Sometimes trying to be first can lead to coming in last

Today, business is 24/7, with too little time for reflection. Typically, the clarion call, as the sportswear giant promotes in its tagline, is, “Just DO IT,” even though a watch-and-wait strategy might be better.

The clock and calendar can be both a friend and enemy, but it can be the former that best serves a company in an unpredictable period. Frequently, the smartest move can be a deliberate and thoughtful role, standing pat on the sidelines. This strategy can yield handsome payoffs as the competition jumps at what seems to be a great opportunity, only to have the wheels fall off their wagons as the economy continues to deteriorate.

Most executives have been trained to fight, and they argue that doing nothing risks having everyone pass you by. But when there are more economic questions than answers, it is prudent to preserve your stash and leave others to be pioneers blazing new trails. In seventh grade history class we learned that pioneers were frequently found face down in the mud with arrows in their backs.

There are many good examples of when just waiting reaped big rewards. One of the world’s iconic investors, Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway, is the owner of and an investor in multiple scores of world-renown enterprises, including Dairy Queen, Geico Insurance, Kraft, Heinz, Burlington, and Northern Santa Fe Railroad. The Oracle of Omaha, as he’s widely known, also has huge stakes in the likes of Apple, Bank of America, and Chevron Oil. Many times, Mr. Buffett has been criticized for being a spectator, not a buyer, and for keeping an excessive amount invested in T-Bills, which is about as exciting as watching grass grow. There’s no panache with these types of investments, but they also don’t go belly up. With a massive arsenal, Mr. Buffet is also legendary for striking at a time and place of his choosing to make an oversized deal when the price is right.

The decision to do nothing must be made at the very top, particularly in difficult times. Subordinates typically feel their perpetual motion measures their performance. They fear appearing indecisive if they are only watching and lurking in the shadows as competitors make a lot of noise transacting deals and launching what is touted as the latest and greatest. How often has a CEO said: “I’m not exactly sure what to do, but we must do something, do anything.” At best, that is tantamount to a roll of the dice. Without solid facts, reasoning and a definitive plan, acting to act will not have a happy ending.

If a football quarterback gains only three or four yards in a cloud of dust on each play, he gets little glory. But if he does that in succession, he gets first downs and reaches the goal line to score.

In the quest for action and glory, too many decisions are meant to grab the next day’s headline. But in the end, those deals likely will be wrapped in that same newspaper and put in the garbage just like day-old fish.

Timing is everything, and wisdom is the ability to discover alternatives. Not squandering resources enables a company to live and fight another day, waiting for the opportunities to come to them. ●

Visit Michael Feuer’s website to learn more about his columns, watch videos and purchase his books, “The Benevolent Dictator” and “Tips From The Top.”

Michael Feuer