Issue 130, October 12, 2023
We’re picking up on a theme we’ve been hearing recently. It’s not exactly a new idea, but it resonates as we are challenged by living in an increasingly disruptive and disturbing world. It is, quite simply, living in the present.
Professor Scott Galloway (love him or not) has increasingly peppered his critical commentaries with the realization that his career has been defined by planning for the future informed by the past. His existential question is “Was I ever really here?” He wonders if he was ever in the now, the here, the moment.
It’s a good question to ask yourself when under pressure to outperform, out-innovate, and out-compete. If we are constantly scenario planning for an uncertain future and judging ourselves on the past, to Galloway’s question, are we really here in the moment?
So, we’re taking a slight departure from many of our recent newsletters. We’re exploring the paradoxical nature of living in the present, and we went to an inventor, artist and big thinker, Scott Thrift. He has built a business on The Present, which has captured our imagination. The Present is a collection of handcrafted timepieces that offer a more meaningful way of measuring time by revealing the present moment within life’s natural cycles. To give some context, he has engineered a 365-day “clock,” (illustrated above) and a monthly moon phase timepiece – all calibrated to your location. These unconventional timepieces give you a dramatically different understanding of time, the passing of time, and the present. Why does this matter?
Defining the Present
Living in the present sounds like an Eastern philosophy, which many Westerners might dismiss offhand. Since the present is the cornerstone of Thrift’s work, we interviewed him to hear what he has to say on the topic. “I will begin by stating what the present is not. The present is not a hairline fracture between the past and the future unless you measure it that way. How we measure time is how we measure life, and depending on how you measure it, you may find the present is broader and more welcoming than our conventional clocks lead us to believe.
“The present is the fluid moment in which we live, free from the worrisome baggage of our past or the anxiety of our future expectations. It is at the heart of being alive and the only time real action and decision-making occur. While our history offers lessons and the future holds possibilities, the present is our point of power.”
That’s a philosophical platform that can be hard to grasp in an everyday, information barraged world. So, he gave us a simple analogy. “The present is akin to the vast expanse of an ocean. Just as the sea is not merely the waves on its surface, the present isn’t just a fleeting moment we experience; it’s the totality of our existence. When we look at a single wave, we see an event shaped by the ocean’s depth, currents, and even distant wind patterns. This wave, though momentarily visible, is influenced by the vast hidden dynamics below and around it. Similarly, each moment we experience, whether turbulent like crashing waves or serene like a calm sea, is deeply rooted in the vastness of the present. Just as one cannot separate a wave from the ocean, we cannot separate any moment from the present. By recognizing and connecting with this profound depth and expanse within us we can truly enrich our experience of life.”
Resisting the Present
This all may sound poetic (or romantic or prosaic), but the idea of living in the present can help us understand and transcend some of the more difficult issues that face us professionally and personally.
If the present is so desirable, we asked Thiift why most people resist living in the present. Here’s what he said: “Most people resist living in the present due to ingrained habits, external pressures, and internal thought patterns. Here’s a practical breakdown:
- Conditioned Thinking: From an early age, constantly thinking ahead becomes part of our conditioning. We learn to plan for the future by preparing for tests in school to setting career goals. While forward-thinking is beneficial, it often dominates our mindset, overshadowing the present moment.
- External Pressures: In today’s hyper-connected world, everyone drinks from a firehouse of information and distractions. Technology, social media, and a 24/7 news cycle keep our brains in a state of perpetual stimulation, pulling us away from the inherent value of the current moment.
- Fear and Anxiety: Many live with anxieties about the future or regrets about the past, which act as barriers to being present. By dwelling on past mistakes or worrying about future challenges, we trap ourselves in a temporal tug-of-war.
- Desire for Control: Living in the present requires surrender, a letting go of the illusion of control. Many resist this because we believe that by constantly planning and analyzing, we can control outcomes and avoid discomfort.
- Misunderstanding of Mindfulness: There’s a misconception that being present means being passive or disengaged from life’s challenges. In reality it’s about engaging more fully and responding to life’s situations with clarity rather than reacting out of habit.
- Cultural Values: Many cultures value ‘busyness’ as a sign of productivity and worth. This constant focus on being overwhelmed can create a mindset of slowing down and savoring the present feels counterintuitive or even lazy.”
The Present at Work
So, understanding the value of the present clearly has benefits, but what’s its application to running an organization? How can you balance the present with the past and the future? “In business terms, it’s the ‘Now’ in which deals are closed, strategies executed, and results realized. Being present means fully engaging with the task or situation at hand, with clarity and genuine trust in oneself or the team. It’s about being fluid and adaptable, content with impermanence, alive and ready.
“Running a business is a dance between the past, the present, and the future. The past provides lessons, the present offers opportunities, and the future holds visions and goals. To maintain a healthy balance: Learn from the past but act in the present. Planning for the future requires mindful decision-making.” And here’s the real insight: Encourage presence in your team by promoting a work culture where employees are supported to be adaptable and present for their roles. Thrift adds, “Remember, it’s not about favoring one-time frame over the others but about harmonizing them. By acknowledging the interconnectedness of the past, present, and future, business leaders can navigate the complex web of any market with clarity and purpose.”
In conclusion, it’s tempting to think that living in the present can be an excuse for bad behavior in the past or the future. But Thrift believes the opposite is true. Living in the present makes us accountable Being present also involves understanding the consequences of one’s actions. If we are smart, we learn from the past and not repeat our mistakes.
As Thrift says, “Being present is another way of saying being alive. The only differentiation is how conscious you are of that fact. The more conscious you are of being alive, of feeling alive, of being adaptable and ready for anything, the richer life becomes. The more unconscious you are, the more rigid and fearful; the less alive you are, the less you feel, and the less rich life becomes.
“Nothing is complicated about being present; it’s the easiest thing you can do; you’re already doing it.”
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