Having good timing is often cited as critical to success. For example, if you present a project at the wrong time, it may die a quick death. But if you unveil it at just the right time, then success can be yours. But how do you know when the time is right? Instincts? Luck?
In a new book “When: The Art and Science of Perfect Timing,” author Stuart Albert uses decades of research to explain that having the right timing is really about skill. In an interview with Anita Bruzzese, Albert discusses why timing is more important than ever and how you can improve yours.
AB: Why is the right timing so important in business and in your career?
SA: We often say that ‘timing is everything.’ Take any action – whether it’s selling your home or saying ‘yes’ to a proposal – and if you do it too early or too late, the results will be less than satisfactory.
Speed is not always the right answer. Getting the timing right is.
After all, you don’t want to be first to fail, so early that the market isn’t ready or the conditions aren’t right. My book is filled with stories of individuals and organizations who took action at the wrong time, and suffered as a result – and why those mistakes didn’t have to happen.
AB: In your book, you say that good timing is not just about luck, intuition or past experiences. You say that good timing is really a skill. What do you mean by that?
SA: Good timing requires that you learn to read the dynamics of your environment. To do that you need to train your eyes to see six elements that are present in every environment. It turns out that these six elements are hidden in plain sight. This book describes them and tells you how to use information they contain to make better decisions in general.
AB: You say that most of us never notice the sequences, rates, rhythms and other events that can help us make better timing decisions and be more successful. How did you come to hone in on those factors?
SA: The short answer is that I spent 20+ years examining more than 2,000 timing issues and errors, worked with a number of companies in different industries, and I found that the same six elements or factors kept coming up over and over again.
AB: Can you provide an example of someone perhaps losing a promotion or a customer because of bad timing?
SA: There are too many timing mistakes, and all are painful. So let me speed on to another topic rather than take that turnoff because this book describes how to find opportunities as well as avoid mistakes.
Think about the design of consumer products. For example, look at the upside-down ketchup bottle. Before that design we used to pick up the bottle, turn it over, and pound on it to get the ketchup to come out. What the new bottle did is move us one step downstream in the sequence of use. The bottle is already turned over and is ready to pour. An obvious improvement. Why did it take so long to arrive at this design? My book explains why it did, and why there are hundreds of other time-related opportunities waiting to be discovered in all areas of business and life.
Remember Kipling’s poem “If”: If you can keep your head when all about you…Are losing theirs…”
Here’s a variation:
When you can identify five timing related risks your group is running from
When you can point out why it would be better to put the cart before the horse and do things out of order for this particular project
When you can identify a second window of opportunity that is much better than the first, and hence argue persuasively that it is better to wait than rush ahead
When you can say those things not based on a hunch, or an intuition, or what someone else is doing, but because you have cogent reasons based on a timing analysis you conducted
Then you will have made a real contribution, and everyone, including your boss, will know it – especially if you can also point out a timing based-opportunity that no one saw that looks to be extremely profitable.
AB: It seems like it would be more challenging than ever to get the timing right in a world that seems to be moving faster than ever. How can we deal with that challenge?
SA: Speed isn’t the problem. Being blind to what is going on is.
My book points out there are deep reasons – the way our brain is organized, for example – that make it hard to see what is right in front of us. Once we understand why we can’t see what is hidden in plain sight, we can train our eyes to overcome that blindness. After a few chapters you will see what others don’t, and what you yourself would have missed. And that will give you and your firm an enormous competitive advantage.
AB: How do you use what you know about timing in your own career? Do you feel it gives you a leg up on your colleagues?
What’s the saying, “People who live in glass houses, shouldn’t throw stones?” So here’s a timing mistake I made. It took 10,000+ hours and more than 20 years to research and write this book. Many people thought that the topic was impossible. No one can see the future, you can’t time the market, you just have to be in the right place at the right time, and so on.
So as I worked three to four hours a day for decades to discover the ideas you will find in “When” and present them in a way that was interesting and practical, I didn’t think about marketing. I got caught up in the work of writing and discovery. I didn’t consider about how useful it would be to have 100,000 followers, two million connections on LinkedIn, etc. I didn’t think about what would come next, once the book was out. That was a timing error.
My suggestion is that you don’t want to make a similar mistake. Now would be a good time to read “When” — before it’s too late and you have to play catch-up.