Humanity’s Historical Struggle to Grasp Time

In the developed world our lives are driven every day by calendars and clocks: What time is my flight, what day should we meet, how late can you work? In the world of scheduling and time-scaled planning, start dates, end dates, and durations is the order of the day. As far as we know we are the only creatures on earth who have a concept of passing time. But how many of us have stopped to consider where time and dates come from? Who invented the calendar? Is time really relative? Time does not seem especially relative on the critical path of a networked schedule!

A retrospective look at the humanity’s quest to understand dates and times may offer the reader a new perspective on the planning process and a broader understanding of the actual underpinnings of that thing we call a time-scaled plan.

“The calendar is intolerable to all wisdom, the horror of all astronomy, and a laughing-stock from a mathematician’s point of view” – Roger Bacon, 1267

Why was a Roman Catholic Monk raging against calendars in the mid 13th century? One might imagine an orderly, synchronized system of straight forward, almost mechanical precision, lurking just below the methodical appearance of calendars and clocks. However, as Holden Caulfield famously declared of his roommate, Stradlater, in Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye”: time is a secret slob. Oh sure it looks all put together on the surface, but just peel back the top layer and one will find a messy contrivance worthy of Rube Goldberg!
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Malcolm Gladwell talks Innovation at the PMI Global Congress

I recently presented a paper at the Project Management Institute, North American Global Congress. My paper was titled the Job Shop Scheduling Problem, Mathematical Complexity Theory, and Non-Polynomial Time Algorithms. As you can imagine, a rather narrow swath of the PMI congregants found my topic compelling enough to part with an hour of their time. I joked with my single digit audience that I should have put the word Agile in the title, and the room would have been full. Another presenter at the same conference was Malcolm Gladwell. His topic was broader in nature. As his name recognition, accomplishments, presentation skills, and writing were somewhat superior to my own, he enjoyed an audience approximately 1000 times larger than I did. Gladwell is a compelling thinker and speaker. He talked about organizational culture and the role it has historically played in innovation. Having read all of his books, most of his articles, and listened, more than once, to his hilarious appearances on The Moth Story hour, I was rife with anxious anticipation at the thought of seeing him speak live. I was not disappointed.

Malcolm started with the statement: “We place such a premium on being first.” The entire patent system is predicated on the notion of being first and reaping huge rewards. But followers and borrowers, not leaders and inventors, are the ones who lead the way.
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We call NetPoint innovative. But as my Philosophy professors would chant from morning to night, “Define your terms.” Just what the hell is innovation anyway? Webster’s says it is, “The introduction of something new.” Most likely this is not the narrowest of definitions to be found in Webster’s. You hear the term everywhere, but who can define it? How can we, “drive innovation in the organization” if we don’t know what it is? Maybe it’s like pornography; you know it when you see it. The subject of innovation has been brought to my mind, particularly with the recent loss of Steve Jobs.

In Cambridge, at the MTA Kendall/ MIT station, there is a plaza with engraved paving stones featuring technology icons. Steve’s paving stone became a memoriam with candles, flowers and… apples. Although most often described as a visionary, Jobs was most certainly, by Webster’s definition, an innovator. What were his innovations? Were they simply the creation of the new? Novelty? Style? UI? Do innovations have to be adopted and successful, in order to be innovations? Walking past the MIT bookstore at the same MTA station, I saw a banner in the window featuring the phrase “inventional wisdom”, a phrase MIT has adopted as a part of their sesquicentennial celebration this year. At first I thought the word inventional was an unsuccessful attempt by MIT at innovating on the English language, further research revealed only my own abundant ignorance. Yes Tim, inventional is a word in the dictionary. Read More