Carlson School of Management News

Five Lessons on Timing for Business Success

Monday, September 16, 2013

Timing Gone Wrong

Scenarios involving poor timing crop up every day, in the business environment and in everyday life. Stuart Albert cites the following examples that illustrate timing errors that could have be avoided or better managed.

  • A company invested in a multimillion dollar plant to process pineapples, located upriver from the site where the fruit was harvested. But come rainy season, the company discovered too late that the increased precipitation sped up the current and made transporting the pineapples upriver impossible.

  • After years of research and development, Segway released a revolutionary electric scooter it predicted would change transportation forever. However, at the time of release, state laws prohibited users from operating the scooters on sidewalks.

  • The air-filled tire was patented in 1845, but was met with little enthusiasm from the U.S. market. The invention was largely useless until the adoption of bicycles in 1880. Bikes needed the smooth ride offered by air-filled tires, and put the technology to use decades after its release.

In a rapidly evolving business environment, speed seems to be the key to success. But if being first across the finish line means releasing an imperfect product, branching out to an underdeveloped market, or failing to account for critical external factors, does speed still win the day? According to Associate Professor of Strategic Management and Entrepreneurship Stuart Albert, taking action at the right time is far more important than acting quickly, arbitrarily. But how can decision makers get the timing right when the future is uncertain?

The art of perfect timing
In his new book, When: The Art of Perfect Timing, Albert applies 20 years of research to identify how poor timing caused big business problems. The author studied more than 2000 cases, and worked with half a dozen companies to identify patterns decision makers can use to choose timing more systemically.

"We seem to think timing is impossible," says Albert. "We say the world is uncertain, unpredictable, complex, and timing is all a matter of luck or intuition. Timing is everything, but what's the right time? I've found a systematic method to figure out the right timing."

Lessons for picking the right time
Whether you're scheduling a meeting, releasing a new product, or purchasing a plane ticket, acting during the window of opportunity yields the best results. Albert offers up these lessons on timing that can help better determine when to act.

Treat timing strategically: The first mistake businesspeople make is to not consider timing at all. But choosing when to act can be just as important as the action itself.

Chart the plan as a series of actions: Decision makers often fail to view a strategic plan as a complex series of actions that will inevitably speed up, slow down, and pause along the way. Albert suggests considering the ebb and flow of activity along the course of a project.

Account for a dynamic world: No decision occurs in a vacuum, and businesses should keep in mind the world in which they operate will change over the course of a series of actions.

Ask "when," and "what" when deciding: Throughout his research, Albert has discovered timing issues often arise disguised as other problems. So instead of weighing the value of an offering or an incentive, ask whether it's an opportune time to offer it.

Know your shortcomings: In working through a problem, humans possess fundamental cognitive shortcomings that prevent them from comprehending issues of timing. But in his book, Albert lays out a plan of action for identifying your innate weaknesses and thinking around them.

Become time sensitive
Put the days of hit-or-miss timing decisions behind you and learn how to pick the right time. When: The Art of Perfect Timing is available now.

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