The history of the world has been decided in seconds. Leaders of the

most powerful nations on the globe are chosen by a handful of voters.

The world’s greatest inventors beat their rivals to the patent office

in a matter of mere hours. Revolutionary inventions narrowly avert

becoming one more link in a chain of failure. Historic calamities

result from reactions merely seconds delayed. In some spheres, being

the runner-up is synonymous with being a non-entity.

The world’s security and economy are tenuous and vulnerable to shocks.

The 19 September 11 hijackers killed nearly 3,000 people and caused

more than $500 billion in economic damage, exclusive of the $1.2

trillion that was lost in stock market value the week of the attacks.

Lone arsonists cause more than $1 billion in property damage just by

striking a match. When Andrew Speaker was believed to have

tuberculosis and was flying back and forth to Europe in the summer of

2007 , the world went into collective hysteria.

As 17th-century French mathematician, physicist, and religious

philosopher Blaise Pascal astutely said, "Had Cleopatra’s nose been

smaller the history of the world would have been different." A less

eloquent encapsulation of the power of small gestures impacting world

events came from an unnamed source who said, "Mahatma Gandhi wrapped a

rag around his ass and brought the whole British Empire to its knees."

So too, in business, your ability to seize seemingly minute advantages

will spell the difference between success and failure. Your ability to

detect weakness or nervousness in your adversary’s body language can

result in winning concessions worth millions of dollars. When it comes

to conducting competitive intelligence, an off-handed comment by the

junior-most person at a targeted company can reveal more than all of

that company’s public filings.

In "The Tipping Point" Malcolm Gladwell did a marvelous job of

documenting how little things can make a big difference in many

aspects of business and society. When consulting patients, the tone of

a doctor’s voice affects the likelihood of his being sued for

malpractice. When a salesman nods his head, he is likely to be

rewarded with more sales. Other studies indicate that when a waitress

simply touches a customer, she earns significantly more tips. In

retail, there is a big difference in situating a store on the corner

versus next door to the corner store and in positioning the door

directly in front of a bus stop instead of a few yards away. In the

world of criminology, heightened police vigilance against misdemeanors

such as spray-painting graffiti, turnstile jumping in subway stations,

and parking violations leads to dramatic reductions in the most

violent felonies.

If you look back on your own life, you will realize that life is not

linear. You will probably remember that you encountered several pivot

points that greatly influenced your life. Perhaps it was a brief

meeting with a coach or career counselor who advised you to enlist in

the military or to pursue a particular field of study. Maybe it was a

chance encounter with a stranger that placed you on your career path.

Had you turned a different corner, you may not have met your spouse.

You cannot reach the apex of success in 12 easy steps. You cannot

mimic the actions of others when you are blazing new trails. You

cannot change your personality any easier than you can change your

genetic make up. You cannot graph the behavioral characteristics that

have yielded others success onto your temperament. Instead, as

Friedrich Nietzsche said, "You must become who you are." You must know

yourself and find the professional pursuits that complement your

personality, skills and comfort levels. Success will lie in the

crosshairs of you becoming who you are and in what your profession and

industry dictate that you become.

Many of the world’s most successful people have diametrically opposite

practices in terms of attention to detail; ability to delegate;

whether they take action opportunistically or plan methodically; seek

publicity versus cherish their privacy; and spend money to make money

in contrast to those who save every penny.

These practice sets are not contradictions but rather confirmations

that being who you are – together with being bracketed by what

determines success in your field – is a much more probable path to

prosperity than endeavoring to emulate randomly chosen role models.

Sam Walton (founder of Wal-Mart) made a fortune squeezing every penny

of expense out of his retail empire. Donald Trump, in contrast, spends

lavishly on entertainment and publicity to boost his brand image,

which he has been able to translate into higher rents and sales prices

for the real estate his company develops.

Steve Jobs of Apple Computer is obsessed with detail, especially in

terms of introducing Apple’s new products to the public. On the other

hand, shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis was largely detached from

running his shipping empire. He delegated to others and did not relish

a high density of detail. Some people excel in very structured

environments where everyone’s job is well defined, such as at German

banks, while others make their biggest contributions in a relatively

unstructured environment such as at advertising firms where jobs are

less well defined.

Managing Time

Manage your time ruthlessly. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity holds

that time is relative. However, for all practical purposes, time is an

absolute, non-negotiable, constantly depleting scarce resource.

Successful people never have enough time to accomplish all of the

goals that they set for themselves. A defining characteristic of super

successful people is the ruthless management of their time.

Even shaving a few seconds off of routine activities is important.

President Eisenhower signed his initials rather than his name to save

time and excoriated his subordinates when they handed him unopened

envelopes. Other leaders realize that they can write faster with pens

than pencils. The most efficient salespeople look up phone numbers for

their phone calls the evening before making their sales calls.

Specific time management techniques that we recommend include:

Do not be overly accessible. Being overly accessible invites

interruptions which are extremely distracting and damage productivity.

According to Basex Inc., a knowledge management research firm, work

interruptions cost the U.S. economy at least $650 billion a year.

Analysts Jonathan B. Spira and David M. Goldes reckon that 28 percent

of the typical knowledge worker’s day is consumed by unnecessary

interruptions and recovery time. In a 2005 study, researchers at the

University of California at Irvine found that information workers at

an outsourcing company spent an average of 11 minutes on a project

before they were interrupted. Once diverted, it took them 25 minutes

to return to the original task. A British researcher administered IQ

tests to different groups of people; the group that was distracted by

E-mail and ringing telephones scored an average of 70 points less than

a control group.

Moreover, being overly accessible dampens the self reliability of your

subordinates. When subordinates can E-mail their Blackberry carrying

bosses with every question that comes to mind, the subordinates do not

develop their problem-solving abilities. I would like to offer one tip

for handling unavoidable interruptions when you are on the phone. Have

your assistant write a note and hand it to you. Listening to your

counterparty on the phone and to your assistant makes it impossible to

understand either as attempting to do so uses the same parts of the

brain. You will do a much better job of following the conversation and

reading the note.

Do not accept every invitation. You should not view time as a corset

into which you have to squeeze a bloated schedule. Rather, you should

implicitly conduct a cost-benefit analysis every time a demand is

placed on your time. If there is not enough anticipated return on your

time by accepting an invitation, you should decline the invitation.

Do not pick up the phone without an agenda. Regardless of whether you

are calling a colleague, partner, vendor, or client, you must know

what you wish to accomplish by contacting that person before you dial

the number.

Make a to-do list. This will give you a better perspective of the work

you need to accomplish. When you are juggling multiple tasks in your

head they can seem overwhelming; just putting them on paper can make

them seem more manageable. Checking the small tasks off of your list

gives you a feeling of accomplishment. Focus on the most pressing and

complicated tasks when your focus and attention is greatest. Take care

of the busywork when you are operating at less than optimal levels

(e.g. at the end of the day).

A further refinement of managing your to-do lists is to identify

several intermediate goals. Each intermediate goal should be

restricted to what you can accomplish without needing a break. In a

similar vein, don’t rely on Post-it notes to write down phone

messages, which are likely to get lost or buried under other work.

Keep a dedicated notebook for this purpose.

Inasmuch as possible, operate on your biological clock. Research shows

that your biological clock makes your efficiency fluctuate by up to 30

percent. The difference between your peak and low hours is quite

marked, the equivalent of drinking three or four glasses of wine, in

the latter case.

Doing things consistently saves time. If, for example, you know

exactly how you’re going to get ready for work in the morning or how

you’re going to process E-mails when you arrive at work, you will

complete these tasks with less time and effort than if you reinvent

the wheel every day. By developing systems – and then maintaining them

– you will bring order to your day.

Delete junk E-mails right away as well as E-mails from lists you

subscribe to but rarely read. Don’t read every E-mail right away. Scan

over messages to determine which require immediate action. Use the

preview pane to scan the E-mails. Designate a specific time of the day

to handle E-mails. Don’t let E-mails accumulate and clutter your

inbox. Delete or file them after you’ve dealt with them.

Don’t allow your cell phone or other wireless devices to interrupt

your meetings. Set boundaries. Holster your Blackberry. Don’t answer

your phone until you are ready to speak to the most important person

that could be expected to contact you. Return telephone calls at a

predesignated time of day. Tell callers right away how long you are

willing to talk.

Many times people interrupt their own workflow by allowing the ideas

that they generate to eclipse the project that they are currently

working on. When an unrelated idea crosses your mind, write it down,

then return to the original task without wasting any further thought

on it. The next time you take a break, you will have time to consider

that spur-of-the-moment thought.

About the Author

A senior management consultant and managing director of IncreMental

Advantage at 116 Village Boulevard, Suite 309, Princeton Forrestal

Village (www.incrementaladvantage.com), David Wanetick says people at

the tops of their businesses are often in search of real-life examples

of how to gain even the slightest edge on their competition.

That edge, he says, comes not from working five times harder than

anyone at a comparable level, but by recognizing how small, seemingly

insignificant factors – think about how Olympic gold and a

fourth-place finish often are separated by less than half a second –

can shape the very course of events.

One of five children of a San Francisco-based general surgeon ,

Wanetick majored in economics and political science at Bucknell

University, Class of 1988. He worked as an industry analyst for

Merrill Lynch.

A year ago he moved Incremental Advantage to Princeton, where he lives

with his wife and son.

"The Power of Incremental Advantage," from which the article above has

been excerpted, is Wanetick’s third book. He also has written "Hot

Sector Investing," published by McGraw Hill, and "Bound for Growth,"

published by Dearborn Financial. An instructor at the Business

Development Academy, he has taught industry analysis to high-level

executives in New York for 11 years. He also has lectured around the

world, as often as 25 times a year, including before the Kuwait

Investment Authority.

Wanetick will host a meeting of the Business Development Academy on

Thursday, January 24, at 6 p.m., at the Princeton Marriott Hotel. He

will discuss his new book and former Sun Bancorp CEO Tom Bracken will

discuss "Obtaining Financing During a Period of Tighter Credit" ($45,

609-919-1895, www.bdacademy.com)

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