The Opportunity Cost Of Inertia

Last month I addressed a room filled with some of the country’s most elite marketers at an ANA Digital and Social Media conference in beautiful Laguna Niguel, Calif.

I spoke about innovation -- specifically, experimenting with early stage startups across the entire innovation continuum (digital, social, mobile, emerging.)

To that end and along the lines of “beginning with the end in mind,” I challenged the audience to invoke the spirit of “The Secret” (a best-selling book that asserts that positive thinking can create life-changing results such as increased wealth, health, and happiness) and project themselves to Dec. 31, 2013.

I asked them what they accomplished in the 6 months between “now” and “then.” What one new thing did they implement or execute? What did they do differently? What truly original, creative, disruptive and/or innovative act did they perform?

In fact, I invited the entire audience to contact me on 12/31/13 and debrief me on their accomplishments. I also warned them that if they didn’t, I would hunt them down like the dogs they are. After all, I have their LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook profiles, thanks to their oversharing nature!



Levity aside, here’s the sad truth: My phone will not ring on New Year’s Eve, except perhaps from a wrong number or a drunk Howard Stern. Why is that? Why do all these incredibly bright and talented marketers go to conferences, get all excited and then get instant amnesia when they return to their cubicles?

  • Is it because of all the fires they need to put out with an understaffed and overburdened team?
  • Is it because the momentum dies out somewhere between the hotel bar, Admiral’s Club and the commute home?
  • Is it because of fear? Fear of the unknown? Fear of failure?
  • Or is it because of lack of self-belief to sell ideas through to internal management, or lack of confidence in external agency teams?

Regardless of the reason, it doesn’t justify lethargy, paralysis or inactivity. Six months to execute, say, just one single pilot program (especially if its cost is negligible) should be the easiest thing in the world to justify, sell through and make happen. And yet, it won’t. It’s just incredulous.

That’s why I’d like to flip the rationale or justification from the “those who see things and ask why” to “those who see things that could be and ask why not.” You absolutely know the downside of doing something -- it’s a limited and fixed cost -- but what about the upside of doing something? It’s limitless, really. So why not extend this cost-benefit analysis to “doing nothing?”

Again, you know the cost. It’s the money you didn’t spend. It’s a quarter page in a magazine or five seconds of a TV commercial on an obscure channel at an obscure time. It’s a little more noise to add to the clutter, as opposed to creating a new signal that has the potential to become a beacon of light or hope.

Today there is no widely accepted or industry standard metric to measure the opportunity cost of inertia, but really, there is: it’s missed earnings, fallen market share, loss of brand health or yet another reorg. It’s something in the future that you can track back to today: a net-present value of doing nada.

So now that you know, what are you going to do about it?

Do something. Do anything. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

And for those of you who were in the audience on July 16, you’ve lost a month, and Dec. 31is now only four months away.

Tick tock.

3 comments about "The Opportunity Cost Of Inertia ".
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  1. Sean Tracey from Sean Tracey Associates, August 22, 2013 at 10:32 a.m.

    Love this message. I hope you're wrong and you'll be flooded with responses and accomplishments from your audience before the year ends. And, if you're truly following the 'Secret,' that'll only happen if you imagine it will.

  2. David Sussman from Eye- Cubed U, LLC, August 22, 2013 at 11 a.m.

    You are right in my sweet spot...Innovation! Great work here. I propose to offer your readers a solution to their problem. They need a plan in place to move their personal dial. Learn about it in a blog I published. Go to and gain a fabulous take-away!

  3. Bob Gordon from The Auto Channel, August 22, 2013 at 11:17 a.m.

    Hey Joseph, Don't worry about having to work late New Years Eve. There are lots of copy-cats and few innovators out there...

    For more than 19 years we have seen our breakthrough products and ideas copied and become ubiquitous across the most popular of automotive web sites.

    This is a down side of pioneering, because 20 years ago our team of hardy Guys and Gals had to invent the on-line tools that have become standard offerings today.

    Here are a few; Invoice pricing for no charge, 4 car comparagraphs, NASCAR driver to crew radio on the web, Video coverage of major auto shows, Live webcasts of new auto press unveilings, first commercial site to include video, the first to use rotating banners and the first to have a major title sponsor ($600,000 per year)

    The list is too long to take up this limited space, but we will be happy to discuss these with anyone.

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