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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : Fall 2004 : Frankel-y Speaking

Frankel-y Speaking

It's About Time
There's a "slow food" movement. Why not a "slow Business" movement, too?

By Senior Columnist Carl Frankel

Frankel-y Speaking

It used to be, when a person didn’t get back to you, you knew why: you were being dissed. You weren’t interesting enough, or important enough, to warrant a reply.

Now you can’t be sure. It’s just as likely, nowadays, that they haven’t found the time. And that creates a problem. How’s a person to know when to feel insulted? Ah, for the good old days, when one could nurse one’s grievances with confidence!

There are many reasons why people can no longer find the time to honor basic protocol. I’d name them all, only I haven’t got the, um, time. Instead, I’ll focus on the mother of all time-accelerators (and quite a mother it is)—technology. Remember how personal computers were supposed to make life more efficient and save gobs of time for us? Things didn’t quite work out that way, did they? We now live in what I think of as “techno-time.” Because of the personal computer, most of us are our own secretary; that’s an extra job we’re doing, without any boost in pay. Computers also amplify our networks of connection enormously. While that’s enormously beneficial in many ways, it’s a stressor, too. It means that many more relationships to sustain.

Speaking of sustaining, you may be wondering what this has to do with sustainability. The answer is: a lot. As I’ve often argued in these pages, sustainability isn’t only about fixing things “out there,” in the external world. It’s also about developing the internal resources to recognize the challenges we face and confront them appropriately. It’s about “capacity-building,” inside ourselves and also in the world.

This need to build interior capacity requires us to confront our relationship with time. Is it possible to lead a sustainable life when we’re racing as fast as we can to keep from slipping off the treadmill? Can businesses be sustainable—can they even begin to be sustainable—when the people who run them are caught up in this manic (okay, crazy!) world? Under these conditions, can right relationships be developed? Can right decisions be made? Can right connections be discovered? Since I’m immersed in techno-time myself, I can’t say for sure—but I suspect not.

I address this problem in my recently published book, Out of the Labyrinth (title in flashing neon, please). In that book, I propose that we all have three subpersonalities: the strategist who occupies the “objective domain,” the citizen who inhabits the “social domain,” and the seeker who explores the “depth dimension.” Two of these subpersonalities are especially relevant to this discussion—the strategist and the seeker. The strategist strives to achieve goals as quickly and as effectively as possible. “Get there fast, faster, fastest” is that person’s mantra. The depth dimension, which is where the seeker lives, is very different. This is where time slows down—stops, even, for the depth dimension is where we experience eternity, which is what we are left with when time disappears.

Our world is dominated by the strategist’s way of doing things. In consequence, we are immersed in techno-time. Or, better said, techno-time consumes us. It’s like a monster smacking its lips as we slowly disappear.

Serving as fodder for a time machine that is hurtling ever faster into an unpredictable, but seemingly ominous, future is manifestly unsustainable. The objective domain—the strategist’s way—must not be allowed to dominate. We must integrate the rhythms and intuitions of the depth dimension into our policies and practices. Sustainability requires this. And that means, among other things, slowing down time.

You may have heard of the “slow food” movement, a counterpoint to the “fast food” culture that has transformed eating from a leisurely social event into a fast track to obesity. Why not a “slow business” movement, too? Call me a dreamer, but I can imagine such an approach building brand reputation and being a striking success. Strategically, a “slow business” would focus on going deeper, not spreading itself too thin. It would mean fewer, stronger, more stable partnerships. It would mean steady, solid growth, products built to last, and tremendous customer loyalty. It would mean values that had time to ripen in the balmier air of a less hurried, more reflective way of being in the world.

And, oh yes, one more thing: it would mean basic civility, like people getting back to you. It would give us back the simple pleasure of knowing when we’ve been dissed.

Carl Frankel can be contacted at: For more information about Out of the Labrynth, visit:

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