“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.”
“Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.”
William Jennings Bryan
So. Time and destiny. Two things I am relatively sure 100% of people care about. Here is the tricky thing (tricky part Part 1) about time & destiny — they are not constant companions and friends. They are actually like two ships meeting in the night. Which leads me to Kairos.
I first saw it in a quirky little book called “The Elegance of the Hedgehog”. Kairos is an ancient Greek word meaning the right or opportune moment or ‘the supreme moment’.
The Greeks believed the concept of Kairos is achieved when an opportune moment is actually grasped. Think about that a second. The corollary to that thought is a belief that if you do not grasp the moment … well … the moment is gone and cannot be re-captured.
Here is tricky part Part 2. According to ancient Greeks, Kairos was the god of the “fleeting moment.”
So not only do you have to figure out how to grasp this moment where time and destiny met but you have to do something in that moment because, well, it is fleeting.
I say ‘oh shit’ but I would guess almost everyone reading this will sit back and think of fleeting moments gone by. We all have them. In Life & in business.
Life is actually a little easier for this Kairos thing because mostly it is just us and if we aren’t completely oblivious to everything going on around us we have a fairly good chance to recognize a time & destiny moment. Then we just have to “perform” or take advantage of that moment (but that is a different discussion).
Business is tougher. It is tougher because it is not just you.
First you have a bunch of managers who most likely are just crappy managers constantly creating false sense of urgency over non-urgent things which means should a Kairos moment occur there will be a blur of meaningless activity creating a curtain between you and Time & Destiny.
Second you are not always the “one” who can actually be empowered to do something when Time & Destiny meet. I cannot tell you how many times I was in a room when I felt Time & Destiny meet and I was not in a position to actually do something. I imagine I point this out because it decreases the windows of opportunities so if you sense a Kairos moment you better get your ass in gear.
Now. Interestingly the ancient Greeks had two words for time, chronos and kairos. While chronos is quantitative, kairos has a qualitative nature. I mention that because while we in the business world love plans, planning, formulas, milestones and almost anything you can think of to identify “critical moments”, Kairos is qualitative. This means it has its own timeline, milestone & plan. Qualitative Time means unscheduled, unplanned &, well, suffice it to say you better be able to handle uncertainty. Kairos means you seize the fleeting moment.
It is not easy. And it is not for the faint of heart.
Anyway. Kairos is the ability to adapt to and take advantage of changing circumstances. It is used with people “who manage well the circumstances which they encounter day by day, and who possess a judgment which is accurate in meeting occasions as they arise and rarely misses the expedient course of action”.
<note: Napoleon is a poster child for Kairos>
I have written a variety of things about great leaders and leadership. If I had known this word I would have used it.
As things shift around leaders there appears that undetermined amount of time in-between what is and what will be in which something truly special can occur. It is those who recognize the moment and act upon it … before it disappears … that achieve Kairos.
I have also said this before. I do not believe this can be taught. As the Greeks suggest, it is qualitative in its nature. You either have this ability or you don’t. Some people know this, and see this, and can actually act upon this. But not everyone can.
I will say one thing about “fleeting moments.
As Mr. Magorium suggested … “37 seconds well used is a lifetime.”
If you handle Kairos well, well, I can almost guarantee you that in that moment you will be infinite because when time & destiny meet, and you meet that moment well, it creates velocity and direction simultaneously.
originally posted March 2010