The Procrastination Technique

by Krishna on March 28, 2007

I recently finished reading “Managing in the Next Society” by the late Peter Drucker. It is a very good book that discusses about the future of business in a world fundamentally changed by the advent of the digital economy. He also explains how different countries are placed with regard to taking advantage of the new business environment. One of the points he mentioned, namely, judicious use of procrastination, struck me.

Drucker mentioned how the Japanese bureaucracy failed to take action to resolve two major crises facing their economy, but instead decided to ride the problem out. One situation was the precarious situation of the Japanese farmers after World War II and the other was the multitude of small shops that were not profitable or efficient. In both cases, each problem resolved itself due to changing social conditions.

The point was this: Is it sometimes more effective not to do anything? Our normal tendency is to attack the problem at hand and come up with some action plan to resolve it at the earliest. And I think that is a good thing. But can an action plan be “wait and watch”?

I believe that some situations may lend themselves to a course of inaction. Here are some general situations:

  1. Doing something now may worsen the situation: Sometimes every course of action possible may lead to serious risks and worsen the situation. For example, in a project that is already late, adding more resources may introduce even more bugs leading to greater project delays.
  2. The future may have better circumstances for taking action: Possible actions may have conditions ripe for them, but a later situation may be. For example, Internet video hosting sites would have instantly failed in the early days of the Web because of poor bandwidth of end users. Today we have YouTube.
  3. A tipping point has not yet reached: A course of action may be very meaningful today, but has less support among those who would implement them. One must wait for a crisis that allows such actions to be accepted. Politicians are usually masters at this.

The problem with procrastination is that one cannot really predict that the future will be any better. The Japanese certainly didn’t — they did what they did in the “hope” (not the certainty) that the problem would go away. So delaying action is a leap of faith. It can also be frustrating to followers and on-lookers who can mistake such behavior for apathy or cowardice.

So use this tactic sparingly. Use it wisely.


Pamela March 29, 2007 at 3:14 am

If you know what needs to be done, and in doing so will make it right, then do it. You'll just cause more delay to your work if you try to avoid something.

Nancy March 29, 2007 at 8:28 pm

I think that #2 and #3 are quite risky situations. The future is too vague to be predicted that simple.
I think that those who take on with #3 have high satisfaction rating. Aiming high may cause you to lose and start all over again.

John April 1, 2007 at 10:58 pm

I agree with nancy. We can't allow the thought of having risks to rule our lives. We must be satisfied with the things that we already have.

I think that politicians are risk takers, considering the fact that they risk their money for the campaign even if it is still possible for them to lose.

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