It’s often said that “timing is everything” (which is now even the title of a popular song). And we often see examples that seem to bear that out – instances where the timing of a particular endeavor spelled the difference between success and failure. But just how important is timing in the realization of our business objectives –and how can we best make it work to our benefit?
The importance of timing can be seen in many of the elements of our daily lives that bring us pleasure –like music, for instance. While every musical composition might consist of a unique combination of notes, it’s the timing of the piece that may well determine how much we appreciate the end result. That’s why the same song can be pleasing to our ear or not, depending on the tempo at which it’s performed and the pauses in phrasing. In cooking, the difference between a culinary triumph and disaster doesn’t just depend on the type and amounts of ingredients used in a recipe, but on maintaining precision timing once it’s in the oven. What I especially love is the timing that makes good comedy – the kind that evokes a belly laugh. Those “Seinfeld moments” – and we’ve all had them – would not be so uproariously funny were it not for the sequential timing that transforms humiliating situations into humor.
Timing is also most certainly one of the key elements of operating a profitable business– especially in the launching of any new enterprise or product, or the repositioning of a company in the marketplace. But while we can precisely control the timing on an oven roast, or study some of the timing tricks used to make audiences howl, achieving the right timing in a business endeavor is not something that we can simply make happen. What we can do, however, is make a concerted effort to anticipate when it might arrive – and be ready to take full advantage of it the moment it does.
Having spent the better part of my career engaged in such activities, the advice I would offer in this regard is to be aware of the changes that impact your industry and try to cultivate a feel for the timing involved in whatever you do. By that, I mean make sure you’re living and breathing whatever business you’re in and where it stands in the greater scheme of things, the particular trends that may be motivating consumers at any given point in time, and where any proposed legislation that could affect it may be headed.
As I think back, the most successful businesses that I have been involved in owed their prosperity not so much to creative brilliance as to having the right idea at the right time. There are endless examples of this phenomenon. One that immediately comes to mind is that of a guy named Steve Demos hanging on to a tofu business for over a decade, barely making any money and then moving from there to a soy milk called Silk just before the Food and Drug Administration proclaimed soy to be a heart-healthy product. His business went off the charts, and he ultimately made over $300 million by selling it to Dean Foods.
Recently I was visiting with a CEO who seemed somewhat distraught. I asked him what the problem was, and he said he had promised his management team that the company would go public in the second quarter of 2013, and now he doesn’t see how he is going to make that happen. It was a classic example of trying to control the timing of something. The truth is that this particular firm took its eye off the ball of creating value for the customer and was instead trying to create it for “the street,” which is a quite different objective. What I advised the CEO is that keeping his team focused on the former while awaiting the opportune time to make a public offering, rather than setting an arbitrary goal, is a much better way to go for multiple reasons.
Likewise, what I would tell anyone who’s in the process of creating a business, launching a new initiative, or who is out to change their industry (and perhaps even the world), is this: remember that while timing may be an essential aspect of achieving one’s aims, it is also not something we can manipulate at will, any more than we can make the wheat or corn grow any faster than nature and the weather allow. The key here is understanding that you are not really in control of events.
Timing is also not “everything” in the sense of being the only thing it takes to succeed. The tempo of a song may make the difference in its becoming a hit, but it still has to have musical value. A joke may not create laughter if it isn’t properly timed, but to do so it also has to be funny, and a perfectly timed casserole still won’t create raves if the ingredients are inferior. It’s no different in business. Sometimes, we just have to table those big plans until the right time arrives. In the meantime, what’s most important is to keep your enterprise on track creating something of value for your customers, consumers and collaborators, so that when it does, you’ll be in prime position to latch onto the opportunity.
But timing in business isn’t something you can’t force, so don’t even try. If you do, you’ll only end up frustrating yourself and your employees.