Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

I don’t know much, but I know this:

No story ever ends well when it begins with the following, panicked question, “Does that clock have the correct time??!!”

Today’s story is no exception. Here’s what happened…

I came home for lunch yesterday and I noticed that the digital clock on top of the stove was flashing “1:07 PM.”

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So I asked my wife, Linda, “Hey, did the power go off this morning?”

She said, “Yes, but just for a few seconds.”

So I punched a few buttons to stop the flashing and started the clock going again … at 1:07 PM.

I had plenty of time before needing to leave for my 1:45 meeting up the street, so I looked through the mail, pet the dog, made myself a sandwich (egg salad), and sat down to eat with Linda.

I checked the stove clock several times over the next few minutes, to make sure I was still on schedule. No problem … PUH-LENTY OF TIME.

I told you this wasn’t going to end well.

Because a couple of minutes later, I looked up at a different clock – the battery-operated clock above the kitchen table – and saw that it read 1:50 PM!

That’s more or less when I uttered the panicked question referenced earlier: “Does that clock have the correct time??!!”

Linda casually checked her watch. “Yep,” she said.

Suddenly it all made sense. What happened was that when the power went out (at about 12:20), the stove clock reset itself to noon, losing twenty minutes in the process. An hour or so later, when I wandered into the house, I assumed (incorrectly) that 1:07 was the current time.

Needless to say, I was late for my meeting.

But it did get me thinking. Thinking about how easy it is to get fixated on one source of “truth,” and use it over and over again, all the while ignoring other, possibility better, possibly conflicting sources of information.

In my case, and despite the fact that there are five clocks in my kitchen – three digital, two analog – I insisted on paying attention to just one … the wrong one.

In terms of running a business, the same kind of thing can happen to each of us, in our own way, every day.

We monitor the same two or three stats for our web site; we participate in the same discussion forums every week; we read the same handful of blogs; we attend the same conferences; we talk to the same people. And on and on and on.

We soak up lots of information, but since it always comes from the same few sources, all we ever get are slight variations on the same thing.

That’s a problem. It’s a problem because the big ideas for your business – whether that means big opportunities to take advantage of or big dangers to watch out for – aren’t going to reveal themselves if you never look beyond the same, old, comfortable places.

I remember once reading that a disproportionate number of new businesses were started by people who moved to a different part of the country.

It didn’t matter where they moved to or from – it was the change in perspective that allowed them to see what was missing or broken or necessary in their new location.

But it’s not easy; we’re all creatures of habit. Here are some things that have worked for me in gaining a new perspective (clocks not withstanding):

  • Use different information. If, for example, you only pay attention to the number of unique visitors to your web site each month, add something different to the mix. On which pages do people spend the most time? What browsers generate the most traffic? In which parts of the world do site visitors live?
    It doesn’t matter so much what you choose, so long as it’s something you haven’t considered before.
  • Read new things. Buy a newspaper that you’ve never bought before. Read a book that has nothing to do with the type of work you do. Find a new blog, or newsletter (keep this one) or online magazine.
  • Break some habits. Drive to work along a different route. Sit in a different chair at the next meeting. Put your shoes on tomorrow morning in a different place (I mean a different part of your house; I still recommend putting them on your feet – Ha Ha!).

Here’s the bottom line. I know you don’t have time to analyze every stat, read every article or attend every event. But the fallback from that doesn’t have to be never trying anything new.

Mix it up – even if it’s just in little ways – every chance you get. If your experience is anything like mine, the new information and perspective you gain from these side trips will be the source of your best and most important ideas.

Gotta go. I have a strange feeling that I might be late for something …

P.S. I know you’ve had this song in your head since reading the title of today’s newsletter. Go ahead, take a stroll back to 1982 by clicking this link and watching the entire thing, sung by a guy who looks a little bit too much like my dentist.

12 thoughts on “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

  1. Jenny Engle

    I actually followed some links on twitter from guys who seem to spend their lives there! Most were not worth the time. Seth Godin always makes me think. Chicago has the best brass! Still love them. EWF, too. Every clock in my house has a different time, so I know when I get into the car, I have a few extra minutes.

  2. Laura Ellis

    I’m a real estate sales rep. Instead of going to Real Estate seminars, (where I will only network with other RE people, who will never buy or sell a house with me, or refer me and who will only teach me the same things my competitors are learning), I go to the big city (Toronto) to small business seminars with people from all kinds of other businesses. I might get a new client this way, but I will definitely get a different perspective on how to run my business and maybe find that nugget that makes me waaay different from everyone else in the same area and industry.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Love that idea Laura. BTW, the book “Different” has a lot of great ideas on that approach. The author is Youngme Moon. Highly recommended.

  3. Lauren

    Our sister site has a clock that can help you with this. 😉

    As for “side trips”, I took an amazing design class in college that focused on using lateral thinking as a way to brainstorm. I describe it as figuring how to get from point A to Point B via 42. When trying to come up with an idea for something I will pretty much say whatever comes to mind, whether it makes sense or not. I’ll go out of my way to think of the goofiest ideas I can FIRST, then I’ll find myself coming up with really good suggestions.

  4. Mark Wayland

    Good morning Michael,(It’s Saturday morning here in Sydney, Australia)
    Your post made me thing again about what Alfie Kohn says in his Punished by Rewards book, that summed this whole thing up perfectly:

    “There is a time to admire the grace and persuasive power of an influential idea, and a time to fear its hold over us.

    The time to worry is when the idea is so widely shared that we no longer even notice it; when it is so deeply rooted that it feels to us like plain common sense.

    At the point when objections are not answered any more because they are no longer even raised, we are not in control.

    We do not have the idea. It has us.”


    1. Michael Katz Post author


      Hello from “Up Over,” or however you refer to us Americans.

      That’s a great quote too. You leave me no choice, however, but to tell my Alfie Kohn story…

      About 20 years ago, I was was marketing manager for a cable company in Cambridge, Massachusetts. One day I get a call from a very angry customer who identifies himself as Alfie Kohn. I had no idea he lived locally, but his name had always stuck in my head.

      So I said I’d be glad to hear what the problem was, but first, I wanted to know if he was the same Alfie Kohn who wrote the article called “The Case Against Competition.” He said he was and I went on to (sincerely) tell him how influential it had been in my view of the way companies should operate and how terrific I thought it was.

      He said thanks, told me his complaint wasn’t really important, and wished me a nice day. I guess it pays to read stuff!

  5. Evelyn

    Good Monday morning Michael!

    To keep on my toes and get some new perspective regularly, I:

    – subscribe to the Merriam-Webster “Word of the Day” to learn new words and learn etymology of those I already know.

    – Make an effort to meet 2-3 new people at every networking event I attend that I would like to know and then follow-up with coffee or lunch with them. I keep in touch after that – broadening both my contacts and my perspective.

    – Talk to my teenage children. I even run an occasional business situation by them. You’d be surprised how insightful and creative they can be, even coming up with solutions I didn’t see!

    I am reading “Different” now, and see how it has inspired your last couple of e-newsletters. Wonderful insights, and plays right to my occasional impish tendencies. (BTW, thanks for the book recommendation – I got it based on your LinkedIn review).


    1. Laura Ellis

      I love that you run things by your teens! I have a couple at home too, and they really do have a great aptitude for cutting through B.S. and for making one look at issues from a different perspective (especially when they are trying to get you to say “yes” to something that will likely be a “no”! lol)

      And I will definitely pick up “Different”. Thanks to you and Michael for the recommendation

    2. Michael Katz Post author

      I agree with Laura — the teens idea is a great one!

      And yes, Different is a terrific book. I saw her speak at an event recently and it was even better.

  6. Katherine Andes

    I hate to say this, but when I pick up my dogs’ messes I always follow a path in one direction, then I turn around and retrace my steps, seeing it from a different angle. Even when I think I’ve captured all those poopies on the first swoop, I’m always amazed at what I missed.

    It’s also interesting to walk a neighborhood you always drive through. Slowing down by walking makes you see things you never saw even though you passed by the same house hundreds of time.


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