The Criticality Of Timing

Scott Belsky
Dec 7, 2016 · 4 min read

Timing is the factor that is most absent in conversations I have with investors, with other leaders of products, and with fellow entrepreneurs. While there is so much focus on trends, new technologies, data, and human tendencies, the criticality of timing is seldom discussed. Perhaps, because timing is so out of our control, we talk about it less. But the outcome of your work is determined by timing just as much as other variables. Timing is worthy of our respect and attention.

The Right Leader For The Right Time

To lead an industry, companies require different leaders (or different leadership styles) at different times. Easy to say, hard to do. The default of most companies is to cling to a playbook that has already proven successful. Every playbook gets old, and the more successful it is the harder it is to deviate — especially for the coach who wrote it. When I help companies recruit an executive — or hear about a CEO transition — I try to reconsider the company’s position with a blank slate. Where is the company coming from and where must they go? Who is the right leader…now?

The Right Decision At The Right Time

My rough illustartion of the local maximum problem, which also appears to be a holiday greeting card.

The inevitable outcome of any business governed by incrementalism is a limited market size because the local maximum (the closest hill) becomes the limit. Evernote is a good example. The company addressed a real problem (saving your notes in the cloud) with a solution that has only incrementally improved over the years. It is now at the top of a hill. Some say Twitter is liable to suffer a similar fate (although I still have hope). In contrast, companies like Google, Amazon, and others have consistently increased their scope and ambitions by a step-function, and made the difficult decisions to execute.

Given the criticality of timing, incrementalism kills too many great ideas by pushing them to fruition too late.

Given the criticality of timing, incrementalism kills too many great ideas by pushing them to fruition too late. Yes, I am a big proponent of taking small steps in cautious terrain, and carefully testing and validating new improvements before going all in. But some new ideas are inflections and must be executed in full before they function. The best teams know when to do this and can reorganize to pull it off.

The Right Investment At The Right Time

The other key to timing is tracking the tail winds. My criteria for investing at the right time is whether the team is attempting to defy a likely outcome or make it happen in a better way. I invest in the latter. The best teams I come across are parlaying forces already underway to their favor. They are grounded by the present and are capturing a tail wind.

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Positive Slope

Insights on crafting products, teams, and progress.

Positive Slope

Insights on crafting products, teams, and progress.

Scott Belsky

Written by

founder @Behance, cpo @Adobe, early stage investor and product obsessive; author of Making Ideas Happen and The Messy Middle. http://scottbelsky.com

Positive Slope

Insights on crafting products, teams, and progress.