Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Art of Waiting for Entrepreneurs

Waiting can be one of the most difficult and even unpleasant experiences in life.  It doesn't matter what the amount of time is involved.  The only thing that really matters is the reason for the wait.  Probably everyone has heard of the list of takes on the feeling of one minute, and how the feeling of that same minute changes from perspective to perspective.  

In this world that is obsessed with action, speediness, and productivity, we are told to "Seize the moment" and other similar sayings that, hopefully, goad us forward.  Unfortunately, as we often find out, we have worked our way to where exactly?  This is especially true when in business and other fields we strive to take advantage of opportunities as--or even before--they present themselves.  The frequent result ends up being decisions based on inadequate information and incomplete data.  It is in these situations that we frequently find ourselves questioning the wisdom of General George S. Patton who often said, "It is better to execute a plan based on incomplete information today than complete information tomorrow."

For years we have been told not to jump to conclusions, yet today we jump not only more frequently, but more firmly than at any time in the past to our firmest conclusions ever.  The virtues of making good snap decisions is preached in business schools and boardrooms everywhere, yet the value of Plato's observation that "an unexamined life is not worth living" goes unheeded.  

Frank Partnoy shines a light on a number of questions about how we look at time, view procrastination, and what it really means to be human through the perspectives of psychology, philosophy, social science, behavioral economics, anthropology, and more.[1]  The resulting study is an important, if counter-intuitive, look at what effect delay might have on a culture such as ours that is obsessed with anything but, resulting in a mad dash into what ends up at hasty and rash.  

Partnoy further shows how questions about waiting and delay can be a fundamental to our roles as human beings.  Not only does pure wisdom and judgment come from perceiving and acknowledging our limitations as humans, but they define us better when we understand that time does play an important role in the things we do as well as how we do them.  Instead of showing that we are hasty, waiting for given situations to better present themselves shows that as humans we acknowledge our limitations and choose to utilize the time we are able to take to observe and effectively process the information we are given access to. 

Most interestingly, Partnoy considers our ability to wait as a gift, another of the many tools that we can use to better ourselves and examine our lives.  And while it might still be true that life is a race against the clock, as human beings we are given the chance to take matters back into our own hands and rise above it all to stop, better process, understand, and work with the time we have available.  Perhaps it would be better to call this period of time "active waiting," since despite sounding like an oxymoron, it is far from being a passive term. Consider the Serenity Prayer: "Lord, grant me that serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

This dictum encourages a more active form of waiting that perhaps is a better explanation, that of a healthy balance of action and contemplation that gives us the liberty to step up and stand down when our intuitive nature determines which response is appropriate.  How is this done?

1.  Take in the information.  Whatever the situation might be, we need to consider all of the facts we have at hand, regardless of their status or their degree of completeness.  Perhaps waiting is fool-hearty, given the circumstances.  Most situations, by nature, encourage waiting.  This is true of finding a job, getting into the right relationship, and any number of other decisions.  

2.  Taking action.  You might or might not at this point take action.  Even if you do elect to take action, however, this does not mean that you are not waiting at the same time.  You might be able to continue your gathering of information and analysis of what information you have available, but you are not making a final decision.  You might even be engaging others in your analysis of the information you have available, which will contribute to your decision.

3.  Watch things unfold.  It might be a metaphorical tango, but there really is a value to waiting, even as things unfold as they can and most often do.  This is perhaps the best kind of waiting, watching things emerge from the nothingness of the unknown into something that is beautiful.  There are a lot of things in academia like this. You should, ideally, be ready to not just lead, but lead and follow at the same time, to sow and to reap, to act and to wait, waiting for things to emerge as they were meant to do so.

[1] 1.  Partnoy, Frank.  Wait: The Art and Science of Delay.

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