A Bit to Read and a Bite to Eat

Have a Bias Towards Action (At the Right Time)

My upbringing was strange. There were rules for everything, and even when I followed all the rules, there could still be a “problem.” Leaving the house was mostly forbidden, for one reason or another, and if I was allowed to leave, there were many restrictions on how and where and for how long.

I was raised, essentially, to become a shut-in. Yet, for all that training, I did not become a shut-in, nor do I want to be one. I still struggle with many odd effects and behaviors, one of which is to think more than I act. As an adult, I often must overcome mental hurdles much larger than the physical hurdles. Perhaps counterintuitively, that taught me confidence. If I can just get past myself, the rest is easy. It took time and effort and pain for me to train myself that I can take action, and my actions can make a difference. Not everyone is fortunate enough to learn that lesson.

Which brings me to the trendy topic at hand. There's lots of talk about having a “bias towards action.” It's a buzzword, a desirable trait for job applicants, the milder mainstream version of “Move Fast and Break Things,” and a bad idea. Too much action without enough thought is irresponsible. Too much thought without enough action is useless. It is possible to run very quickly into disaster, just as it is possible to miss opportunities by freezing.

I know I need to adjust myself towards action because I am out of balance in favor of thinking. In a corrective sense, “bias towards action” can be very useful. However, I do not believe that an overall bias towards action is wise.

One hundred years ago, we knew, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” [1]

General Patton knew, “There is a right time to make every decision. Trying to select the right time is the most important factor for every decision. It is a mistake to make the decision too early, and it is a mistake to make the decision too late...The longer the decision can be delayed, the more facts we can collect on how to make the best decision. When the time is right and when we have the facts, we should never hesitate.” [2]

King Solomon, writing Ecclesiastes, knew, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.” [3]

There is a time to think, and there is a time to act. If you must have a bias, have a bias towards acting at the right time.


[1] Though this quote is often credited to Benjamin Franklin, there is no proper evidence for this attribution. It's basically a century-old meme. https://quoteinvestigator.com/2018/07/08/plan/

[2] Text quoted from Patton's Principles by Porter B. Williamson. Omitted text is “Every old maid will agree with me!” That sentiment did not age well and therefore in this day and age detracts from the overall point.

[3] Text quoted from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ecclesiastes%203:1-8&version=ASV. Credit to King Solomon is traditional. From Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecclesiastes