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There is a huge (and curiously invisible) gap in our individual and organisational skill sets…introducing Temporal Intelligence…  

So, you have read the headline – and you are wondering - what is Temporal Intelligence? Is it a real thing? It is a term that has been around (in the margins) for c. 20 years and has been used by a small group of researchers/writers to describe ideas and studies relating to time and organisational life. I became fascinated by this area some years ago and have been steadily developing a much more comprehensive insight into the area. I NOW WANT TO SHARE MY THINKING ON TEMPORAL INTELLIGENCE AND GET YOUR INSIGHTS – because I believe it has real value for individuals, organisations and ultimately society.

So, what is my (working definition) of Temporal Intelligence?

Temporal Intelligence (TI) covers the mindsets, strategies, techniques, and tools available to enhance our understanding,

That are (some) of the headlines?

Give me some examples?

1. The fourth dimension does not exist

What is missing from this conversation? Manager to team member – “I would like you to do this task; let me tell you why it’s important, and I know you have the knowledge and skills to complete it” This is (roughly) what the output looks like…oh and can you get it to me by Friday week?

Well, it all sounds like good delegation, but where is the question about duration (missed by 95% of managers in my sample)? How long will it take you (hours or days)? Why is this Temporal aspect important to understand? How can the team member make a promise of on time delivery without “sizing” the task? How will they know where to place it within all the other tasks /priorities? So, this leads up to poor personal resource management and a greater likelihood of failure to deliver. Now if the manager does ask for an estimate – let’s say the answer comes back as 10 hours, the team member can consider (with accuracy) when it can be done and what else might need to slip. They should also track their actual time (again by simply using Outlook or similar) – thus learning how to estimate more accurately. With this new focus on time - the next time a similar task comes up the manager can ask – the last time you did this it you told me it (actually) took c. 11 hours – please reflect on this and come back with an optimised personal lead time – and (satisfyingly) the new, leaner approach takes the team member 7 hours. Good project managers and perhaps the professional service firms work this way – but few others… Imagine everyone in your organisation thinking this way!

2. We have no idea how much our change projects cost

I have worked for many years as a Business Transformation consultant – and I have noticed that most Business Cases for the change projects in organisations are missing a huge component…you guessed it - the time taken by internal, salaried staff to contribute to change projects. It is a tale of two tribes – the first tribe – the hired help on day rates are managed closely, with project managers really expecting high levels of productivity every day and then the in-house tribe who are part of the project team – and no-one appears interested in how long they spend working on the project (aside from perhaps their line manager if they are juggling between the two). Why is this? Well, it seems to me that the Finance Team in most organisations treat salaried staff as a “sunk cost” – so unless they can be made redundant (in extremis) what they do day to day – timewise does not seem to matter! So, the outcome of this wanton disregard of time is often (significantly) under costed business cases, all kinds of back fill problems and no pressure for salaried staff to learn the skills and temporal mindsets of consultants. In addition, there is an accompanying factor of organisational opportunity cost – we only have a finite resource of salaried, inhouse staff – did we pick the right change work to complete from a cost/benefit perspective? So again, a glimpse of a lack of Temporal Intelligence at play

3. Time really is money

Call centres and factories run on temporal intelligence – team leaders agonise about how many calls per shift can be answered or how many minutes it takes to assemble a product. Offices do not have this focus – and this leads to all kinds of gaps in performance. Once you really start focussing on time (at a deep organisational cultural level) – lots of good things can happen: -

 Meetings can become measured in terms of productivity per minute – facilitation / and collaborative tools such as MS Teams / Miro / Mural etc to name a few become vital tools – we become obsessed with meeting process as well as content. Re-imagined Temporally Intelligent meetings are faster/cheaper, more focussed and reach better decisions

 Communications outputted by employees become measured in terms of how quickly the latest information can be absorbed and whether required actions happen? In my experience the number of emails that go into “pending/read later/never” folder right away is dispiriting and leads to endless chasing up of people! Given the time losses, it becomes important to upskill your key communicators in structured thinking and good business language use – as this becomes vital to the agility / profitability of the organisation

 Even office organisation starts to be a key concern. The Temporally Intelligent workforce embraces Lean concepts – especially value add vs. nonvalue add task differentiation. No more cluttered and misnamed directories on the shared drive. Instructions and job aids become vital tools to save time and support occasional, less remembered tasks. The entire workplace – physical and digital is engineered to recognise the time/cost equation

 The benefits of change projects are expanded to include time savings attributed to salaried staff – because we now understand that the time saved can generate profitability or value in other ways. Temporally Intelligent organisations produce benefits management schedules that account for first-, second- and third-degree benefits  

There are many more examples like this – all driven by the time / cost argument that forms a key concept within Temporal Intelligence

4. Our Cognitive Time Machine

I studied / trained in Humanistic Psychology for many years – and I was particularly intrigued by the body of thinking on how we represent time internally and how these can be laid out externally. These timelines can be used in several ways to enhance one’s Temporal Intelligence. For example. individuals can learn how to move back and forth along their own timeline and revisit moments in the past or travel to points in the future. This sounds a bit weird but there are significant tools here for all kinds of business applications. Revisiting past work events to extract learnings is extremely helpful – and this can be done by helping individuals to fully immerse in the sensory input of that time. Great for unearthing learnings (via skilled coaching) and making “tweaks” that seem to impact on present performance in positive ways.

Another use of timeline thinking is to enhance visioning and planning for the future. I use the phrase “Inflection Point” to describe a point in time where a team or organisation needs to decide on its way forward. In conventional business terms this is known of course as Strategy Formulation. The infection point is a critical juncture – and in practice (as explored in recent films) many future “Multiverses” simultaneously exist. In my experience many organisations take a somewhat limited approach working with a few strategic options – discussed on paper using business language. A carefully facilitated Temporal Intelligence approach helps us to be more fluid - exploring many multiverses (MV’s) – and fully immersing the decision makers in each one. Multiple adjustments can be made to each MV until the most favoured one is discovered. The approach can be completed at relative speed – allows decision makers to confirm the strategic destination and all the required steps needed to achieve it! Strategy formulation using Temporal Intelligence makes full use of our nascent cognitive time machine capabilities

So, what does developing Temporal Intelligence look like for individuals and organisations?

Firstly, it is important to say that there are many more (not described here) applied uses of Temporal Intelligence, and I am discovering more by the week! In practice it looks like several super charged “thought ware add-ins” to existing management thinking and training. The concepts / skills and tools can be taught – ideally starting with senior stakeholders and then cascading the Temporal Intelligence “thought ware add-ins” to the whole organisation. This is a “leaders-led” implementation that allows role modelling and sponsorship.

What are the benefits?

The benefits are widespread and significant. Part of a Temporal Intelligence Programme is of course to measure the AS IS and forecast/track the journey towards the desired TO BE. Tracking is achieved via 1) a dashboard of quantitative KPI’s and 2) an overarching “Temporal Intelligence Maturity Model” that also measures qualitative changes. My current thinking is that a mature development of Temporal Intelligence could conservatively save between 10 – 20% of annual operating costs (1st degree benefits over an 18-month implementation) plus deliver many 2nd and 3rd degree benefits

There is a final more profound benefit. I have worked with upwards of fifty organisations in recent years – my Temporal Intelligence radar senses that most are “time loose” in the sense that time is not a critical component (aside from were deadlines come into play – which is of course another story!). So, employees workday stretch, whether they are working in person or virtually – robbing time from the rest of their lives i.e., attending to family, friends, personal health, and their wider community. I believe that a Temporally Intelligent organisation could broker a deal with their workforce – we will help you work in a “Time tight” way – so that 9 to 5 (or there abouts) becomes an awesomely productive period – and the other half of the bargain is that employees finish (more or less on time) and maximise the rest of their lives. So Temporal Intelligence leads to a productive organisation, a happy and healthy workforce and a more socially developed community – who wouldn’t want that?

How can I get involved in further developing this thinking or implementing in my organisation?

This set of ideas borrows from and interacts with my other important ideas and tools – Lean, Agile, Smart Working and Humanistic Psychology. Many of you will have greater wisdom derived from these ideas and learning ecosystems. I am keen to hear from you with the aim of develop these Temporal Intelligence ideas further.

If you are interested in exploring these ideas and the potential benefits – please contact me on or on 07956 290 127

Paul Wahlhaus

Director – Shifting Minds Consultancy

September 2022