Daily Inspiration: “If you spend your time waiting to see when something might happen, you probably won’t be ready for it when it actually happens!”


“If you spend your time waiting to see when something might happen, you probably won’t be ready for it when it actually happens!” – Futurist Jim Carroll

The blog post How much time of an average life is spent waiting? features some pretty depressing statistics:

“According to a Timex survey, Americans wait:

    • on average of 20 minutes a day for the bus or train
    • 32 minutes whenever they visit a doctor
    • 28 minutes in security lines whenever they travel
    • 21 minutes for a significant other to get ready to go out
    • 13 hours annually waiting on hold for a customer service
    • 38 hours each year waiting in traffic
    • those living in Big cities wait in traffic for more than 50 hours annually
    • about 37 billion hours each year waiting in line somewhere”

In other words, we spent about 6 months of our entire lives waiting for things!

But a lot of that involves uncontrollable, involuntary waiting – it’s not our fault when we are stuck on hold with a customer service representative waiting for some help. (By the way, that’s estimated to take up about 43 days of our life!)

It’s the controllable waiting for which we are at fault: the indecision that drives us, the decisions we defer, the actions we don’t take, the initiative we forgo – all because we are waiting to see what might happen before taking action. The impact of that inaction is that we develop a mindset of not moving forward because we want to wait to see what happens. We start suffering from aggressive indecision. But in a fast-moving world, that usually means we aren’t busy preparing for what might happen – and so we aren’t ready when it happens!

Unnecessary waiting usually doesn’t end well – there are many examples of what happens when companies wait for the future to unfold. I asked Microsoft’s new Bing AI to provide me with a few:

Can you give me actual corporate examples of bad waiting decisions with company names and details?

    • Motorola waited too long to enter the smartphone market, losing its dominant position in the mobile phone industry to competitors like Apple and Samsung
    • Excite, an early internet portal, passed on the opportunity to buy Google for under $1 million in 1999, thinking that its own search engine was good enough1.
    • Netflix announced a plan to split itself into two separate businesses in 2011, one for streaming and one for DVD rentals, but faced a huge backlash from customers and investors and quickly reversed its decision2.
    • Kodak failed to embrace digital photography until it was too late, despite inventing the first digital camera in 1975. It filed for bankruptcy in 2012

(By the way, send me feedback – I’m waiting to see if using an AI for some of the research and preparation of my Daily Inspiration post is a good idea or bad idea. I’ll wait.)

Those all seem rather tech-oriented, so I probed a bit further. Bing gave me a few more answers.

What is the most significant example of ‘bad waiting’ in corporate history?

There is no definitive answer to this question, as different sources may have different criteria and opinions on what constitutes a bad waiting decision in corporate history. However, based on some of the web search results12, here are some possible candidates:

    • Blockbuster waited too long to embrace online streaming and rental services, rejecting a partnership offer from Netflix in 2000, and eventually filing for bankruptcy in 2011
    • Nokia waited too long to adopt Android as its operating system for smartphones, sticking with its own Symbian platform until 2011, when it was already losing market share to Apple and Samsung.
    • Kodak waited too long to embrace digital photography until it was too late, despite inventing the first digital camera in 1975. It filed for bankruptcy in 2012.
    • Nike waited too long to upgrade its supply chain software system in 2000, resulting in bugs and integration issues that caused inventory shortages and excesses. Nike had to slash prices to get rid of the additional inventory, putting pressure on margins and profits.

(Also, another question. How should I cite A.I. answers and content in my posts? Does anyone have any definitive guidance? I’ll wait to find out what you have to say!)

Here’s the problem with waiting – you can’t just ‘wait and see’ your way into the future. Think about what we might do day to day if we let a culture of ‘active indecision‘ seep into our culture:

  • we wait for clarity on strategy but might not get any
  • we wait for clarity on a trend but might never get it in time
  • we wait for someone to make a decision but they might be suffering from aggressive indecision
  • we wait for some certainty in our decision that might take away risk but we might never get it
  • we wait for someone to tell us what to do, but they don’t know what to do in the first place
  • we wait for a trend to get to critical mass, but by the time it does, we’ve lost the opportunity

We wait.

No doubt sometimes waiting makes sense – we might need to get more information to assess the real risks and benefits of moving forward. Once again, I asked Bing for a few examples:

Here are some actual corporate examples of good waiting decisions with company names and details:

    • Apple waited until 2007 to launch its first iPhone, after years of research and development, testing different designs and features, and creating a strong brand loyalty
    • Netflix waited until 2013 to start producing its own original content, after building a large customer base, collecting data on viewing preferences, and securing licensing deals with studios
    • Amazon waited until 2014 to enter the smartphone market with its Fire Phone, after dominating the e-commerce and cloud computing sectors, expanding into new product categories, and acquiring patents and technologies². However, the Fire Phone was not a success due to poor design and marketing choices.

Ok, so sometimes there is ‘good waiting!

But that’s not always the case – I’ve seen many innovation and leadership failures as a result of waiting, particularly with the events I did with Motorola. Waiting can lead to costly mistakes because we miss out on significant opportunities. Not only that, it means that we aren’t investing in gaining the necessary experience – what I call experiential capital – so that we are ready when the trend actually begins to crystallize and become significant.

The art of waiting always involved a tradeoff, a pause between acting and not acting. But we need to be aware of an overreliance on waiting. We can’t wait around to take on this potential leadership miscalculation.

I couldn’t wait to ask Bing about the art of waiting.


Ok, stop waiting.


THE FUTURE BELONGS TO THOSE WHO ARE FAST features the best of the insight from Jim Carroll’s blog, in which he
covers issues related to creativity, innovation and future trends.