20 March 2010

Let's Plan to Plan

Americans are not the most punctual bunch on the planet, but are probably the most meticulous time planners.  Warning to Americans planning on visiting Russia:  Plan to have your time management strategies frustrated by a culture that operates on a different clock.
The Great Salvador Dali, 1931
In general, there is an inverse relationship between an American's education and income level and the amount of unplanned time on his calendar.  It follows, then, that the more accomplished a person is, the busier he tends to be.  I once invited Dr. Aart de Geus to UC Berkeley event.  Aart is the CEO of Synopsys and an exceptionally nice person.  His response to the invitation was something like "I am sorry, but my calendar is booked for the next year.  Please contact my assistant so that I can attend the following year."

Most Americans are not as busy as Aart, but his case does show the American tendency to plan the future with a high degree of precision.  This planning tendency applies to both business and social calendars.

Russian social calendar setting operates on a different philosophy.  The following dialog exemplifies the difference in an imagined conversation between two friends in Moscow, one Russian, the other American:
A:  Let's meet this Saturday.
R:  Sounds good.
A:  How is 3:00 pm?
R:  Why don't you call me on Saturday morning so that we can set a time?
A:  If you are busy at 3, how is 4:00 pm?
R:  OK, but call me on Saturday morning so that we can confirm the time.
A:  How about 2:00 pm then?
R:  Just call me on Saturday morning so that we can set the time.
A: What are you doing on Saturday?  Let's just set the time and be over with it.
R: I don't know what I will be doing, so I don't know exactly when I will be available.  Call me Saturday, because I will know then.
A: Why don't you fix this event on your Saturday calendar and plan you events around it?
R: Are you hard of hearing, or is there something else wrong with you?  I told you to call me on Saturday so we can fix the time.
A: Boy, what a strange place ... how can you guys live with so much uncertainty?
Looking at the US from the outside, there is something peculiar - and probably unhealthy - about our hyper-planned American lifestyle.  However, making plans to plan later is ... well ... at least un-American.

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