You could be forgiven for thinking that nothing ever endures amongst the fast changing fads and fashions of modern living. It’s not just talk that’s cheap. Clothes, cars, cash are all consumable clutter used to communicate status. Money, people and even love, are a means to an end. Everything is temporary and we can always get more, more, more.
But there’s one thing we can’t control. It’s infinite, yet we can never get enough. We try to apportion it, manage it, record it and analyse it, yet it continues on regardless. It is both a harsh mistress and heals all ills. We spend it more freely than money. We can’t stop it, or turn it back. Yes, our time is precious, ticking away towards an unknown end as sure as the sun rises. Yet how many of us can say we use our time wisely, doing something worthwhile.
Of course defining a good use of time is extremely subjective. Time is constant, yet how we use it is infinitely variable. Some of these uses are dictated by government policy, employers, family and cultural norms. The vast majority of us attend school, college and work as regular as clockwork in order to avoid punishment for non compliance. Whether we engage fully in that time by concentrating, learning and performing is a different matter. There’s always choice.
Just as one person’s trash is another’s treasure, one person’s time well spent is to another wasted. As employers we want our staff to conform to our definition of a good use of time, and we’re paying them to do so. As recruiters we pass judgement on whether a candidate’s life up until that point has been used wisely. We question whether their time spent in a job is too long or too short. Whether they’ve spent enough time doing academic training. Whether they’ve spent any time doing nothing and what that means. If we conclude they’ve made good use of that time, we ask them to commit their future working time to us and reward them with a job and salary.
It takes a significant investment of time to master a skill – according to Malcolm Gladwell, 10,000 hours. This is much longer than a typical modern day apprenticeship or degree and implies sustained dedication towards a singular goal. It’s easy to see how this lengthy time period could lead to mastery of a physical skill with measurable tangible improvements demonstrating competence. But for many modern job roles, focussed on gathering and assimilating knowledge, time is a poor measure. Neither is mastery as whether what we know is correct is subjective, may have little impact and changes quickly. Think of technolgy – we might invest a significant amount of time mastering certain digital processes – only for them to be obsolete tomorrow.
So modern day mastery is not just about learning, it’s about looking ahead to see what we don’t know now, but might need to know in the future. But how have our recruitment and development processes evolved to identify the presence of indicators of this behaviour, such as potential and talent? The answer is, they haven’t. And that’s a problem.