Nicholas Berggruen is a billionaire. He also is a very deep and big thinker who founded the Nicholas Berggruen Instititute, a think tank devoted to global governance. It is non-partisan and includes a who’s who of academics, elected officials, and others who are thinking about ways to make the world work better.

I happened across an article about him in Pacific Standard called The Freethinking Homeless Billionaire and the Flat Broke State. First I was fascinated by the fact that he is the antithesis of the typical billionaire. He owns no home, has few clothes and those he has are run down a bit, and pretty much forgoes the accumulated trappings of wealth. Then I became intrigued by how he has decided to devote the rest of his life…and his huge wealth…to fixing democracy.

As I read more about his ideas I began to realize that what he came to understand about success in government needs to be applied more widely in the world of business: Time to Think. He came to realize that “having the space and time to think and plan was the greatest of luxuries.” He now schedules lots of time to just think.

He also noticed a difference in the way officials in the West and those in some Asian countries operate…and the different results they achieve. “Western officials work at a frantic pace, trying to survive in a world of 24-hour news cycles and constant political pressure. By comparison, officials in authoritarian places such as Singapore and China had more time to think and to research decisions, which often led to policies that were more in line with the long-term interests of their citizens.”

What an interesting realization for someone dedicated to fixing democracy. There is a basic underlying flaw in democracy that authoritarians avoid that leads to poor decision making: an inability to think before acting due to moving too fast.

This is what grabbed me: the problem of speed over thought and substance. It is endemic not only in Western politicians but also in Western business. No time to think.

No time to determine the real issue. No time to find the best solution. No time to ensure accuracy. No time to have a long range perspective. No time to think.

Our brains are overloaded with random clutter that builds up without a chance to clear. We run faster and faster to stay in the same place never noticing that a slower pace that allows for better ideas will lead to better long term results. Our fear of falling behind leads to our running faster and having even less time to stop and think.

I’m tired just thinking about all that running around in circles. I need some down time. Some time to put my feet up and contemplate the world. Perhaps some time in a Starbucks just discussing interesting ideas with a good friend or two. Some time to dive deeply into the issues around me and then peer out into the future as I contemplate possible solutions. Some time to let the random clutter in my brain dissipate and free up my mind to think with clarity and depth about the important issues in front of me, in front of you, in front of all of us.

Join me?

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  1. To some degree, this is one of the themes of “The Toyota Way”…carefully considering all options and seeking input from many stakeholders, then finally moving decisively. Our long range returns might be far better if we didn’t have to perform to a quarterly return dance.

  2. It’s a very odd thing about quarterly cycles. For setting priorities for critical activities running on a quarterly results cycle is great. For running a company based on quarterly financial results…a quarterly cycle is horrible and often leads to worse long term results and a tendency to push the boundaries of ethics and good business practices. I find those few companies that have begun to stop playing this game very intriguing.

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