Buying time and happiness

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Every so often I get invited to present at a startup event or business-something-or-other. Over the years I’ve developed a few slides that I think hold unconventional ways of looking at what makes for a good business idea. These slides have often led to some interesting debate and discussions. In this and other upcoming articles, I’ll share some of those concepts. The first is our obsession with time.

Every business sells time

Time considerations are tightly bound to arguably every action we take. Today’s inventions, solutions, and technologies allow us to live what just a couple of centuries ago would fill multiple lifetimes because we have managed to compress long processes into short actions to make things happen in previously inconceivably short periods of time. The combined distances traveled by the average person in the developed world today would likely fill decades of a lifetime a few hundred years ago.

Consider fire, human beings discovered fire thousands of years ago. It became an essential part of life for heat, cooking food, and warding off predators. When we first discovered fire the process of starting a fire was long, cumbersome, and required skill. You had to go and find the wood. You needed to know which types of wood would burn better. If it wasn’t dry it needed to be sun-dried. The wood had to be placed in a safe space, away from where it could cause a forest fire. You had to arrange the sticks that would be used to rub together to generate a flame in the way you had been taught (and spent some time practicing) to start the fire. It took a while.

Fast forward thousands of years and consider the matchstick. Today you simply find a matchbox or lighter and in a matter of seconds, you have a flame. Lighters and matches are a simple example of how we have compressed all the processes which could have potentially taken hours and made the goal of lighting a fire instantly possible. That is an example of the power of time compression that every single business now applies.

Consciously or unconsciously, time has become our obsession since we became aware of it.

There are things that we don’t mind spending some relatively uncompressed time on. Things like playing with your kids or you might have a hobby like gardening. Still, even these pastimes, I would argue, have been compressed by having ready-made toys, tools, manuals and books or by choosing to live in a house with a manageable amount of land.

We have managed to condense the triggers of achievement and joy we get from making progress by cutting down the amount of time required to execute our goals.

Businesses seek to find ways to make the goals that their customers have achievable in the shortest frame of time, using the least possible resources, at the lowest cost and while offering the most amount of joy. Being able to execute this repeatedly at scale, I would argue, is the underlying goal of all ambitious businesses. Apart from a seeming counter-trend in mindfulness, yoga and sleep, hardly ever would you be ok with a solution to extend the amount of time that is required for the same outcome to be achieved. The fact that we need to schedule and manage mindfulness, yoga, and sleep, which are all multibillion-dollar industries, supports the argument more than it opposes it. If you know of some mainstream counter-trends, please share.

The adage that time is money is true since you buy things that save you time, make life easier and bring you joy with money you made using up your time and effort.

We want to spend less time and effort working for the time we buy.

Why does any of this matter? Well, we want to live positive experience-packed lives full of achievement, satisfaction, easy access, immersive communication, and deep meaning, that is borderless, limitless, and instant. We want to live concentrated lives. When thinking about what customers REALLY want, we sometimes undervalue the impact of simply reducing the time it takes to get things done.

What perhaps can best be described as achievement, happiness and opinion comparison are fast becoming a major form of ‘entertainment’

We spend time comparing the way we spend our time to be sure we are making the most of our time, or alternatively, live vicariously through the lives, achievements, and highs of others who are getting the outcomes we want. It’s why we pay money to sit still through a two-hour emotional roller coaster of a story while watching a movie. It’s why we spend our limited time and attention flicking through the lives of people we know, the people that they know, and total strangers on social media. It’s why we are open to the idea of a driverless car where we can continue to apply all our faculties to other tasks without distractions like the road ahead. It’s why self-help books, hacks, YouTube, and most of the successful media we consume have seen an unprecedented rise. It’s why we are ready to switch over, at will, to a virtual world that we have self-crafted to deliver us a higher intensity of existence in the meta-verse.

Knowing and understanding this human tendency to want continuity of achievement and enjoyment throughout every moment of our existence informs the products we make and how we build them up and join them up to deliver this unceasing enjoyment. Whether or not that is a good thing is debatable, however, it is the ideal we are collectively pursuing so it’s probably a good thing for us to be at least mindful of where we are heading.

On a more practical note, thinking more deeply about timesaving as a customer outcome and time compression in user experience is a good way to think up new business ideas or ways of improving products, building loyalty, motivating staff, framing sales pitches, and a lot more. Looking around you, what action, task, process, or tool if made slightly more expedient would improve the lives of people around you. Start there. Figure it out and, voila, you might just be on to a winner.

Until we can have our ideal needs met at the speed of thought, literally every existing and emerging industry is up for grabs.

If you are an entrepreneur, business, or startup and want to explore your options on time constraints and opportunities then reach out to [email protected]