The Unspoken Role of Time in Entrepreneurship
By Eliana Chow
In the world of business and innovation, time is the current running beneath an entrepreneur’s decisions. When sharing their story, successful entrepreneurs often refer to “acting at the right time” as the linchpin that allowed them to launch a business or release a new product line.
But the concept of time can be elusive or difficult to communicate and, until recently, the innovation literature has remained mostly silent on the topic.
“It’s easy to think about time in retrospect,” Matthew Wood, the Robert and Louise Rogers Endowed Chair in Entrepreneurship and director of the Entrepreneurship Doctoral Program at the Hankamer School of Business, said. “But what does it mean to get the timing right on a new venture? How does that play out in competitive business? My colleagues and I wanted to construct a more concise framework to help entrepreneurs take advantage of time’s often unspoken role in their work.”
Together with Erasmus University Rotterdam’s Rene Bakker and Indiana University’s Greg Fisher, Wood co-authored a new research paper entitled “Back to the Future: A Time-Calibrated Theory of Entrepreneurial Action.” In this paper, the team identified three key time-oriented dimensions that weigh heavily in an entrepreneur’s decision-making process: initialization, pace and chronology.
Initialization is the point at which an entrepreneur deems it appropriate to create an action plan. “This may be one of the most intuitive facets of entrepreneurship,” Wood said. “Innovators instinctively pay attention to the market landscape around them to identify and meet the flow of consumer desires or needs.”
Pace, the second dimension, describes how long it will take to reach an innovator’s desired outcome or milestone once the project has been initialized. This concept is closely tied to the third dimension, chronology, which is the order of action steps taken to meet a particular goal. Choosing a project’s pace and chronology is a weighty decision, requiring both concrete goals and the willingness to adapt to market changes, network feedback and other potential challenges. While initialization only happens once per innovation, Wood and his team noted that an entrepreneur will often need to adjust pace to chronology and vice versa.
“Even if you have a set pace in mind, there are endless chronologies that could get you from point A to point B,” Wood said. “How will you order your action steps on the way to success? How will you adjust that plan when an action doesn’t take you as far as you’d hoped?”
The team said that it’s essential for entrepreneurs across all industries to clearly articulate their idea’s pace and chronology.
“Whether you’re communicating down to supporting employees or up to investors, you need a concrete timeline and deliverable results to strive for or else you end up with an abstract idea with no clear way forward,” Wood said. “The more general your timeline, the more uncertain your chances of success.”
With the foundation laid, Wood looks forward to exploring how their time-calibrated model can continue to foster growth in the business community. He and his co-authors have already had the opportunity to defend their work through a follow-up review entitled, “Unreasoned, Non-Deliberative, or Temporally Uncertain? Elaborating Time-Calibrated Entrepreneurial Action,” in which they addressed criticism from another research team in the field. In the review, they described how their time-calibrated theory drew from existing research on how humans make intentional and reasoned decisions. It remains to be seen, they explained, how impulsive or unreasoned entrepreneurial behaviors might impact the time-calibrated theory of entrepreneurship.
“A time-calibrated theory may encourage entrepreneurs to take their time in an increasingly fast-paced business arena, giving them a competitive edge,” Wood said. “Get a cheap product out tomorrow, and it will likely fall apart. Wait for the right opportunity, and it could last a lifetime.”