Why sharks run the world
Friday, Dec. 18, 2009 at 11:36am
When I was a boy, I used to worry if I didn't get enough sleep. I would go to bed thinking, "Boy, I hope I'm not too tired to function tomorrow morning." I would get up at whatever hour was required of me, and if I hadn't logged my seven or eight hours, I would say to myself, "Wow, I'd better get a nap in later or I'm going to fall asleep at the afternoon meeting." And sometimes I even did.
That assumption -- that I'm ever going to get enough sleep -- seems like a luxury to me now, a fond dream, albeit a waking one. I work in two time zones, for one thing. I learned pretty quickly that the only way you function, moving from New York to LA, is to pretend that there is no such thing as a time zone. Midnight is midnight. Noon is noon. So when I wake in New York at 6 AM after a week in Los Angeles, I don't even register any more that it's really 3 AM in my head. It's 6 AM. It's time to get up. Yeah, there's a kind of cottony softness to everything for an hour or so, but so what? Shake it off. On the other side of the continent, when I wake up at 3 AM LA time as bright and frisky as a wounded beaver, I simply hop online and get the day started a tad early. If I thought about the whole thing too much, I guess I'd be horrified. Instead, I'm just a little dragged out now and then and perhaps a tad more cranky. Who isn't these days?
One major lesson I've learned, and it's not a good one, probably, is that I can actually function on three or four hours, not just now and then, but consistently. Some days I need to close my door and faint for a couple of minutes to set things right, a habit I've been pursuing since I was new to the corporation. I used to sleep on the floor with my head right next to the closed door, so that if anybody opened it I would be slammed in the head and wake. Sounds stupid, I know, but it worked. "What are you doing down there?" they would say, and I would reply, "Looking for a cuff link. What's up." And life would go on.
Today I just put my feet up on my desk and faint completely. The state is something that can't really be called sleep per se. It's more like death. Total systemic shut-down. It's possible I drool. When the phone rings, I awake in a much better place, ready for whatever the next couple of hours has to hold. At night, when others are contemplating slumber, I often find myself most alert, weirdly. So it begins all over again.
I may be wrong here, but I think most of senior management, in corporations and governments alike, function on something like this very same sleep schedule. Work all day. Stay up late. Get up early. I wonder what it does to our decision-making processes. Actually, I don't have to wonder. I know what it does. It makes people a little bit grouchy, more impatient, more solution-oriented, with shorter attention spans and a greater need for visual, auditory and sensory stimulation. We are never tired. We are always tired. And if we stop moving forward, we sink in the water, like sharks. They don't sleep much either, do they. Maybe that's why they're one of the few species to survive while so many others have fallen to the wayside. And why they pretty much run any corner of the ocean they choose to inhabit, come to think of it.