If you are feeling a bit ‘flu-ey’ a quack might prescribe antibiotics. You will feel better in a bout a week. Without the pharmaceuticals it will take about 7 days.
Don’t blame the doctor, they suffer from the same thing business people do: we feel compelled to take action. (Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls it interventionism.) A bias for action is glorified by all the self-help gurus who read each other.
Taking action makes (ironically) feel better because we are doing something. How is that for a circular argument?
As entrepreneurs grow their businesses into corporations this problem will be come exacerbated as they eventually appoint CEOs/ COOs.
Corporations believe equally that (a) success comes from focussing on the core business and (b) that one should diversify so that all your eggs aren’t in one basket. What happens next would be funny if it weren’t for the pain it causes so many people:
Each successive CEO adopts a version of the opposite strategy to their predecessor. Not because it is the right thing to do (there are arguments both ways and you can stack up the research and the numbers anyway you want), but they do it because it frames them as a ‘man’ of action.
The third option is not so sexy. You could choose to observe and wait. You could choose to think carefully and decide to do nothing. Yet.
Our glorification of the ‘man of action’ stereotype has resulted in the unilateral dismissal of watchful waiting in favour of mindless action. We dismiss all thinking as ‘academic’ - when it is only sometimes the case, and we consider all action beneficial – when it only the right actions are.
Taking no action – purposefully and mindfully – is a legitimate form of action and very often it is a more informed strategy with a higher chance of success.
Of course, if you do nothing, nothing gets done. We all know and we all agree. But when you act is arguably more important than the act itself. Timing is really everything. And THINKING is a prerequisite for getting your timing right. Action for the sake of the action is worse than no action at all.
Market research is often used as a substitute for thinking. But executives need the ‘research’ to write a board paper. Of course a board paper is nothing more than an exercise in political judgement about what can be justified rather than what really needs to be done.
In a rapidly changing world timing your actions is harder and is more important than ever. Organisations have limited capacity for change. When you do decide on a course of action, make it simple and make it count. It might be your only chance.
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