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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Delicious Inefficiency

Initial review of survey data indicates high satisfaction with Army life 110315
Image by U.S. Army via Flickr

Around 12:55 p.m. I would turn the old-fashioned doorknob and sneak in.

There they were, Grandma and Grandpa. Two little people under a huge white downy cover. Normally talkative and debating, now quiet and intent. Snuggled together under the covers with the "rabbit ears" (old-fashioned TV antenna) extended as far out as possible.

The extended family sat on the bed, all over the bed, hanging onto our beloved grandparents. The cool April air blew fresh and clean into the wide-open windows of that little mountain house. Safe and cozy and there was no such thing as time.

My mother filed in quietly. Followed by sister. It was Passover and we weren't supposed to watch TV. We did anyway. Carried out the whole elaborate ritual so that Dad, who was more observant, could pretend not to notice.

The game of watching the soap opera was agonizingly inefficient. Yet it was beautiful. One of the best memories I have.

Watching the soap wasn't quick, either. Soaps move very, very s-l-o-w. The twists and turns burn over decades, yet the eternal characters (Bo, Hope, Stefano, Marlena, John, and Sami) stay, and stay basically the same.

Yet we are drawn to watch and follow them; Days is the #4 soap opera in the U.S. Maybe we aren't watching them as much as we used to, but when we do watch - are we wasting time?

There is this blog called the Busy Budgeting Mama. One post showed how she made a cardboard castle for her daughters for $4. I scanned it and thought, that's pretty nice for so little money!

Then I thought, that is so inefficient to spend so much time on a cardboard castle.

But the kids are beautiful. And they look happy. It didn't seem like a waste of time.

Did you see the movie The Way? I haven't yet, but I want to. It's about a dad whose son decides to go on the "Camino de Santiago" pilgrimage, and dies on the trip. The father doesn't understand the son or his pilgrimage, or why it's important at all. Until the son dies and, in the process of journeying to obtain the son's remains, dad decides to go himself.

We should spend more time the right kind of inefficiency. That's the whole premise of the runaway smash bestweller The 4-Hour Workweek. Automate what's not important so you can spend more time on what is - relationships and experiences that are un-duplicatable. That lend meaning to life.

Pursuing meaning is inherently inefficient. Learning. Relationships. Traveling. Volunteering. We should do more of all of those things.

But things that we spend time on and don't add any meaning are a waste of time. It makes sense to automate those.

Some people are afraid. Maybe they are used to inefficiency. Maybe they think it works. Maybe they want to change but worry about losing their status or even their job. What if we automated everything, the robots took over, and the rest of us were out of a job?

Worrying about that stuff is misguided. We should worry more about meaning - how to organize our society so that people can spend more time pursuing it.

What about the money? Won't we all be broke?

No. The real value that people bring to the table, at work or at home, comes from getting other people engaged. From adding meaning to THEIR lives so that they are stirred up themselves.

Because the deepest fear people have is that their entire life is meaningless.

I am willing to bet that we have the technology today to feed, clothe, house and take medical care of everyone if we would only get together and decide to make it happen. So that much of our time could be spent in school, in the lab, etc. - finding other ways to give back. 

Here is a great equation from the book Emotional Equations (first learned about from reading a guest post on Tim Ferriss' blog):

Despair = Suffering - Meaning

A good professional and personal goal is to add meaning to the local environment. Part of that is calling out what doesn't make sense. If you have the guts to identify and eliminate unnecessary inefficiencies, and to rally people toward a more sensible solution instead, then people will want you around even more.

Relationships and experiences in the service of meaning - those are what is important in life. Because they're spiritual. God puts us here to learn, and the meaning is in the discovery. Everything else is subject to automation, and ought to be.

Find a place for yourself where you can promote meaning and eliminate waste. All of your ecosystems will thank you for it.

Good luck!