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Continued: University of Minnesota professor looks into how timing affects decisionmaking

  • Article by: ADAM BELZ , Star Tribune
  • Last update: November 11, 2013 - 10:33 AM

A: Let’s talk about the recent government shutdown, and how it could have been predicted six months earlier. There were two issues: funding the government (Oct. 1), and raising the debt ceiling (Oct. 17). Everyone knew the latter was the more important. There are two timing principles at work. First, when two decisions are close in time, they are likely to be linked. Second, how the first is decided can set a precedent for the second. So why was the government shut down? Partly it was a question of timing. The decision about whether to fund the government came first, and no side could afford to compromise given the more serious issue of raising the debt ceiling that would be coming up shortly. Sometimes a conflict can be decided as much by the temporal characteristics of the battleground as by the motives and power of the combatants. The book is filled with examples of such patterns that we often miss or fail to appreciate.


Q: Why don’t we see these types of timing patterns?

A: Part of it has to do with how our brain works. Assume you are at work. Imagine putting a key in your front door. Notice that you didn’t think about the sequence of steps needed to get home, the traffic lights, stop signs, etc. Your mind simply skipped from where you were at work to the image of inserting the key in your front door. Our brain makes it possible to think about something faster than it takes to do it. If we couldn’t, we’d all be dead. But the unintended consequence is that we often forget about sequences, and as we saw in the government shutdown example, sequences matter.


Q: Who is the book aimed for?

A: The book is intended for the general reader and the intelligent professional in any field, who needs to think about timing in his or her work and life. It supplies a methodology to think through questions of timing in any context. Because it took 20 years to research and write, the first sentence should be, ‘This book is late.’


Adam Belz • 612-673-4405 • Twitter: @adambelz

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  • Stuart Albert, a business professor at the University of Minnesota, has written a book about the importance of timing in making business decisions.

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