The Thing About Timing

  • by October 30, 2012

Timing is everything. It really is.

The concept of being in the right place at the right time is probably a combination of inextricable luck (the odds) and substantial skills (preparation). That's why you may have heard the phrase “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

What about bad luck then? Being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Is that the exact same thing as before, but in reverse? Dumb luck, I suppose? Could it be equally valid to say that bad luck is the product of inexperience, bad planning or poor skills? Perhaps.

Timing is an integral part of every facet of our lives. From cooking to investing in the stock market; from swinging a bat to diagnosing an illness. So why is it we suck so royally at it when it comes to business?

On the customer service side, we do a lousy job of being able to spot potential P.R. minefields early and prevent them from escalating into full-blown crisis communication nightmares.

On the hiring side, our timing is all out of whack. We scramble to hire like rabid dogs during good times and then can’t issue pink slips fast enough when the tide turns.

On the planning side, we’ve set ourselves up to fail miserably as we adopt elongated processes designed to predict a stable future in a completely unpredictable, unstable present.

On the measurement side, we are slaves to exceptionally short-term metrics and benchmarks designed to deliver quick fixes and instant gratification.

Whatever happened to Vince Lombardi’s “in my entire life, I never lost a single game; I just ran out of time” when it comes to patience prevailing and staying the course?

Even business moguls like Rupert Murdoch are guilty of bad calls, with infamous quotes like, “I was just hoping that Internet thing would pass.”

I visit with some of the biggest companies and brands on this planet and almost without exception, I witness the same common threads across most (and sometimes all) corporations. The most troubling as it relates to timing is an acute lack of “endurance” — the will to persevere and prevail.

Actually, strike that. The most troubling is a blatant conflict of interest; executives are treading water in the hopes of making it through their tenure without having to commit to any form of change, innovation or calculated risk. After all, these days no one every got fired for putting Facebook on the plan. (They once said that about TV!)

My advice to executives struggling to cope with technology-based change and specifically how to plan, execute, measure and optimize  from a timing standpoint is to keep the following two statements in mind, especially when requesting funding and managing expectations in terms of interim and final success:

Just because it worked yesterday, doesn’t mean it’ll work tomorrow.
Just because it didn’t work yesterday, doesn’t mean it won’t work tomorrow.

The first statement is straight forward enough and pays off both the reliance on the “tried and tested," as well as the volatility of how constant change can create continuous flux.

The second statement, however, is a little more tricky and esoteric. It challenges and encourages us to believe in ourselves; to honor the importance of Test. Learn. Evolve. To try and try again, if at first you don’t succeed, and  to recognize that sometimes, we’re ahead of our time. Ultimately, we need to commit ourselves to innovation and stay the course.

As my countryman Gary Player once said, “The more I practice; the luckier I get." And that’s the kind of timing that is as much art (the swagger) as it is science (the swing).

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