May  2014     Edition 102
Workplace Time Machines

The movie, ďBack To The FutureĒ featured a time machine

(car) that allowed Marty (Michael J. Fox) to go back in time changing what had already occurred, and going ahead in time, learning about something that has not yet occurred.  H.G. Wells in his classic ďThe Time MachineĒ also depicted time travel, as do many of the science fiction classics.

Putting magic and the Einsteinís theory of general relativity aside

, we all know that time travel is not possible Ö at least in todayís world.   You canít travel into the future, and then return to the present knowing about something that hasnít yet happened Ö OR CAN YOU?

A few months ago, I was listening to an XM radio station

, and the D.J. was babbling along, when I heard him say what I thought was utterly profound.  He said, ďYour car is a time machine, because you can get to a destination before someone who is walkingĒ.  He then played another song.   I turned the radio off and started to think about that statement and the definition of a Time Machine.  Hereís one definition:  
ē  A mechanism that allows you to know something about the future and use that knowledge in the present.
ē  A mechanism that allows you to change something about the past, that results in a change in the present.

While Marty physically went into the past and the future to accomplish these things, was that the only way?  What about what that radio announcer said?

Letís say itís the year 1928

.  Unbeknownst to your neighbors, you just got a car.  Normally itís a full day walk to town, but your car can make it there and back in 2 hours.  You and your tech friends are all excited about going to the electronics show the next day to see the lasted radioís and the new fangled device called an electric razor from some guy named Schick.   You decide to leave in your car early that next morning and check out the razor and are back before your friends start their journey on foot.  You say to your friends, ďOMG, wait till you see this razor Ö itís a little noisy, but no more dull blades!Ē  Your friends are perplexed.  How could you possibly know this, before the group even gets started?

Fast forward to 2014.

   We discover information at the speed of light.  If you have access to the Internet and someone else does not, then you can discover information  about something before them, and as a result, you know the future before them.   If you know the future before them, you can take some action related to that future before them, and this gives you an advantage.  Time Machine?

Now what about the workplace?

   What is it that allows you to know the future before it  happens.  What about a forecast?  Isnít that a tool to know the future?   If you can forecast  something that no one else can, or you can do it more accurately, and then take actions  related to that forecast, isnít that the same as if you had a time machine and new the future  before others did, and used that knowledge to change the present?

What other work related tasks might be considered a time machine?

   A project plan?  A financial model?  A conversation with a customer about their intentions?   Imagine if you can identify all the time machines you have and refined them to be a really good time machines.  You could have a significant advantage over others whose time machines donít exist or are less accurate.  You would have more confidence in the future; you would make better decisions about what to do now in order to take advantage of the future.  Your time machine becomes a weapon to compete!  

Some time machines are illegal.

   Insider trading for example.  Someone knows  about something thatís going to occur in the future and takes action that financially benefits them over others with that knowledge.   The SEC, and other shareholders, donít like that Time Machine.

What about changing the past,

and by doing that, you change the present.   Well .. the past is the past .. Or is it?   What if you bought something online?  Itís an hour later and you change your mind.  You can get on the internet and cancel the order.  Didnít you just modify an action you took in past that changes the future?  Where in your work can you do this?   Ever download a patch to your operating system on your PC, or Mac, or smartphone?    Isnít that changing the operating system that was installed in the past, so that it modifies how the present works?  Is a software update a time machine?    What about an historian who, by knowing about the past, doesnít do something, and avoids a bad outcome in the present or future?  If they have this knowledge and you do not, they can avoid a mistake, while you might not.  Isnít that a mechanism of a Time Machine?

The Takeaway:
  We are surrounded with Time Machines that can help us understand the future and adjust our present to take advantage of, or avoid, something that will occur in the future.  While we canít physically transport ourselves into the past, we can obtain knowledge from the past, that can change how we look at the present, and therefore change the result.  Time Travel Ö Hmmm Ö maybe we just need think about it a little differently?


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