Fast Company

Business Malady #1: The Waiting Game

There's a game called the Waiting Game that works like this: you sit on the sidelines, waiting for everyone else to go first. And then you skip a turn. Or a hundred turns. And before you know it, the game's over. Everyone else is moving ahead and getting to the finish line, and you're still waiting. Wait a minute, this game kind of sucks now that I think about it.

And yet there's a lot of this malady going around. We're waiting for the economy to go back to the way it was before the Great Recession. We're waiting for banks to start lending freely again, and consumers to go back to their good old free-spending ways. We're waiting for the mid-term elections. We're waiting for the summer to end, or maybe praying for the Christmas rush to come in September. We're waiting for the phone to ring.

And most of all, we're waiting for the uncertainty to pass. The thinking goes like this: "The world is uncertain and I might move in the wrong direction if I jump in now, but if I sit on the sidelines and wait for the uncertainty to go away then I will miss the risk and everything will fix itself. I can lay low in the bushes and pounce on unsuspecting prey. I can hold my cards until I'm ready and just shout 'Gin!' and catch everyone off guard."

A big problem with the Waiting Game is the premise that we can wait until the uncertainty in the world goes away. Unfortunately the uncertainty never goes away. The world will always be an uncertain place. The only difference is what kind of uncertainty you're dealing with. Oh sure, the economy is not exactly booming still, and who knows where it's headed. But you need to get in the game, or the game will leave you behind. If you're not ready to expand or hire, then invest in developing new products, partnerships, and contacts. Spend this time to rethink, retool and get more efficient. Sketch out a plan for the future. Anything but sitting and waiting for the phone to ring.

And despite the day to day uncertainty of the latest round of economic numbers and stock market fluctuations, some things still seem clear in the long run. The cost of doing business will continue pushing businesses to be more efficient, whether they call themselves green or not. The credit crunch for small businesses will not reverse itself overnight, and whether we experience a double dip recession, a single dip, or a double fudge split, we aren't likely to see a big bold economic boom any time soon - we need to get moving and work with the cards we're dealt.

One example of the Waiting Game can be seen in the race to develop and market clean, fuel efficient and electric cars. The leaders in the race are leaping in and taking a risk. After having their back up against the wall, GM is fighting their way back and betting heavily on the Chevy Volt hybrid and other fuel efficient vehicles to be a big part of their future. Nissan is giving them a race for their money with the Leaf, an all-electric vehicle that is coming out this year and promises to another innovative clean car competitor. Tesla keeps on pushing forward, including their IPO and the relationship with Toyota, and the plug-in Prius is coming out soon. And electric vehicle startups like Better Place, Aptera, Think!, Wheego, Zap Xebra, and a host of others are not waiting either. But others seem like they are. Chrysler is struggling, with its plans for electric vehicles lagging. They waited, and will have trouble catching up.

As a nation we're playing the game too. We're waiting for later to deal with climate change and establish a consistent energy policy. The Climate Bill was quietly sidelined in the U.S. Senate recently, lacking the votes to go anywhere in the current political climate. We feel like there isn't enough money now, that we have other problems that are more pressing. Other's aren't waiting though--countries like China are pressing forward with developing and supporting the growth of cleantech, ensuring that they will play an important if not dominant role in one of the key fields of economic growth in the 21st Century.

People feel like there isn't any money to work with now, that they have no choice but to wait. In truth, larger corporations like Apple have accumulated record levels of cash lately. What are they doing with it? Waiting. They're playing "not-to-lose" rather than playing to win, as the authors of Sway call it, playing it safe. Large numbers of small businesses truly are cash-strapped, but the more creative ones are not letting this stop them. They are plowing forward, innovating like mad and doing as much as they can with what little they have rather than getting caught in the Waiting Game trap.

I don't know about you, but corporate and government paralysis doesn't seem like the way to go. We can only hold our breath so long. Life is short and there's a lot to do. The waiting game sucks and is a plan for slow death. Let's get busy.

Glenn Croston is the author of 75 Green Businesses and Starting Green, and the founder of Starting Up Green. As the green business doctor, he's helping businesses get green and get moving out of the waiting game.

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1 Comments

  • Alex Campbell

    Thank you for the ZAP mention, wanted to update you that ZAP definitely isn't waiting around... the main electric vehicles we sell today are ZAP XL electric trucks. We sold a small fleet to the City of Riverside
    a couple weeks ago
    http://www.inlandsocal.com/bus...

    Thank you for covering all the smaller electric vehicle companies who have been leading the way for years.

    ~ Alex Campbell, ZAP