Friday, February 01, 2008

Can relationships help you turn back time?

If you are old enough to remember cassette tapes, you probably remember her.

She used only one name - legally - to identify herself.

She sang with the Righteous Brothers' for the recording of 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling'.

She holds the record for the longest time between number 1 hits: 1974 (Dark Lady) to 1998 (Believe).

She was the "babe" that Sonny referred to when he sang, I've got you, babe.

And she brought us the song "If I could turn back time."

So can you? Is it possible to turn back time? Is there a possibility that anything or anyone (other than God) will ever be able to go backwards in time?

I don't think so.

But I do know that as our technology advances, we are sure finding ways to try to minimize the time we spend on a variety of things. Everyone in the universe has been to a time management seminar, and many of us have tried the "proven" methods of many a time-management expert.

And yet we still have no time . . .

Here are a couple of examples:

In 1997 Nat Torkington (O’Reilly Media) coined the phrase continuous partial attention. He noticed that continuous partial attention had become a way of life to cope and keep up with responsibilities and relationships. When we've stretched our attention bandwidth to upper limits, that’s a sign of “continuous partial attention.” We think that if our computer networks have a lot of bandwidth then we do, too.

Torkington (2005) proposed three sets of (relatively) contemporary Attention Cycles that address how people in our society have interacted with each other -- both personally and professionally.

He noted that between 1945-1965, we focused on an organizational center of gravity. We paid attention to that which we served.

From 1965-1985, it was all about me and self-expression. We trusted ourselves.

Then from 1985-2005, it was all about our network as the center of gravity. We trust network intelligence.

Torkington suggested that we are now in the time for committed full-attention focus. In this new era we feel alive by feeling engaged attention. We will use trusted filters and protectors to remove distractions and manage our space, so we can have meaningful connections.

Jay Deragon tells us that time and attention are the only factors that are becoming scarce. As we engage in techno-enhanced relationship building, we find new functions and features aimed at facilitating faster, more meaningful reach, proposed new efficiency and a host of other value propositions. These integrative technological breakthroughs will ultimately enable us to better manage our time through one interface by segment of use.

Jay calls this “TADD”, Technological Attention Deficit Disorder. With The Relationship Economy, we will be better
able to balance our time and use it wisely for whatever personal and professional aim. Until then, a few of us will bear the burden that comes with learning new technology. Once lifted, the burden will become the value we can pass on to the masses so collectively we can gain more time to create more value.

So what can be done? What can we accomplish in The Relationship Economy that positively affects our time?

CIO magazine (online) provides an A-Z listing of professional and personal social networking sites (as of Jan 23, 2008). From Advogato to Ziggs each provides yet another niche and a variety of benefits, but none promises to give you more time!

So how exactly are we going to find time for networking, much less being social? And how are we going to accomplish anything in more than one place, on more than one network?

Networking, especially Social Networking, can be used to leverage time. Jay Deragon often refers to the leverage of social media as the ability to communicate one-to-one-to millions.

But we have to be careful! In many cases, our convenience in social networking may inconvenience others. Think about how we get "connected" in the networked world. We join a new network, complete a new profile, and then email everyone we know asking them to (take a wild guess . . .)
join a new network, and complete a new profile. Just as Torkington (above) pointed out, Morgan (1998) observed that in The Relationship Economy, all of us will become dependent on the intricate network of impersonal relationships that possess many of the characteristics of personal relationships. These relationships are fueled by technological advances, and are a phenomenon that, going forward, we should understand, especially if we are truly dependent on them.

It's easy for network building to become a huge time vacuum -- building networks inherently appeals to our competitive nature. We find that anything (or anyone) new in our networks can grab and keep our attention just like the first time we discovered we could play solitaire, hearts, ScrabbleTM, or minesweeper on the computer. Taking the time to find our way around social networks can be just as big a time investment as the time it takes to learn our way around a new city -- and rightfully so. Many of the activities in these networks are similar to those we find in the "Real World." We can (or soon will be able to) meet people, engage in discussions, browse books, read magazines, try on clothing, drive cars and fly airplanes (at least virtually).

If we are doing these things at work, it's possible (probable) that we are wasting valuable time, and if we are on the clock, that time isn't all ours. If we are at home, it's possible that we are avoiding other things, like cooking, cleaning, watching television, helping with homework, cutting the grass, walking the dog, and any number of other parental or spousal duties (no, I won't be expounding on those for you).

So what's the fix, you ask? As with engaging in these activities in the "Real World," when we engage in these activities in the virtual world, we need to focus the majority of our actions on the results we hope to achieve. In other words, we need to make sure that what we are doing contributes to what we want to achieve.

These techno-assisted relationships are needed to combat the direction our relationship-building strategies have been heading in of late. In a previous post we addressed the business response with Customer Relationship Management, but let's focus a bit more on those business relationships. How can the technology we now have available help us save time and avoid the limitations of sound-byte communications with those who provide us with products and services?

If we can trust these relationships (which we can and will find a way to do), we can learn to rely on those with whom we have dealt with (in a satisfying transaction) in the past. Amazon, eBay, and many other e-commerce sites use this model to help us make decisions about buyers and sellers with whom we transact business. As
Morgan (1998) noted, human behavior depends on our perception of risks, not (perhaps unknowable) the actual risks we are facing (p. 53). The relationships in the marketplace of old were built on trust, built up over time. The relationships in the marketplace of The Relationship Economy are built on trust, as well -- technology-enhanced trust, but trust nonetheless.

So how can I limit the time I spend on networking and still be effective?

Perhaps the best contemporary guidance available on this topic comes from David Teten and Scott Allen, in their book The Virtual Handshake: Opening Doors and Closing Deals Online. In the book, the authors describe several ways you can apply the concept of leverage to your networking time. Here are a couple of quick summaries.

Crossing the Action Threshold

The authors observe what many of us intuitively know - people will respond if you ask them for a favor. In case the request is worth more than your relationship with the person of whom you are asking the favor, there are other incentives available.

The Power of Many

Another example they give is public speaking -- a powerful way to reach more people. When addressing more than one person, you are exposed to, and connected with, a large number of other people, all for the same amount of effort -- plus you get the added benefit of the other people in the community sharing their experiences.

(Teten & Allen, 2007)

Separating business from personal

As with anything business-related, it is healthy to be able to separate your professional (business) life from your personal life. Though there are countless examples of successful people who lived, ate, breathed,
and slept with their work, for those of us who really want to "get a life," here are a few pointers. If networking helps us save time, we have to find something to do with it, after all.

Examine the role or roles you are filling at a given time. Is that role primarily one related to your professional life, or is it more personal?

Examine your recent actions, responses, and interactions. Could they benefit you professionally? There's something to be said for being able to monetize every minute of every day, but at what point do you live to work and when will you start to work to live?

Intentionally engage in activities that are strictly personal -- for you as an individual, with no possibility of professional benefit. Sure it can be difficult, but force yourself. You'll feel guilty for a while, but you can learn to enjoy yourself.

Here's the tough part -- asking for help. Get with some of your trusted friends (yes, they can be people you work with if you are still in
that rut). Tell them what you want to do. Explain to them that you want an honest evaluation of your ability to separate your professional life from your personal life. If you are able, get them to write down a few indicators that you are or are not able, and then (only after they have written them down) discuss what they see with you. Ask them to make suggestions to help you. If they give an example that you don't agree with, shut up and listen. Remember, you asked them.

Then take their advice. You do this by implementing the suggestions you got from your trusted friends. Try it for an hour, a day, a week, or (if you are really bold) as long as you can. If you couldn't get anyone to agree to critique you, look at the suggestions we made (above) and use your own imagination (if you still have it).

And then, prepare to engage in a little self-reflection. This is necessary so you can evaluate the results of your efforts and adjust, as needed. You may not get it right the first time. You may go overboard, or you may feel like you will go crazy if you don't check that one more email or make that one more phone call. It's like breaking any habit -- you have to want to and you have to be prepared to not get it right the first time.

If anything we've covered is totally foreign to you, don't worry. The Relationship Economy is a place where totally new paradigms will produce totally new actions and reactions. If someone tells you they have been-there, done-that, just let out a chuckle and run away from them -- as fast as you can. Make the time to build your foundation now, and prepare to reap the harvest of time tomorrow.

What do you think?


Morgan, B. W. (1998). Strategy and enterprise value in the relationship economy. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold

Teten, D. & Allen, S. (2007, April 17). Who Knows Who You Know: Leverage and Focus. Fast Company. Available at

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