Timeliness important to development?

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Here's a random question inspired by a conversation with coworkers: does a "culture" of time-sensitivity have anything to do with economic progress?

After travelling a fair number of countries in Africa for a project, a coworker returned with stories about "meetings" that were the result of endless tracking down of people in government buildings that did not ever schedule anything. Time and again, secretaries would tell them that they don't schedule meetings, and that the best way to catch the person of interest was simply to talk to them on their way somewhere, or find them in their office. Meanwhile, I recently left school, where there were a fair number of students from Latin America, South America, and Mexico. Despite being among the best students in the class, there was a disctinct difference in their concept of time. From class times to meeting times to parties (which were, again, the best thrown at the school), preset times was clearly ignored. And from one of these students I learned that, at least in some countries, it is customary to have to ask someone three times to a function/event/meeting before the invitation is considered "real." And you need to hear a positive reply all three times to believe the person will show up. Anything less, and it's not binding.

Clearly, this paints with an awfully wide brush, and I mean to cast no aspersions. But from not simply my own observations but the comments of native people, there seems to be a distinct difference in how various parts of the world consider the issue of "timing" (as opposed to the passage of time). I can't help but notice that those areas with a less strict adherence to this "timing" also seem to correspond to less developed parts of the world; Africa, in specific. Though it's another stereotype (which I am uncomfortable about, but have no data at hand), compare this to the notion of German and Swedish punctuality.

Might there be some correlation between productivity and timing/timeliness, and thus perhaps development? What might be a good way to measure something like adherence to schedules? (And, while I'm asking, am I heading down a well-trod road that I don't know about?)

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The Importance of Time from Synthstuff - music, photography and more... on December 12, 2004 11:59 PM

Ian at Truck and Barter has an interesting observation on Time and Timeliness and the importance of this in economic development: Timeliness important to development? Here’s a random question inspired by a conversation with coworkers: does a R... Read More


"Timeliness" seems also intimately related to attaining success in Anglo/American culture | There is such an inordiante obsession with adherence to keeping to schedules (even when the time-frames are unrealistic) and often done at a cost to suitable completeion and resolution of some task or acheiving life goals | Westerners, Americans in particular, would benefit from dispensing with this obsession and in learning more about how other peoples manage successfully to get through life without being so time-management driven |

Typically (as noted above) African, Latino cultures are less preoccupied with this | But so, too, are others that western culture typically categorizes as "disenfranchised" or "marginal" [don't you love those negative judgement calls?]

Indeed, it is clear that montarily driven peoples
fail to recognize the value of vrtually anyone who doesn't conform to the timetable approach to things |

Ironically, those so obsessed fail to see any value in anything or anyone who doesn't comport to the schedule-fix approach to life | Whihc is their loss and our burden |

Spoken by one who does not easily adhere to this obsession and is constantly nagged about that lack of "consideration" yet, like many others, I still get things done, and do so successfully | Just not according to other people's rigid time tables |

It sounds like you have just described every office I have ever worked in. While I am not well versed enough in African or Latin American culture to comment on your hypothesis, I will say that for most of my adult life, the best way to meet with a boss or colleague "was simply to talk to them on their way somewhere, or find them in their office." There are plenty of Americans and/or Westerners who ignore schedules. That said the difference might be that there are at least some Americans who get pissed off about this caviler attitude toward timeliness.

I'll grant that there are efficiencies to having direct access to people in the office. My thought was less about intra-office efficiency, however, than about a process of work that adheres more closely to a time table.

If you'll permit a loose use of words, my thought is that there may well be a correlation between cultural ideas of property rights and the nature of timeliness. That is to say, a lot of the places in the world that have espoused a more "collectivist" view of the world than some countries in the northern hemisphere (consider latin america vs. the US -- Canada notwithstanding, I suppose) may tend to be less concerned about meeting on time, hitting deadlines, being dedicated to agreements about meetings/events. A more malleable notion of time commitments could then spill over into slower paces of production, less concern about per-hour output, etc. This is emphatically NOT saying that this is akin to laziness. But rather that the pace of work in the "North" and its reduction is a goal in and of itself for some places, but not necessarily for others. What I wonder, then, is if this may have any sort of impact on the pace/level of economic progress.


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