In Leadership, Timing Is Everything

Well before I begin, let me just say a big fat thank you to “wireless” Mike Flynn up at WCAP for having me on his show this morning.  Wow, over 20 minutes of free broadcast media.  I love it.

OK, on to today’s blog:

I finally got around to reading the first chapter (downloadable for free)  from David Meerman Scott’s new book, “real-time marketing and PR.”

Now, full disclosure here, I do enjoy talking about David’s new book (coming out November 1) in no small part because I am IN IT (at least briefly mentioned).  Anyway, the chapter is a really interesting story of a marketing bonanza on youtube that came from writing a song about United Airlines dropping someone’s guitar.  It was really interesting to see the charts showing the speed at which a video goes viral.

It was also really interesting that this first chapter talks a lot about timing.  This is because I’ve just been thinking about the topic of timing as it applies to leadership and innovation.

Rather than give you a lot of theory, let me just tell you two quick stories: 

Back in 1992, the country was in the midst of a crisis of obesity in children (yes, it has been going on this long).  At the time, I figured, hey, why let a perfectly good crisis go to waste?  I’m a writer and a video producer, I have some credits as a children’s educator, and I had just met this guy who was an expert in kids fitness.  I had a little money left over from a bumper crop of video production that year, so I invested it in a promo of a children’s fitness program.  (You can still purchase vestiges of it on Itunes– search for “fitness fairy tales.”)

Overall, despite my best efforts, that project was a miserable failure. I discovered that childhood obesity, like the weather, is one of those things that everyone talks about, but no one ever does anything about it.  I realize Michelle Obama is trying to draw attention to it, but I’m willing, right now, to bet a hundred bucks that 20 years from today, there’ll be no appreciable changes in the statistics of childhood obesity.  Again, everyone talks about it, but no one is going to do anything about it.  Having put forth an awful lot of time and money into actually trying to do something about it, I figure I have earned the right to say so.  

I’m actually kind of amazed that after all this time, there is nothing on PBS even approximating a children’s fitness/nutrition/health program.

Anyway, the reason I mention this miserable failure is, part of the reason why it failed was, my timing was terrible.  I assumed a lot of things would happen all by themselves.  I was not at all cautious.  Boom.  Ouch.

Now more recently, five years ago I finally got around to publishing my first book.  In that project, I had the opposite problem.  I was overly cautious.  I was seeking agents and publishers to partner up with me.  I wasted almost 2 years in that process.  At some point, fortunately, I just got fed up, and I jumped in and printed up 300 copies of “Real Men Don’t Rehearse.”

I could’ve written that book 10 years previously, but that would have been bad timing.  Without the Internet, I never could have sold it successfully.   At the same time, I had a million reasons to continually wait for an agent or publisher to get on board.  If I had delayed it any further, that, too, would have been very bad timing.

There is such a thing is doing it too soon, and there’s such a thing is doing it too late.  And when you actually decide to act, it’s never 100% certain that things are going to go well.  You have to have a little bit of faith in your project, and perhaps even more important, you have to believe that you can recover from whatever difficulties pop up once you start the process in motion.  It’s easy to think that if you just delay the process, you can avoid all of these little hiccups.  I don’t think that’s possible.  I think that’s an illusion of perfection that a lot of people want to believe in, but is in my experience, nonexistent.

So to sum it up, yes, it’s good to be cautious and not do it too soon, but if you’re too cautious, you’ll be too late, or perhaps never do it at all.  As in so many other things, it’s all a matter of timing.

© Justin Locke  

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