what takes place "in the dash" of your headstone represents infinite possibilities and a near infinite number of "moments." 

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The universe is approximately 13.4 billion years old - a nearly inconceivable span of time when thinking of the artificial construct of "earth years." That said, the universe is vastly older than that when you consider the division of time into seconds, microsceconds, nanoseconds, femtoseconds, and the base unit of "Planck lengths." In terms of scale magnitudes, the universe's age is 60 orders of magnitude greater than a single Planck length of time. Of course even the Planck length can be infinitely subdivided, so essentially there is an infinite amount of time within any specific duration. 

Consider this amazing graphical representation of the age of the universe and the inconspicuous blip our lifespans represent...

https://helixtime.io/

Yet, on the converse, despite our short span, our decades of life, consciousness, actions and meaning are nearly infinitely longer than the origins of the universe...

Physics models of the origins of the universe suggest that as much may have happened in the first nanosecond of the universe as in the billions of years since. All this to suggest my main ongoing thesis about time, specifically, that "the value of an increment of time is not related to its duration."

Our solar system centered, second/minute/hour/day/week/month/year human view of time carries all kinds of bias. Arbitrary elliptical circuits of the star we call the sun suggest an important tick on the yardstick of time... but what about the mayfly whose tenure on earth never sees a sunset much less a solar circuit? What about a Bristlecone pine with a lifespan of 5,000+ years. Are sunrises and sunsets like a strobelight? To the Bristelcone, is the birth, growth and death of other trees like the surge and collapse of an unwatered bean sprout? What about an entity with a lifespan of a "google" (10^100 years)? Would the universe's expansions and contractions (if it actually contracts) look like the blips of a firefly? 

Time, at least for us humans is not made of seconds or months or years or eons. Time is made of memories and the rest doesn't matter. Much like time follows in the wake of space in the expansion of the universe, so too does time follow in the wake of memories created in our brain. Time is made of moments: more moments equals more memories equals more time.

Perhaps Seneca had it best oh-so-short-ago: 

“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.”  Seneca

Four Movements in Time: An Experience in Synaesthesia, 7pm - March 28th, Chicago

A week from Saturday we are aiming to confuse the senses and hijack your perception of time through an experimental fusion of art, music, poetry, talk and dance. I hope you will consider joining us. Tickets are available here: Four Movements in Time

Here is the the Program, Music, and Performers:

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Four Movements in Time: Syncopated sharing of Poetry, Dance, Music, and Talk centered around the non-linear nature of experiential time

Why is time accelerating? Why did summers as children seem so much longer than they do as adults? Is there any way to design our lives to reverse these trends and instead slow and expand time?

Through a syncopated intersection of art, music, poetry, dance, and a TED talk on the cognitive biases that result in the non-linear processing of time, Ani Gogova (concert pianist), Tess Collins (modern dancer), and John K. Coyle (TED speaker, lyricist) will touch the audience’s senses to demonstrate the three rules that govern "experiential time" and share ways to slow the ticking of the clock to bring back summers as expansive as those when we were children so we can "really live" longer. Art in the room by Karolina Kowalczyk reflects this nostalgia and loss of childhood.

The PerformersJohn_Coyle - no logo

John K. Coyle (talk/poetry) is an horologist, Stanford d.school grad, SVP and Professor of Innovation, Olympic Silver Medalist, NBC commentator/analyst, writer and speaker. As a TEDx presenter and founder of The Art of Really Living movement, John has received rave reviews for his presentations.  His passions lie in the areas of innovation, strengths development, and an obsession with the cognitive bias on how we as humans experience time.

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 10.40.50 PMAni Gogova (piano) is an award-winning Bulgarian-American pianist who appears in over 40 performances each season throughout Europe and North America, including broadcasts on NPR, WBEZ, TEDx Talks, and WFMT Chicago. Her work has gathered critical acclaim around the globe and been selected as a top recommendation by Time Out Chicago Magazine and the Chicago Tribune. Gogova holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and she served as a Professor at the world-renowned Music Conservatory of the Chicago College of Performing Arts, Roosevelt University.

Tess ColliScreen Shot 2015-03-17 at 10.32.04 PMns (dance) graduated from Columbia with a degree in dance, then traveled overseas to further study and receive her yoga teacher training. She's continually creating and performing movement-based work in collaboration with other artists, and as an instructor of various styles. Her curiosity and playfulness on the mind/body/spirit continuum form the base of her movement exploration in choreographic choices and teaching.

karolina2.jptKarolina Kowalczyk (art) was born in Raba Wyzna, Poland and has lived in Chicago for the past 20 years. She received a BFA in Illustration from the American Academy of Art and currently works at The Art Institute of Chicago. Her meticulous way of working with paper cut-outs is inspired by her childhood love of stickers and wycinanki (Polish paper art).  The pieces are created from many independently drawn elements on paper that are carefully arranged and built up in layers.

Her work is inspired by nostalgia, trauma, loss and childhood and has been featured in shows in Chicago, Michigan and Minnesota. Sample art:

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Growing Down

Nostalgia One

Shame Revisited

Yes, I'm Terrified: Join Us for a Study of Four Movements in Time, March 28th

On Saturday, March 28th, I'll be teaming up with concert pianist Ani Gogova,  http://anigogova.com and modern dancer Tess Collins for a unique fusion experience of Art, Poetry, Movement, Talk and Music. In full disclosure, I'm completely terrified. Ani is an amazing concert pianist full of drama and emotion and skill. Tess is an elegant archetype of the modern dancer, flowing like water. Me? I talk good (supposedly). But.. poetry???

I'm not a poet and I know it. Nonetheless in the spirit of The Art of Really Living and in an homage to my lost friend Kevin Bennett, Stanford poet laureate, I'm going to lyricize some poetry in syncopation with Tess's movement, Ani's music and my recent TED talk. I hope you'll join us. Heckling, well, sure...

More information to come, but here's a draft of the flyer:

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One Resolution for 2015: "Race Your Strengths"

"Race Your Strengths" was a refrain repeated daily for decades by Mike Walden, the head coach for a small cycling club in Detroit Michigan. During those 25+ years, this small club produced over 120 national champions, 12 world champions, 10 Olympians and 4 Olympic medals. There was no mysterious talent pool in Detroit during this period, and all of the athletes were local. Nonetheless, by a relentless focus on helping people find their strengths as athletes, this one club produced more than 25% of all national cycling medalists for a 25 year period. walden

For 2015 I propose we make only one resolution - the kind of resolution that "floats all boats." For 2015 I propose that we follow Mike Walden's advice and extend it beyond athletics. Let’s design our lives to align closer to our strengths and natural talents, and design around those activities that are true weaknesses. When we are operating in sync with our native capabilities, we are more resilient: we can handle greater amounts of stress because we are filling our bucket with energy and positive feedback. When we are pursuing activities that are in line with our strengths, we experience more moments of "flow" where time speeds by in the present, buts creates a treasure trove of significant memories. When we are "racing our strengths" we have more and greater chances to have life-defining moments of "really living," experiences of such meaning and gravity, that time slows, stops, or even expands.

Life is short: time to race your strengths. 

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