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How to Purposely Use Procrastination for Profit

How to Purposely Use Procrastination for Profit



Or how ABC came to rule the world of sports through the positive use of procrastination.

Once upon a time, ABC was the smallest and least powerful of the major television networks in America.  In a three-horse race for viewers, they were always third.

Having less viewers meant less money. And less money meant they had to choose their battles carefully because they simply could not compete with the big boys (CBS and NBC) dollar for dollar.  Not all across the board, anyway.

So ABC decided to use a strategy that is still popular today with startup’s and small business people, they decided to “niche down”.  They might not be able to compete everywhere, but they should be able to compete – perhaps even dominate – a small segment of the viewing schedule.

They chose to compete in sports. All types of sports.

They broadcast everything from football games to fishing events.  They were one of the first networks to put a spotlight on winter sports with skiing and skating competitions of all types. They even made a big deal out of bowling.

Their mission was to be the “go to” network for sports.

They even branded their new strategy as “ABC’s Wide World of Sports” and though it hasn’t run in over twenty years, their opening video and monologue is still remembered by many.  In fact, the announcer’s voice speaking the words “the thrill of victory” and “the agony of defeat” still ring in my ears today and in my mind’s eye, I see a skier coming off a jump and landing badly. Bouncing and bouncing and bouncing.  You might not relate to the “thrill of victory” part, but you sure could recognize “the agony of defeat” when you saw it.

Although Ed Scherick was the man with the title, ABC put a lot of faith in a young producer named Roone Arledge and he proved to be a wise choice.  Whenever and wherever sporting events took place, you got the idea that ABC was going to be there. 

Arledge was able to broadcast the first NCAA football game between Alabama and Georgia in 1960. Later, as president of ABC Sports, he created Monday Night Football.  Arledge’s career is a story all it’s own, but suffice it to say that he became president of the Sports Division, the News Division, and eventually, the President of the Network.  Besides Monday Night Football, some of his other accomplishments were: Nightline, 20/20, ABC World News, and Primetime.

One of his greatest achievements was snatching  the broadcasting rights to the Olympics from under the noses of the other two major networks.  Getting the original deal done was one thing, but retaining those rights long-term was something else altogether.

Arledge decided to use procrastination as his weapon of choice.

I want you to think, for a moment, about the last real proposal that came across your desk - anything requiring more time, money, and concentration than it does to order lunch.

Maybe it was a decision to install a new company wide phone system using the power of the Internet to lower your costs or an estimate to revamp all the security cameras and backups for your facility.

Moving all your desktop applications into the cloud? A designer’s recommendation as to the proper paint colors for your new construction project?

How did you handle it?

In many cases, your default answer to any of these is:

“Let me think about it.”

“I’ll take it under advisement.”

“I’ll give you my answer on ________.”

Then you carefully open your day planner, Outlook calendar, or desktop application and you make a notation of the due date.  And now you do absolutely nothing - safe in the knowledge that when the time comes, you’ll either have the time and information to make a decision or more likely, you will push it back even further.

Thirty years ago people did the same. 

After all, you can rarely be criticized for “just not getting around to it”.  But you sure can lose your job if those proposals don’t work out after you’ve approved them.  And if corporate thinks you overspent … well, we don’t even want to go there.

So what Arledge did was kind of sneaky. 

He built up some personal currency within his own company that allowed him to take a one-time chance at the Olympics.  Simply put, he overbid a little. 

And once he had those rights, he broadcast the Olympics in a manner that no one thought possible.  Day and night. Almost 24 hours a day. Even for sports that nobody had ever heard of, ABC was on the scene with coverage.

When the dust settled, ABC actually ended up making money on the Olympics – and not just a little. More to the point, the IOC (the governing body of the Olympics) also made money and was ecstatic over the coverage. 

And while the other networks had carefully marked their calendars for the next Olympic bidding war three years down the road,  Arledge met with the committee almost immediately.

Were they happy with the coverage? Did they have any concerns or suggestions? How could ABC improve the experience for everyone?  And would there be any reason the IOC wouldn’t go ahead and grant ABC the broadcast rights to the next Olympic games? For an increased fee, of course.

And so ABC, the smallest and least powerful of the major networks, went on to dominate Olympic coverage for years. 

Think about what ABC accomplished.

Not only did they obtain the rights to an exclusive event that their competitors could not match, they kept the price down by avoiding the bidding process altogether.  They simply took the game to another level.

Can’t you imagine the “other guys” opening their calendars and making the calls only to discover that ABC had beat them to the punch by two years or more? 

And what did they do about it?  Why - they marked a new date in their calendar.

That’s it.  They simply put it off.  They’d try again another day. 

Their willingness to wait cost them prestige. It cost them money. And it cost them position. 

ABC would never again be considered the weakling.

Arledge was able to use their tendency to procrastinate against them and in the process he moved ABC from last to first, changed broadcasting forever, and built himself a career. 

In most cases, procrastination is just not a good strategy. Not for people and not for companies.Because if you wait too long to make a decision, you’re liable to find a decision has been made for you.

And it may not be one you like. 

As NBC and CBS discovered, if you sit on your hands an do nothing, something is likely to come along and bite you in the …


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