How to harness time for business success in 2011

Nov. 1, 2011
Good timing can turn a mediocre product into a breakout success; bad timing can destroy an otherwise successful career.

By Steve Tobak

Good timing can turn a mediocre product into a breakout success; bad timing can destroy an otherwise successful career. In business, timing is everything. Unfortunately, most people think timing is just like luck. It isn't. Nothing can be further from the truth. It's a critical success factor and you can learn to use it to your advantage … or let it bite you in the you-know-what.

I don't care if it's a business plan, a negotiation, a customer relationship, a product launch, a presentation, a marketing campaign, a proposal, a career, or an entire corporation. Timing can make or break it; I see it happen all the time.

Unfortunately, even some of the best and brightest managers and business people consider timing as an afterthought. Their thinking goes something like this: 1) idea, 2) budget, 3) target customers or audience, 4) competition, … , 27) timing. I have no idea why, but it's true. And sad. Really.

Here are a few examples where timing played a big role in a company's success … or failure.

Adam Osborne, founder of personal computing pioneer Osborne Computer, had a hit product: a portable personal computer with a ton of bundled software for less than $2,000. But with product sales at 10,000 a month — pretty hot stuff in 1983 — Osborne shot off his mouth about a new product in the works, killing dealer sales and ultimately sending the company into bankruptcy. We now caution marketers not to "osborne" an existing product by prematurely hyping a new one.

Qualcomm, one of the world's largest and most successful semiconductor and intellectual property (IP) licensing companies, initially had to manufacture and sell its own wireless base stations and cell phones. Once the technology was established, it then sold off those businesses and focused solely on chips, IP, and software. That's when its business model really began to take off.

In the mid-1990s, Cyrix launched the world's first Intel-compatible, Pentium-class microprocessor. But, for a number of reasons, the market wasn't buying it and Cyrix fell on hard times. Then it launched a low-cost processor, the MediaGX, in a Compaq Presario priced at $999. That marked the start of a new era of low-cost PCs that tapped into a new trend: using PCs for low-performance tasks like Web-surfing and emailing.

Here are six ways to harness time for business success.

1. There's an old hockey saying: don't skate to where the puck is, skate to where it's going to be. Nobody's prescient, but at least consider the factors and probabilities.

2. Whether it's a product, service, campaign, whatever, think it all the way through from womb to tomb. I guarantee issues will pop up you hadn't initially considered.

3. Before you open your mouth, consider the wisdom, or lack thereof — in terms of content, audience, and timing — of what you're about to say.

4. Before you attempt any sort of big splash, event, announcement, or campaign, consider the broad set of factors that may affect your target audience or customer's reaction.

5. There's a time for throwing spaghetti against the wall and hoping something sticks, but for the most part, hope is a crappy strategy.

6. After you develop a plan, any kind of plan, bounce it off objective people with no stake in the game. Ask "what can go wrong," especially with respect to timing.

Steve Tobak is a consultant, writer, and former senior executive with more than 20 years of experience in the technology industry. He's the managing partner of Invisor Consulting, a Silicon Valley-based firm that provides strategic consulting, executive coaching, and speaking services to CEOs and management teams of small-to-mid-sized companies. Find out more at or through his blog, "The Corner Office," at