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September 5, 2005

Ahh.. it’s good to be blogging. I thought it wise to get things going by taking straight aim at a central issue that, for me, is at the essence of social and organizational dynamics in the Information Economy: Time Pressure.

In fact, time pressure is so omnipresent, I feel it’s the driving force behind all things good and bad around the subject of work for those of us in the field of software and information technology.

Truth be told, it’s embedded within the essence of my upcoming book, Optimal Friction. As a technology professional originally trained in electromagnetic physics, electrical engineering and later, conflict resolution and mediation, I intend to take a very unusual spin around this subject.

Let’s start with this fact: The scarcity of time drives we humans to do strange things. One example by Malcolm Gladwell in his book, “The Tipping Point”, tells the story of a time pressure experiment at the Princeton University Theological Seminary. At this school, people study to become ministers. The story of the experiment goes like this: two groups are told to give a lecture at a campus auditorium. One by one, members of a group are to make their way from building A to building B and give a lecture – a sermon – on a biblical theme. Members of the first group are told to head over to give their talk, one at a time, without any time pressure. The second group is given the same instructions, except they’re told that they’re running a little late, and to move quickly.

Between the buildings, an actor is “planted”, writhing in pain alongside the pathway. The question arises: How many of the students stop to help the man lying on the ground? The first group – about 60 percent.

How about the second group? The ones “running late”? About 10 percent.

The punchline: the topic which they’re about to give a lecture on – is the story of the Good Samaritan.

The point that Gladwell makes is that context within which we find ourselves MATTERS. It’s so powerful, that even future ministers who are tasked with sermonizing on helping others, would leave a person lying on the side of the road.

Similarly, my contention is that we professionals in the information economy are doing the moral equivalent. Under time pressure, all of us, executives, project managers, designers and builders alike, are leaving bodies on the side of the road. Lots of things are being set into motion within companies and between companies, that I welcome all of you out there to ponder. Enough blathering for now; the blogging can take it over from here. Tell us what you think about Samaritans… Welcome to the party.