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
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.
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
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
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
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,