Editorial: It's Time to Take the Time.

By Len Monheit
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We often can't escape the urgencies that follow us through life. In fact, it's quite likely that many of you won't take the time to read this column, and will instead scan it and the many pieces you receive on a daily basis, looking for word or interest triggers and then continue on to more pressing priorities.

And that's fine- it's your prerogative.

After all, you've got more important issues to deal with, emergencies and fires. There are impacting events occurring around the world and directly in our business environment and these crises must be dealt with, responded to, decisively.

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In some cases, despite us realizing that we need to be proactive, this crisis or urgency cycle seems to prevent us from moving on what we know are the core issues. Sure, we've taken time management courses and understand the difference between urgent and important. On a few very rare occasions, we even get to read pieces from the gurus and experts about how business ought to be run and decisions and strategy ought to be formulated. We realize that being reactive rather than proactive wastes time and other resources, jeopardizes the present and future and propagates a destructive pattern. We realize the value of networking and building peer relationships, but just can't get to it in a very busy day.

Perhaps, as an industry leader, you don't have the time to respond to the FDA's comment period on ephedra labeling, the proposed GMP's or to participate in Canada's Natural Health Products Directorate process to introduce GMP's for natural health products. Maybe you don't see a need to understand the US Bioterror legislation and the impact it may have on your business, clients and suppliers. Perhaps you don't have the time to understand your trade association and what they're trying to do on your behalf, or perhaps you don't even have the time or money available to become a member. Maybe you feel that others are better positioned or informed, or in general able and willing to comment, attend roundtables and talk about the issues, or participate on committees intended to 'get things done'.

The high stress environment we operate in suggests we do more with less, bombards us with information and data, and has a very short memory, so that business professionals need to continuously prove themselves. We operate in an industry with few barriers to entry, and so have to deal with yesterday's and today's competitors while realizing that tomorrow will bring even more. We're looking for that next breakthrough product, realizing all the competitors are doing exactly the same. And the collective need for such a product grows, creating a desperate environment.

As this industry matures, it is changing from its grass roots and entrepreneurial origins, into an organized entity whose very success has earned it the enmity of other industries. It now faces 'big industry' issues, whether we're talking about regulatory and legal challenges, about how to sell to food companies or international competition. The industry is on a radar screen made even more visible by the pace of news and information and reach of the media.

These are the realities we face and circumstances which must be dealt with, creating new challenges for our leaders in addition to the daily issues they must manage. And it's difficult to get out of current operating mode, and even more difficult to find superior performers to staff your business who have the lateral thinking skills to keep on top. And the bigger your company becomes, the slower it tends to get in making decisions and realizing opportunities and trends.

And we do have priorities, unavoidable task we must accomplish, things we must deal with- now. And of course there are the items we've been putting off for weeks already, and we just can't let these things slide any more. And we must deal with the squeaky wheel, because that's annoying and it 'really doesn't take that much time.' If this is in fact the case, what are you to do to ensure present and future success?

First of all, business leaders must make decisions and accept responsibility for them with inaction in itself being a decision. They must understand that windows of opportunity are exactly that, 'openings', some smaller than others, where we can proactively position our company, product, service or industry to maximize the chance of some future event occurring or opportunity unfolding, or to prevent an obvious destination from being reached.

Secondly, there is really no middle ground. If you define yourself as a part of the industry, then you are caught up in its development and future. If you abdicate the responsibility to influence that future by refusing to comment and participate, then you lose significant control of your own destiny, as well as the right to legitimately criticize the decisions of others.

Thirdly, you have an opportunity and responsibility to seek out like minded individuals and companies, through or outside of trade associations, partly because there is strength in such collective action, but also because of the economies of scale that may allow larger groups to speak louder and more creatively than if they were acting independently.

And finally, allocating time and money to planning for the future is critical. It is almost certain that many in the industry, as it is currently defined, will not exist in a few year's time. It would seem prudent to invest in ensuring your company is a part of the future.

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