I can barely count the number of times it has happened.

I learn something new and revolutionary at work – a new team management insight, a new prioritization method, a new leadership strategy, or even just a new way to run my team meeting. I think:

“A-ha! I’ve got it! Next quarter/next year/next time I’m going to apply this lesson and get it right from the very beginning.”

Next time.

What a luxurious blank canvas. Next time always feel so clean, none of the messiness of today, none of the issues – only the plans to execute with clean perfection.

I conduct a quick mental post-mortem of my current situation in light of the new lesson, I figure out everything I’ve done wrong, and what I will do differently in the future. Then I package it all up in a corner of my mind and wait.

I smile. Next time I’m going to absolutely crush this.

But wait… what about this time?

What about the team that is counting on me today?

What about the projects that need guidance now?

Yes – sometimes it feels like it would be more convenient just to scrap the current team/project/planning cycle and re-do it correctly from scratch leveraging your new insight.

The problem is – next time is uncertain. It might take you a really long time to get there, it might be in totally different circumstances, or there could be other problems that are even greater than the ones you face today.

Relying on next time is for chumps.

The key to successful leadership is being able to learn new things and apply them immediately to your current team, your current project, and your current planning cycle. Not next time.

After all, if you always wait for next time, eventually there won’t be a next time.

The Allure of Next Time
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  • There’s an obvious trade-off implementing now versus later. It may cost more (resources, time, etc) to implement something partway through than to implement from the start “next time.”

    That said, the real dangers with “next time” thinking is that:

    1) There may well never be a next time.
    2) You’re quite likely to simply forget about the the new method/strategy.

    And of course, your point:

    3) There’s an opportunity cost of not implementing now.

    I tend to think that (2) is the biggest problem, and you can argue that aggressive implementation of new ideas/techniques is good not so much due to (1) or even (3), but rather because you’re much more likely to successfully implement ANY changes if you actually try right now. And the process of trying will likely aid memory, and thus your chances of getting better at it.

    Of course, that all falls in the face of the bigger challenge: just doing it. I mean, how many management changes fail due to lack of decent followthrough? The relative effectiveness of something can easily be a step function: if you do it 100% of the time, you get 100% of the benefits. But if you do it 80% of the time, you get -20% of the benefits (that is, none of the benefits and a PENALTY for partial implementation). Except going from 80% to 100% is really hard (ye olde Pareto principle).

    For managers/leaders/executives, who keep themselves busy, focusing on too many things is quite likely to be a very bad idea.

    What is it that Drucker said?

    “Effective executives do first things first and they do one thing at a time. […] … most of us find it hard enough to do well even one thing at a time, let along two […] few people, I think, can perform with excellence three major tasks simultaneously.” (p. 104)

    ^ If you haven’t read The Effective Executive, I do recommend it. Especially chapter 4.

  • This resonates well. Read Drucker about 6 years ago (i believe on your recommendation) :)

  • I wouldn’t be surprised! I have been a bit of a broken record on him :)