Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Be Decisive, But Don't Rush In

John Wooden is famous for saying, "be quick, but don't hurry." Unfortunately, it's hard to act on this Yoda-like utterance. That's why I've rephrased it (glancing nervously at the sky, hoping to avoid a lightning bolt) in my own words:

Be decisive, but don't rush in.

Sports is one of the most popular metaphors for business, along with war. Famous players and coaches can make a mint off of books and speaking engagements. The same holds true for successful generals.

But here's the funny thing--a lot of ex-athletes and ex-coaches (as well as ex-soldiers) have failed in the business world. Not all of them--just lookat the success of guys like Roger Staubach and Magic Johnson, as well as military men like AG Lafley of Proctor & Gamble--but more than the general population of folks with similar advantages (rich, famous, well-connected).

It's not because athletes or soldiers are unintelligent; many are smart and capable. The problem is that their instincts are ill-suited to business success.

The business world operates on a different time scale than sports or combat. How often do we talk about how fractions of a second separate victory and defeat, or life and death? For athletes and soldiers, reflexes and instant aggressive reaction are the keys to winning.

I've been in the business world a long time, and even during the era of "Internet time" I cannot recall a single instance where a fraction of a second meant the difference between success or failure.

Be decisive, but don't rush in.

It's rare that time frames less than a day matter, and unheard of for time frames of less than an hour.

When something happens, take the time to make the right decision.

This is not an excuse for dithering...being decisive and aggressive is incredibly important to business success. But recognize that whether you respond to that proposal in 1 second or 1 hour generally doesn't impact your options, and that you can come up with a much better decision in an hour than you can in a second.

Rather than thinking of business as sport or war, think of it as chess. Every move must have its purpose. Make the right decision.

4 comments:

My Agapic Life said...

I like the chess analogy to a certain extent, however, it's hard to reconcile it in the context of chess is a game where everyone starts out even.

And, just out of curiosity, in the business world who are the pawns??

JP Adams said...

Good thoughts. I like the rythm to the writing also.

I would have to disagree that "fractions of a second separate victory and defeat" in war.

The landing at Normandy for instance, was an enormous operational challenge that took years of planning. Also, machines (American manufacturing power) not people played a major roll in winning to overall war.

Chris said...

JP,

Good point about war. The most accurate thing to say is that split seconds matter in small squad actions, but that major battles and strategy resemble more the business world.

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