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James Bream: Timing is everything but perspective and context play a huge part

We should be able to reflect, look at situations and re-evaluate our behaviour, writes James Bream
We should be able to reflect, look at situations and re-evaluate our behaviour, writes James Bream

Timing is everything.

There is something specific that got me thinking about this phrase – a bit of bad luck. Bad judgement, actually.

James Bream

Timing is so important in so much of what we do, whether it is family affairs, sport, comedy, business or politics. But I tend to think that getting your timing right is nothing to do with luck.

Getting your timing right is about listening, understanding, experience and being excellent at what you do. It isn’t just a two dimensional concept of the immediate here and now. There many examples of how timing can be seen in 3D, considering the breadth (present context) and depth (historical context) simultaneously.

Time your words wisely

“It’s OK, calm down” is a phrase which is all about timing. In some cases, it provides water to douse flames. It soothes and take the pressure away. Used with your own children while kneeling to their level, it works particularly well.

Bad timing will lead to heat and a range of verbal responses which will ensure you know you didn’t quite get it right

That said, I’m pretty sure we’ve all used it at a time when it has had the opposite impact. This phrase requires a great deal of experience and assessment of non-verbal signals.

Bad timing will lead to heat and a range of verbal responses which will ensure you know you didn’t quite get it right.

Is it OK to laugh at historic jokes?

Watching a short piece of golf commentary the other day was a great example of the 3D concept of timing. The comedic delivery was genius, the timing was perfect and other golf aficionados were saying how good it was.

Carol Vorderman in her Countdown days

However, as I write, I’m wondering whether it was of a particular time. The commentator’s musings turned from golf to Carol Vorderman. The now deceased Peter Alliss said: “I saw Carol Vorderman on Countdown the other day and I got aroused.”

Then, after a very long pause: “I thought that was a pretty good seven letter word – A-R-O-U-S-E-D.”

I just can’t imagine a BBC presenter considering that joke now, or being kept in gainful employment if they made it. A case of bad timing in an historic context, but is it still OK to find it funny?

Changing views over time

There have been many cases of changing views of historic actions and behaviours, including references to Churchill, “celebrated” historic figures implicated in slave trading, and much more sinister events.

Protesters in Edinburgh

It seems that there is no allowance for timing. What was right then and what is considered right now are different and treated as such. I personally don’t have an issue with that for a few reasons. One is that we learn more as time goes on. The second is that we should be able to reflect, look at situations and re-evaluate our behaviour.

The final reason is that, while the memory of people may change, the people themselves in many of these cases are unimpacted because they are dead. Sorry for being blunt, but it’s true.

An economist’s outlook

Timing is everything for an economist, too. Generally what we do is gather data, look at the past, consider the future and make a reasoned and intelligent assessment of what may come to pass.

The beauty of the economist ‘trade’ is that we are always right

A good example is when economists forecast economic growth or interest rates. The beauty of our “trade” is that we are always right, it is just that sometimes we get the timing wrong.

For example, if I tell you that interest rates will rise to be around 2% in the next two years, to justify it I can confidently say I’ll be in the ballpark but I may just get elements of my timing wrong.

Covid decisions smacked of poor timing

The recent Covid level decisions in Moray, Glasgow and East Renfrewshire were what inspired this article. I appreciate the need for advanced warnings, but anyone looking at the stats and trends could see coronavirus case numbers going up in two areas and down in one.

Nicola Sturgeon announced on May 21 that Moray would enter Level 2

This meant that by last Monday (May 17), Moray was on the “safer” path while the others started looking more dangerous.

There are always the excuses of NHS capacity and population density to fall back on. Still, I think we all know this was just a case of unlucky or bad timing and not any other bonkers theory.


James Bream was research and policy director at Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce and is now general manager of Aberdeen-based Katoni Engineering

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