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Time: That non-recyclable asset!

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Thursday, 27 March 2014 00:00


Time is quite a precious asset and most of the time we behave as well as force others to engage in without an iota of consideration towards this important asset. Given to us naturally and shared among the humanity equally, we take time for granted. We watch time go by and watch while we amuse ourselves. I dare say that you do need amusement but too much of any good thing is not quite good and at this stage we are going through a period where some intensity of commitment is necessary from most of us, if not from all of us! Post-war Germany and post-war Japan are examples of societies that arose from piles of ash primarily due to the commitment and attitude of the workforce and due to their citizenry coming together as one. If we follow the wisdom as espoused by Marthe Curting – that time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time – I think I do not have an opening argument to my column today. I do want to precisely tackle the issue of enjoyment too as I am a lone believer that we are currently enjoying ourselves bit too much at the expense of our future. I side with the philosophy of Andy Warhole – they always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself, hence my little attempt in penning this column. I do come from a school whose motto is ‘Appa Mado Amatha Padam,’ the message taken being ‘Diligence leads to Perfection,’ over the more accurate ‘Heedfulness is the path to the Deathless’. In diligence or in heedfulness, the awareness of time as a factor is embedded and the need to be engaged in meritorious acts is the theme central! However, I am quite interested to know whether the majority of school-leavers of my second school today understand and practice the motto.   Measuring time It is interesting when reading Dr. C.G. Uragoda’s book on ‘Traditions of Sri Lanka’ that in early Sri Lanka we did measure time and our measurement system was the exact opposite of the current global practice. Sri Lankans had 60 hours per day and 24 minutes per hour. Historical recording of these facts we owe very much to Robert Knox. Interesting indeed it would be if we are to check into the line of thought of our forefathers and how this situation evolved. It also implies that we have been conscious of time and we took pains to measure and plan and that sure indicates a difference to the oft-commented attribute of us in recent times – always late or not adhering to time. These are attributes we certainly should be working on with a view to change. Nobody speaks of setting your watch by the arrival of a train or bus here in Sri Lanka as in Germany and these are the gaps in perceptions that need to be bridged if we are to occupy the world stage.   Time as an asset With the conflict situation managed quite satisfactorily which had plagued the economy and the society for three decades, the decade on from that V-day has to be managed with diligence. The development is all about managing your assets well in a resourceful manner and time as an asset needs to be similarly considered. Each passing month or a year without a meaningful advance is going to be an irreplaceable loss. Time cannot be recycled as once lost it is lost forever and this is unique for time as an asset. We know that material and energy assets do not lose in value but in quality and hence recoverable and recyclable. We design and build systems based on the laws of conservation of mass and energy. Time is the third asset that we deploy and we only have productivity as the measurement parameter. Individuals become smarter when they understand how to leverage time and become productive. Excellent time management is a key in career progression. Singapore used just three decades in its transformation and those senior Singaporeans still articulate the need to be vigilant and attentive and not lose oneself to comforts offered.   An ageing society As time passes, we age and societies do have evolving patterns of demography. While our neighbouring India is considered to be on its way to becoming the ‘Young Man of the World,’ the story for Sri Lanka is different. We are an ageing society and this is going to add to our development challenge in the current timeframe. Time is challenging us to be more productive while we can. The strength and stamina of a young dynamic workforce is vital. Today we are finding ourselves with an ageing population and even the reminder wishes to engage them in not-too-challenging occupations. Take an analytical look at what is on offer to our masses in general. We spent quite a time discussing and reading about others and usually the discussions are quite general and it is easy to see the ‘gossip’ factor and the ‘trivial’ nature of discussions and write-ups. Our favourite TV shows demonstrate this very well. Whole families watch together and then expect someone to appear through the door bearing gifts as reward for staying loyal. With very much of a poor diet being served for the brain, it is no wonder that it is easy to propagate false alarms and scare communities to death. A case in point is that we have not been able to communicate that pH as single criteria for judging whether the water is potable or not is not right. With the public at large firmly with the idea that low pH directly implies that the water should not be consumed, the belief and subsequent action had turned into a social and an industrial nightmare. The occupations we seek are not too challenging either. Hard work is shunned and cosy working environments with pensions as security and assured pays are much more looked forward to, even when the salary is poor. I think those from the manufacturing sector can give many an example if employees who opted to move into pensionable posts even with low salaries when opportunities were offered. This type of developments leave one nonplussed with difficulties in comprehending the modern youngster.   Lean enterprise Organisations transform to be lean organisations and the main goal is getting rid of waste. Transforming oneself into a lean enterprise is a serious journey and involves all levels. Wastage of time is tackled upfront and processes scrutinised to bring start to finish ever more closer with the resulting reduced time to market or time to implementation. Many an organisation in our landscape can follow these concepts and the initial evaluation results should be quite interesting. As for a broader example, the UK it says a reason for business being great in Great Britain is due to the presence of a supportive, entrepreneurial environment. It is exemplified by indicating that the time taken to set up a business is 13 days and the time needed to register a company is just 24 hours. The comparable values for Sri Lanka are indicated in the Ease of Doing Business index by IFC. We should benchmark our processes and seriously attend to observations as such discrepancies simply stem from manmade regulations and some merely stay on oblivious to technological changes. Timeliness is a key category when evaluating an organisation and when one takes one’s own sweet time over a decision, we see mean organisations!   Change mindsets We do have a saying “nikam awa” and having entered a household may take hours for the discussion to end. The same is happening across many an office cubicle too. The possibilities can be extended to many a corridor of power. As the greeting conveys, there really is no fixed reason for dropping by. While there is a useful cultural element of openness, friendliness and tolerance, the extremities in this practice can only deliver negative results. While we may be carpeting roads, paving the way for pedestrians and putting concrete to raise tall structures, there is an urgent need today to change our mindsets to understand the value of time and inculcate respect for each passing moment. Adding life to infrastructure, surely we must acknowledge, does depend on this. [The writer is Professor of Chemical and Process Engineering at the University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka. With an initial BSc Chemical engineering Honours degree from Moratuwa, he proceeded to the University of Cambridge for his PhD. He is the Project Director of COSTI (Coordinating Secretariat for Science, Technology and Innovation), which is a newly established State entity with the mandate of coordinating and monitoring scientific affairs. He can be reached via email on ajith@cheng.mrt.ac.lk.]

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