The time of Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen has long been a Lovemark of mine. The subject of numerous interviews, biographies and documentaries, Cohen is no stranger to reflecting on his life’s work as a poet, novelist and musician. Time is a frequent theme. Those who know him well, and Cohen himself, give the impression that he spends a lot of time thinking, and that a great amount of time, and thought, goes into his work.

He works at his own pace. In an interview from 1976, he says “Songs seem to take me a long time. I don’t know why; they’re not especially excellent for taking so long. I don’t have any sense or urgency about any of my writing actually. I don’t think mankind will be damaged if I don’t put out a new album or a new book.”

While he was working on Beautiful Losers, he seemed driven by an inner clock that was somewhat more hurried. The 2012 biography I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen describes him, “sat in his room in his house on the hill in Hydra, writing furiously. He was driven by an overpowering sense of urgency. He had the feeling, he said, of time running out.”

I guess that’s the thing about thinking, and time. There’s little correlation between the two, which is why it’s hard to put a price on it. A student paper by Osarenkhoe Uwuigbe published in the published in the Journal of Interdisciplinary Science Topics has tried to figure it out, starting with the popular idiom, ‘a penny for your thoughts’ and testing it. The outcome? One penny = three hours, seven minutes and 30 seconds of thought (and speech). It doesn’t seem right to me, given the power and value of thought.

The reason for the underestimation is that the model is based on how thought is powered, with the brain consuming around 20% of the body’s energy. Of course, the power required for the brain to operate doesn’t necessarily relate to power used in thought, nor does it imply productive or unproductive thinking. Just that your brain is being used.

Dear Leonard, I couldn’t imagine putting a price on your thoughts, much less only a penny.

Image attribute/source: Leonard Cohen /

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Kevin Roberts

Kevin Roberts is founder of Red Rose Consulting; business leader and educator; author and speaker; adviser on marketing, creative thinking and leadership.


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