Don't Just Do Something

Published: Nov 29 , 2013
Author: Alan Smith

Don’t just do something. Stand there.

The legislation allowing the UK government to build a high-speed rail line between London and Birmingham is to go before Parliament.

Apparently the bill stretches to over 75,000 pages and details, almost down to the last blade of grass, exactly what ministers would like to build. The bulk of the bill, almost 50,000 pages is dedicated to the impact the first phase of HS2 will have on the environment. 

To put that into a form of context, the average novel is 350 pages long, and the average person reads around 6 novels a year. So we are talking about 5 complete lifetimes worth of reading in one (let’s face it) very dull report.

Please do not get me wrong; I am sure that the HS2 (High Speed 2) bill needs to be thoroughly and completely reviewed. There is a view held by many that by the time the last track would be laid, the whole thing would be obsolete. The contrary view may be that even if that were the case the jobs and investment required to do the job would have a major multiplying impact on the economy for years to come.

The sheer scale of the project is none the less mind-boggling.

Deciding to slow down a project or negotiation may be very much in your interest. Particularly if the outcome may be uncertain or if a little longer in deliberation may improve your decision-making ability or give you more power to do a better deal.

In his entertaining and thoughtful book on procrastination, Wait, Frank Portnoy recounts a story of the head of triage in a large hospital in the US. This surgeon would act quickly when the situation that presented itself was obvious, or had been observed many times before.

When a new situation presented, or there was uncertainty as to the next course of action, rather than do something he would suggest they wait and observe, they could then act on the fly based on how the situation changed.

In this world of just do it, maybe we just occasionally recognise that just doing nothing may be the right thing after all.

Alan Smith  


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