On hesitation

When you hesitate, it means you don’t know something. Probably, you think you are procrastinating. When is the last time you watched yourself hesitate?

Have you ever stopped and watched yourself hesitate?

It occurred to me, while doing a module of the +Acumen Board Strategy for Social Enterprise course this week (a course I highly recommend, by the way, one that was recommended to me) that hesitation is a lesson in performance and high level functioning.

As part of the module, there was a reading that talked about boards of advisors and what startup founders need to be looking for. One of those things was hesitation, and that hesitation comes from not knowing.

So if you are a founder, director, CEO, or high level manager, please, watch yourself hesitate. You probably misconstrue your hesitation for procrastination. I did. The dawning of realisation was epic.

Procrastination very often has its roots in hesitation. And hesitation comes from not knowing.

Today I looked at my list of things I had to deliver by the end of the day, and one of those items I just couldn’t reach. I’d do anything else but that thing. And even with a conscious effort to start the thing, a wall suddenly appeared in front of me.

I had walked up to the wall in front of the thing for two days previously. On reaching the wall, the internal monologue went something like this:


That thing.


Super productive thinking.

Today, I realised that it wasn’t procrastination, or boredom, or difficulty, or lack of time, or lack of desire. It was hesitation. I could do the thing, I wanted to do the thing, but I hesitated on my approach.

So I asked why. Why was I hesitating? Pretty quickly I answered, because in light of XYZ information I’m not sure I even need to do this thing.

The problem was immediately apparent: The need for it to be on the list wasn’t even clear.

The next step was to ask something that the gorgeous Lucinda (whom I mentor, and who, happily, often ends up reverse-mentoring me) mentioned this morning, in a conversation over huevos rancheros about inclusive communication.

That thing was, instead of seeing an impossibility, to ask:

What might we do?

Thereupon, I started a conversation with myself. I said, ‘Self, we don’t know if there’s a need for this thing. So, what might we do?’

The answer was, ‘Well, we might start by looking at the files to see if we already have a comparable thing, which would render this new thing null. And if we do have that thing, perhaps the new method can use the thing instead of it falling to disuse.’

And what do you know? I was right.

We (that is, myself and I) already had a comparable thing. And yes, it was current and functional. And yes, using it as a backbone for a new process would make the new process more robust, once that process gained feet. In fact, it could save us considerable time and effort and long-term angst.


The thing on the list was now complete, and could be ticked off the list. All because I saw myself hesitated and asked why the hesitation.

In talking with Lucinda today, I raised the question of whether she has a personal board of advisors. Does she see herself as a not-for-profit entity deserving of a board of its own? For, I argued, if you hesitate, then you don’t know something, and it’s quite likely that advice, guidance, or input could resolve the hesitation and help her to move more quickly through the tricky territory that life can throw at you.

As for me, I’m ruminating on building my own casual, personal board of advisors. It will entail conversation and coffee I think, and some digging to find the best coaches of the people I have in mind, but it will happen. Is this hesitation? No. But it surely has the capacity to turn into hesitation.

What do you hesitate about in your life? And what does it tell you about what you don’t know?

Deep questions, sure. But they’re questions that every company founder needs to ask. And, perhaps, in this way, company founders come across as being more spiritual and enlightened than others because they have learned how to ask themselves (and then address) tougher questions than most.


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