Slowing Down as the World Speeds Up

Last night, I had the privilege of attending a lecture given by Thomas Friedman on the topic of his recent book, Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations. I have been a fan of Friedman since I read The World is Flat, and I have continued to read his columns in The New York Times. While I don’t always agree with him, I find his work informative and provocative. Last night’s talk was no exception.

Thank you for Being Late

Thank you for Being Late

In this book (which I have not yet read but plan to very soon), Friedman outlines a framework for understanding why it feels like everything is moving exponentially faster all the time: because it is. I was struck by his description of all the technological innovations that happened in 2007 — the launching of the iPhone, the founding of Airbnb, and the beginning of fracking, just to name a few — the significance of which were lost in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008. I appreciate the way he can describe complex phenomena in relatively simple terms non social-scientists like most of us can grasp. For example, since the rate of technological growth far outpaces the rate of human adaptation to change, it is no wonder we feel behind all the time.

The first thing I loved about his talk was the way he started it, by explaining the title: Thank You for Being Late. Friedman loves people and spends a lot of time over coffee and meals with them. He began to notice a pattern when people would arrive late for meetings, apologizing profusely, describing the reasons, etc. He realized that rather than being annoyed, he was actually grateful. Their being late gave him a chance to observe a room, eavesdrop on a nearby conversation, stare out the window and sometimes make a new connection between two seemingly disparate thoughts he was having. So he began to thank them for being late, and relish those moments even more. I was impressed he didn’t use the time to check his Twitter and Facebook accounts; clearly he saw the beauty in reflecting instead.

In the middle of his talk, he got my attention when he spoke about advice he gives his daughters as they engage in the world of work which has changed so much in the span of one generation. Friedman is roughly the same age as I am, so I really resonated with this part. He said he asks them to “always think like an immigrant (stay hungry – he called it being a “paranoid optimist”), like an artisan (take pride), like a startup (always be in beta), and like an entrepreneur (what is your value added?). Where we had to find jobs, young people today have to invent them.

Finally, I really enjoyed the way he ended his talk. He described the suburban town near Minneapolis where he grew up, how the Jewish families became integrated with the Scandinavian families to create a tight-knit community that looked out for each other. We all need to protect, respect and connect with each other. If we are to get along and work to solve the massive problems facing our world today, we need to build and then rely on our families and our wonderfully diverse communities. Family and community have always been powerful foundations in our country, and maybe if we learn to relish the moments when people arrive late to meetings we can use the time to pause and enhance the connections that make them strong.

If you’re interested in watching his Friedman’s entire talk, Town Hall Seattle has made it available!