Practice Your Timing

I’ve sworn since childhood that my brother was born under a lucky sign or made a deal with the devil. He has superb timing and he knows how to deal with people. I’ll probably envy his ability for the rest of my life because he makes it seem so effortless.

Timing can make all the difference between success and failure. Think about some recent events that benefited from timing (these are up for debate):

  • Would Google have risen to prominence if Microsoft hadn’t been focused on its anti-trust lawsuit?
  • Would the Democrats have taken back BOTH the House and the Senate if not for Mark Foley’s escapades made known weeks before the election?
  • Would Twitter have garnered as much attention if it hadn’t tipped at SXSW in March?
  • Would Al Gore still be considered a potential presidential candidate without “An Inconvenient Truth?”

Timing can play as big a role as capital or ability. Without timing, you waste both money and skill. The best writer in the world backed by a well-known publisher can still fail if her subject was exhausted two years earlier. During my research for this post, I came across another gentleman who reminds me of my brother, showing excellent timing and an ability to connect with people.

Timing Your Exit

Charles E. Merrill, also known as “Good-Time Charlie” and a founder of Merrill Lynch, made the society page (he was married three times) as much as the business section. On April 1, 1928, (April Fool’s Day no less) Merrill advised “clients to sell enough securities to lighten your obligations … to take advantage of present high prices and put your own financial house in order.”

After taking his own advice by early 1929, Merrill “sold most of the firm’s stock portfolio, perfectly timing his exit from a bubble that had sent the Dow from 120 in 1925 to 360 in 1929.” (link) Competitors probably thought he was crazy to leave money on the table. Here’s a telling aspect of Merrill’s timing:

Merrill had an edge because he could observe the behavior of the traders and specialists on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and see firsthand that the buying was based on herd behavior, not on underlying economic fundamentals. Hordes of other investors who got their information from ticker-tape machines couldn’t see that. (link)

The Price of Timing

How much attention are you paying to the world you want a place in? Do you rely on secondhand information or do you dig in and see for yourself what’s happening? I’ve got 90+ subscriptions in my RSS reader, and I’m constantly on the hunt for new information. From talking to people in my industry to reading as many respected authors as I can, I’m trying to broaden my knowledge and improve my timing. Not so surprising, good timing takes time.

Yes, some good things will still happen regardless of your efforts. Chalk it up to karma or luck, but do you really want to wait around for someone or something else to determine your future? Going with the flow is one thing, intentional ignorance another. The biggest, boldest ideas come from personal observation and a willingness to look beyond the obvious.

I’m afraid we’ve gotten in the habit of waiting for others to tell us what to do. Be responsible and figure it out. Yes, you’ll make mistakes, but with practice you can get better at timing your moves. From politics, to business, to personal lives, timing can be the difference between success or failure. Isn’t it time you figured out how to make it work for you?



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June 2007
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