The Audacity of Inaction

It’s maybe the most popular response I get when talking with clients: We think this is a great idea but we have so much going on right now that we want to just put things on hold. Maybe we’ll revisit at the end of the year. It’s the "it’s not you, it’s me" side of business.

I get it. People are busy. Imagine going to work and saying “I don’t have enough to do! Boy am I bored! I wish I had a new project to work on!” Very early in our careers we learned not to ask for more work, as the worst might happen and we might get what we asked for. And no boss wants to hear their employee doesn’t have enough stuff to do. If you ask someone how they are, they’ll say "Good!" 90%+ of the time. If you ask them how work is, they’ll say "Busy!" 90%+ of the time.

Working from home has illuminated just how busy some of us really are. Studies suggest that we get two productive hours each day and six unproductive hours. Most folks don’t accept this readily as they know just how busy they are, and those pesky internal meetings have a good way of taking up space. As do unimportant emails. And other small time busy work. And this isn’t to say that every moment at work should be productive. It is to say don’t get in the habit of thinking you can’t do what you should do because of busyness. Busyness shouldn’t block business.

This is a particular favorite from the IT side of things. I’ve never met an IT division that didn’t have too much to do and not enough time.  You find it less in sales – there are few sales people that don’t call on a customer because they don’t have time to see them. There seems to be a relationship between the willingness to do more and the proximity to revenue. Perhaps this should suggest that more than the sales division should be compensated based on sales and operations performance—but that’s another column.

“I’ll do it later” is the death rattle of success. You don’t do well in school by saying I’ll do it later. You don’t let your kids tell you they’ll clean their room later. You don’t look at the dishes and say I’ll do them later. “I’ll do it later” is the step-sibling to “I won’t do it at all”. It’s worse than that, as it just delays the I won’t do it at all so you don’t face the consequence right there and then.

Do not fall into the temptation of the end of the year. At the end of the year we have Thanksgiving and the holidays, then two weeks in January full of snow and misery and business planning meetings. We’re kidding ourselves if we think anything happens at the start of the year—it's March at the earliest. And that’s why doing nothing is the bravest decision of all, even if people don’t realize it.

Think about it. You see something that will clearly benefit your business. You’ve kicked the tires, checked with peers, and everyone agrees this is something that will improve your company. You’ve made the argument for doing something. Now you’re just putting off the hard work, and perhaps losing that argument and not doing it after all. It’s not a budget thing, it’s a willpower thing.

I see this most of all in the world of business process and data analytics. I know change is hard, and you’ll encounter resistance at every step, but always remember the reason for change. That new order processing system, that new BI tool, that data analytics process on your customers – they’re great ideas, and the sooner you get them going the sooner you’ll benefit from their impact. The end of the year is just code for I can’t be bothered. If it’s important, if it matters, then it’s time to get on with it. And make sure that attitude is shared by everyone.

Almost everyone has read Good to Great, by Jim Collins. Most of us read many books about the secret of success. I think there’s one common denominator, one root attitude that makes the biggest impact, and that’s getting on with it. "Let’s go" — the winner's mantra.

So if you’re finding yourself in the position to say “Maybe later” or ‘We’re working through it internally”, take a moment of pause and take a clear look. Later should be a last resort. Ask the questions: Why not now? What’s to stop us? What if we just started and let the project tell us when to slow down, rather than deciding for it in advance? How would we benefit from a fast start? What impact would be made if we're early rather than late?

Data is the new frontier. And with any new frontier comes change in the status quo. And with change comes disruption, and with that comes work on top of the existing work. It makes the busy even busier. There’s every reason to then resist change, many reasons to resist data, even if we think we’re only resisting until some magic unbusy period at the end of the year (typically January and February are the busiest months of the year internally).

Don’t fall to temptation. If you need to delay don’t say the end of the year. Pick a different time, and stick to it. Get in the habit of saying March, or June or September. More than anything understand that inaction has consequence, even if you think it doesn’t. And remember, if you get started and then delay, it’s better than not starting at all.  


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Mark McGready

Mark McGready

Mark McGready has been working with data analysis for over 20 years in the electrical industry. For the last 10 years Mark founded and ran Jigsaw Systems Inc, a successful data analysis and process improvement company that focused on key sales and marketing challenges like SPA contracts, pricing matrices, inventory analysis and harnessing Point of Sale. Recently Jigsaw was acquired by SPARX iQ, formally Strategic Pricing Associates, in order to widen the services and capabilities available to the industry. Mark brings a combination of understanding data with a commercial sense of real world applications. His tools have generated millions of dollars in top line and bottom line results with his long list of clients.