Master the art of Timing - the technique


Starting out in life as a nondescript French seminary-school teacher, Joseph
Fouche wandered from town to town for most of the decade of the 1780s,
teaching mathematics to young boys. Yet he never completely committed
himself to the church, never took his vows as a priest-he had bigger plans.
Patiently waiting for his chance, he kept his options open. And when the
French Revolution broke out, in 1789, Fouche waited no longer: He got rid
of his cassock, grew his hair long, and became a revolutionary. For this was
the spirit of the times. To miss the boat at this critical moment could have
spelt disaster. Fouche did not miss the boat: Befriending the revolutionary
leader Robespierre, he quickly rose in the rebel ranks. In 1792 the town of
Nantes elected Fouche to be its representative to the National Convention
(created that year to frame a new constitution for a French republic).
When Fouche arrived in Paris to take his seat at the convention, a violent rift had broken out between the moderates and the radical Jacobins.
Fouche sensed that in the long run neither side would emerge victorious.
Power rarely ends up in the hands of those who start a revolution, or even
of those who further it; power sticks to those who bring it to a conclusion.
That was the side Fouche wanted to be on.
His sense of timing was uncanny. He started as a moderate, for moderates were in the majority. When the time came to decide on whether or not
to execute Louis XVI

, however, he saw that the people were clamoring for
the king's head, so he cast the deciding vote--for the guillotine. Now he
had become a radical. Yet as tensions came to the boll in Paris, he foresaw
the danger of being too closely associated with any one faction, so he accepted a position in the provinces, where he could lie low for a while. A
few months later he was assigned to the post of proconsul in Lyons, where
he oversaw the execution of dozens of aristocrats. 

At a certain moment,
however, he called a halt to the killings, sensing that the mood of the country was turning-and despite the blood already on his hands, the citizens of
Lyons hailed him as a savior from what had become known as the Terror.
So far Fouche had played his cards brilliantly, but in 1794 his old
friend Robespierre recalled him to Paris to account for his actions in Lyons.
Robespierre had been the driving force behind the Terror. He had sent
heads on both the right and the left rolling, and Fouche, whom he no
longer trusted, seemed destined to provide the next head. Over the next
few weeks, a tense struggle ensued: While Robespierre railed openly
against Fouche, accusing of him dangerous ambitions and calling for his arrest, the crafty Fouche worked more indirectly, quietly gaining support
among those who were beginning to tire of Robespierre's dictatorial control. Fouche was playing for time. He knew that the longer he survived, the
more disaffected citizens he could rally against Robespierre. He had to
have broad support before he moved against the powernd leader. He rallied support among both the moderates and the Jacobins, playing on the
widespread fear of Robespierre--everyone was afraid of being the next to
go to the guillotine. It all came to fruition on July 27: The convention
tumed against Robespierre, shouting down his usual lengthy speech. He
was quickly arrested, and a few days later it was Robespierre's head, not
Fouche's, that fell into the basket.
When Fouche returned to the convention after Robespierre's death, he
played his most unexpected move: Having led the conspiracy against
Robespierre, he was expected to sit with the moderates, but 10 and behold,
he once again changed sides, joining the radical Jacobins. For perhaps the
first time in his life he aligned hirnself with the minority. Clearly he sensed
a reaction stirring: He knew that the moderate faction that had executed
Robespierre, and was now about to take power, would initiate a new round
of the Terror, this time against the radicals. In siding with the Jacobins,
then, Fouche was sitting with the martyrs of the days to come---the people
who would be considered blameless in the troubles that were on their way.
Taking sides with what was about to become the losing team was a risky
gambit, of course, but Fouche must have calculated he could keep his head
long enough to quietly stir up the populace against the moderates and
watch them fall from power. And indeed, although the moderates did call
for his arrest in December of 1795, and would have sent hirn to the guillotine, too much time had passed. The executions had be co me unpopular
with the people, and Fouche survived the swing of the pendulum one more
A new government took over, the Directoire. It was not, however, a
Jacobin government, but a moderate one---more moderate than the govemment that had reimposed the Terror. Fouche, the radical, had kept his
head, but now he had to keep a low profile. He waited patiently on the
sidelines for several years, allowing time to soften any bitter feelings
against hirn, then he approached the Directoire and convinced them he
had a new passion: intelligence-gathering. He became a paid spy for the
govemment, excelled at the job, and in 1799 was rewarded by being made
minister of police. Now he was not just empowered but required to extend
his spying to every corner of France---a responsibility that would greatly
reinforce his natural ability to sniff out where the wind was blowing. One
of the first social trends he detected, 

in fact, came in the person of
Napoleon, a brash young general whose destiny he right away saw was entwined with the future of France. When Napoleon unleashed a coup d'etat,
on November 9, 1799, Fouche pretended to be asleep. Indeed he slept the
whole day. For this indirect assistance---it might have been thought his job,
after all, to prevent a military coup-Napoleon kept hirn on as minister of
police in the new regime.
Over the next few years, Napoleon came to rely on Fouche more and
more. He even gave this former revolutionary a title, duke of Otranto, and
rewarded hirn with great wealth. By 1808, however, Fouche, always attuned to the times, sensed that Napoleon was on the downswing. His futile
war with Spain, a country that posed no threat to France, was a sign that he
was losing a sense of proportion. Never one to be caught on a sinking ship,
Fouche conspired with Talleyrand to bring about Napoleon's downfall. Alpossessing a jlowing
tail, which was remarkable for the thickness
and beauty of ifs hair.
By the side ofthe weak
horse stood a tall
strong man, and by the
side of the powerful
hO"'e a short man oI
mean physique. At a
signal the strong man
seized the tai! of his
horse and tried with all
his strength to pull it
towards hirn, as if to
tear if off, while the
weak man began to
pull the hairs one by
one from the tail of the
strang horse.
The strong man, after
tugging with all his
might to no purpose
and causing the spectators a great deal of
amusement in the
pracess, finally gave up
the attempt, while the
weak man quickly and
wifh very little trouble
stripped his horse 's tai!
completely bare. Then
Sertorius rose to his
feet and said,

you can see, my friends
and allies, that perseverance is more effective than brute strength,
and that there are many
difficulties that cannot
be overcome if you try
to do everything at
on ce, but which will
yield if you master
them liftle by little. The
truth is that a steady
continuous effort is
irresistible, for this is
the way in which Time
captures and subdues
the greatest powers on
earth. Now Time, you
should remember, is a
good friend and ally to
those who use their
intelligence to choose
the right moment, but a
most dangerous enemy
LAW 35 29:3
to those who rush into
action at the wrang
c. A.D. 46-120
Mr. Shih had two sons:
one loved learning; the
other war. The first
expounded his moral
teachings at the
admiring court of Ch 'i
and was made a tutor,
while the second talked
strategy at the bellicose
court of Ch 'u and was
made a general. The
impecunious Mr. Meng,
hearing of these
successes, sent his own
two sons out to follow
the example ofthe
Shih boys. The first
expounded his moral
teachings at the court
of Ch'in, but the King
of Ch 'in said: "At
present the states are
quarreling violently
and every prince is
busy arming his troops
to the teeth. If I
followed this prig's
pratings we should
soon be annihilated. 

So he had the fellow
castrated. Meanwhi/e,
the second brother
displayed his military
genius at the court of
Wei. But the King of
Wei said: "Mine is a
weak state. If I relied
on force instead of
dip/omacy, we should
soon be wiped out. If,
on the other hand, I let
this fire-eater go, he
will offer his services to
another state and then
294 LAW 35
though the conspiracy failed-Talleyrand was fired; Fouche stayed, but
was kept on a tight leash-it publicized a growing discontent with the emperor, who seemed to be losing control. Ey 1814 Napoleon's power had
crumbled and allied forces finally conquered hirn.
The next government was a restoration of the monarchy, in the form
of King Louis XVIII, brother of Louis XVI. Fouche, his nose always sniffing the air for the next social shift, knew Louis would not last long-he had
none of Napoleon's flair. Fouche once again played his waiting game, lying
low, staying away from the spotlight. Sure enough, in February of 1815,
Napoleon escaped from the island of Elba, where he had been imprisoned.
Louis XVIII panicked: His policies had alienated the citizenry, who were
clamoring for Napoleon's return. So Louis turned to the one man who
could maybe have saved his hide, Fouche, the former radical who had sent
his brother, Louis XVI, to the guillotine, but was now one of the most popular and widely admired politicians in France. Fouche, however, would not
side with a loser: He refused Louis's request for help by pretending that bis
help was unnecessary-by swearing that Napoleon would never return
to power (although he knew otherwise). A short time later, of course,
Napoleon and his new citizen army were closing in on Paris.
Seeing his reign about to collapse, feeling that Fouche had betrayed
hirn, and certain that he did not want this powerful and able man on
Napoleon's team, King Louis ordered the minister's arrest and execution.
On March 16, 1815, policemen surrounded Fouche's coach on a Paris

Was this finally his end? Perhaps, but not immediately: Fouche
told the police that an ex-member of government could not be arrested on
the street. They fell for the story and allowed hirn to return horne. Later
that day, though, they came to his house and once again declared hirn
under arrest. Fouche nodded-but would the officers be so kind as allow a
gentleman to wash and to change his clothes before leaving his house for
the last time? They gave their permission, Fouche left the room, and the
minutes went by. Fouche did not return. Finally the policemen went into
the next room-where they saw a ladder against an open window, leading
down to the garden below. 

That day and the next the police combed Paris for Fouche, but by then
Napoleon's cannons were audible in the distance and the king and all the
king's men had to flee the city. As soon as Napoleon entered Paris, Fouche
came out of hiding. He had cheated the executioner once again. Napoleon
greeted his former minister of police and gladly restored hirn to his old
post. During the 100 days that Napoleon remained in power, until Water100, it was essentially Fouche who governed France. After Napoleon fell,
Louis XVIII returned to the throne, and like a cat with nine lives, Fauche
stayed on to serve in yet another government-by then his power and influence had grown so great that not even the king dared challenge hirn.
In a period of unprecedented turmoil, Joseph Fouche thrived through his
mastery of the art of timing. He teaches us a number of key lessons.
First, it is critical to recognize the spirit of the times. Fouche always
looked two steps ahead, found the wave that would carry hirn to power,
and rode it. You must always work with the times, anticipate twists and
turns, and never miss the boat. Sometimes the spirit of the times is obscure:
Recognize it not by what is loudest and most obvious in it, but by what lies
hidden and dormant. Look forward to the Napoleons of the future rather
than holding on to the ruins of the past.
Second, recognizing the prevailing winds does not necessarily mean
running with them. Any potent social movement creates a powerful reaction, and it is wise to anticipate what that reaction will be, as Fouche did
after the execution of Robespierre. Rather than ride the cresting wave of
the moment, wait for the tide's ebb to carry you back to power. Upon occasion bet on the re action that is brewing, and place yourself in the vanguard
of it.
Finally, Fouche had remarkable patience. Without patience as your
sword and shield, your timing will fail and you will inevitably find yourself
a loser. When the times were against Fouche, he did not struggle, get emotional, or strike out rashly. He kept his cool and maintained a low profile,
patiently building support among the citizenry, the bulwark in his next rise
to power. Whenever he found hirnself in the weaker position, he played for
time, which he knew would always be his ally if he was patient. Recognize
the moment, then, to hide in the grass or slither under a rock, as weIl as the
moment to bare your fangs and attack.
Space we can recover, time never.
Napoleon Bonaparte, 1 769-1821
Time is an artificial concept that we ourselves have created to make the
limitlessness of eternity and the universe more bearable, more human.
Since we have constructed the concept of time, we are also able to mold it
to some degree, to play tricks with it. The time of a child is long and slow,
with vast expanses; the time of an adult whizzes by frighteningly fast.
Time, then, depends on perception, which, we know, can be willfully altered. This is the first thing to understand in mastering the art of timing. If
the inner turmoil caused by our emotions tends to make time move faster,
it follows that once we control our emotional responses to events, time will
move much more slowly.

 This altered way of dealing with things tends to
lengthen our perception of future time, opens up possibilities that fear and
anger dose off, and allows us the patience that is the principal requirement
in the art of timing.
There are three kinds of time for us to deal with; each presents problems that can be solved with skill and practice. First there is long time: the
drawn-out, years-Iong kind of time that must be managed with patience
and gentle guidance. Our handling of long time should be mostly defensive-this is the art of not reacting impulsively, of waiting for opportunity.
we shall be in trouble. "
So he had the fellow 's
feet cut off Both families did exaetly the
same thing, but one
timed it right, the other
wrong. Thus suecess
depends on ... rhythm.
The sultan [of PersiaJ
had senteneed two men
to death. One of them,
knowing how mueh the
sultan loved his stal­
!ion, offered to teaeh
the horse to jly within a
year in return for his
!ife. The sultan, faneying himself as the rider
ofthe only jlying horse
in the world, agreed.
The other prisoner
looked at his friend in

" You know
horses don 't jly. What
made you come up
with a erazY idea like
that? You 're only postponing the inevitable. "
"Not so, " said the [first
prisoner]. "I have aetually given myselffour
chances for freedom.
First, the sultan might
die du ring the year.
5eeond, 1 might die.
Third, the horse might
die. And fourth . . . 1
might teaeh the horse
tu jly!"
R.G. H. Sm,
1 979
LAW 35 295
I'I IE C [ IlCi':Ol\
A fisherman in the
month of May stood
angling on the bank of
the Thames with an
artificial fly. He threw
his bait with so milch
art, that a young trollt
was rllshing toward it,
when she was
prevented by her
mother. "Never, " said
she, "my child, be too
precipitate, where there
is a possibility of
danger. Take dlle time
to consider, before YOIl
risk an action that may
be fatal. How know
YOIl whether yon
appearance be indeed a
fly, or the snare of an
enemy? Let someone
else make the experiment before you. lf it
be a jty, he will very
probably elllde the first
attack: and the second
may be made, if not
with SlIccess, at least
with safety. "
She had no sooner spoken, than a glldgeon
seized the pretended
fly, and became an
example to the giddy
dallghter of the importance of her mother's
co linse I.
1 703-1 764
296 LAW 35
Next there is Jorced time: the short-term time that we can manipulate as an
offensive weapon, upsetting the timing of oUf opponents. Finally there is
end time, when a plan must be executed with speed and force. We have
waited, found the moment, and must not hesitate.
Long Time. The famous seventeenth-century Ming painter Chou Yung
relates a story that altered his behavior forever. Late one winter aftemoon
he set out to visit a town that lay across the river from his own town. He
was bringing some important books and papers with hirn and had commissioned a young boy to help hirn carry them. As the ferry neared the other
side of the river, Chou Yung asked the boatman if they would have time to
get to the town before its gates closed, since it was a mHe away and night
was approaching. The boatman glanced at the boy, and at the bundle of
loosely tied papers and books-"Yes," he replied, "if you do not walk too
As they started out, however, the sun was setting. Afraid of being
locked out of the town at night, prey to local bandits, Chou and the boy
walked faster and faster, finally breaking into a run. Suddenly the string
around the papers broke and the documents scattered on the ground. It
took them many minutes to put the packet together again, and by the time
they had reached the city gates, it was too late.
When you force the pace out of fear and impatience, you create a nest
of problems that require fixing, and you end up taking much longer than if
you had taken YOUf time. Hurriers may occasionally get there quicker, but
papers fly everywhere, new dangers arise, and they find themselves in constant crisis mode, fixing the problems that they themselves have created.
Sometimes not acting in the face of danger is YOUf best move-you wait,
you deliberately slow down. As time passes it will eventually present opportunities you had not imagined.
Waiting involves controlling not only YOUf own emotions but those of
YOUf colleagues, who, rnistaking action for power, may try to push you into
making rash moves. In YOUf rivals, on the other hand, you can encourage
this same mistake: If you let them rush headlong into trouble while you
stand back and wait, you will soon find ripe moments to intervene and pick
up the pieces. This wise policy was the principal strategy of the great earlyseventeenth-century emperor Tokugawa Ieyasu of Japan. When his predecessor, the headstrong Hideyoshi, whom he served as a general, staged a
rash invasion of Korea, Ieyasu did not involve hirnself. He knew the invasion would be a dis aster and would lead to Hideyoshi's downfall. Better to
stand patiently on the sidelines, even Jor many years, and then be in position
to seize power when the time is right-exactly what Ieyasu did, with great
You do not deliberately slow time down to live longer, or to take more
pleasUfe in the moment, but the better to play the game of power. First,
when YOUf mind is uncluttered by constant emergencies you will see further into the future. Second, you will be able to resist the baits that people
dangle in front of you, and will keep yourself from becoming another impatient sucker. Third, you will have more room to be flexible. Opportunities will inevitably arise that you had not expected and would have missed
had you forced the pace. Fourth, you will not move from one deal to the
next without completing the first one. To build your power's foundation
can take years; make sure that foundation is secure. Do not be a flash in the
pan-success that is built up slowly and surely is the only kind that lasts.
Finally, slowing time down will give you a perspective on the times
you live in, letting you take a certain distance and putting you in a less
emotionally charged position to see the shapes of things to come. Hurriers
will often mistake surface phenomena for a real trend, seeing only what
they want to see. How much better to see what is really happening, even if
it is unpleasant or makes your task harder.
Forced Time. The trick in forcing time is to upset the timing of others-to
make them hurry, to make them wait, to make them abandon their own
pace, to distort their perception of time. Ey upsetting the timing of your opponent while you stay patient, you open up time for yourself, which is half
the game.
In 1473 the great Turkish sultan Mehmed the Conqueror invited negotiations with Hungary to end the off-and-on war the two countries had
waged for years. When the Hungarian emissary arrived in Turkey to start
the talks, Turkish officials humbly apologized-Mehmed had just left Istanbul, the capital, to battle his longtime foe, Uzun Hasan. Eut he urgently
wanted peace with Hungary, and had asked that the emissary join hirn at
the front.
When the emissary arrived at the site of the fighting, Mehmed had already left it, moving eastward in pursuit of his swift foe. This happened
several times. Wherever the emissary stopped, the Turks lavished gifts and
banquets on hirn, in pleasurable but time-consuming ceremonies. Finally
Mehmed defeated Uzun and met with the emissary. Yet his terms for peace
with Hungary were excessively harsh. Mter a few days, the negotiations
ended, and the usual stalemate remained in place. Eut this was fine with
Mehmed. In fact he had planned it that way all along: Plotting his campaign against Uzun, he had seen that diverting his armies to the east would
leave his western flank vulnerable. To prevent Hungary from taking advantage of his weakness and his preoccupation elsewhere, he first dangled the
lure of peace before his enemy, then made them wait-all on his own
Making people wait is a powerful way of forcing time, as long as they
do not figure out what you are up to. You control the dock, they linger in
limbo-and rapidly come unglued, opening up opportunities for you to
strike. The opposite effect is equally powerful: You make your opponents
hurry. Start off your dealings with them slowly, then suddenly apply pressure, making them feel that everything is happening at once. People who
lack the time to think will make mistakes-so set their deadlines for them.
LAW 35 297
298 LAW 35
This was the technique Machiavelli admired in Cesare Borgia, who, during
negotiations, would suddenly press vehemendy for a decision, upsetting
his opponent's timing and patience. For who would dare make Cesare
Joseph Duveen, the famous art dealer, knew that if he gave an indecisive buyer like John D. Rockefeller a deadline-the painting had to leave
the country, another tycoon was interested in it-the dient would buy just
in time. Freud noticed that patients who had spent years in psychoanalysis
without improvement would miraculously recover just in time if he fixed a
definite date for the end of the therapy. Jacques Lacan, the farnaus French
psychoanalyst, used a variation on this tactic-he would sometimes end
the customary hour session of therapy after only ten minutes, without
waming. After this happened several times, the patient would realize that
he had better make maximum use of the time, rather than wasting much of
the hour with a lot of talk that meant nothing. The deadline, then, is a powerful tool. Close off the vistas of indecision and force people to make up
their damn minds or get to the point-never let them make you play on
their excruciating terms. Never give them time.

 Magicians and showmen are experts in forcing time. Houdini could
often wriggle free of handcuffs in minutes, but he would draw the escape
out to an hour, making the audience sweat, as time came to an apparent
standstill. Magicians have always known that the best way to alter our perception of time is often to slow down the pace. Creating suspense brings
time to a terrifying pause: The slower the magician's hands move, the easier it is to create the illusion of speed, making people think the rabbit has
appeared instantaneously. The great nineteenth-century magician Jean-Eugene Robert-Houdin took explicit notice of this effect: "The more slowly a
story is told," he said, "the shorter it seems."
Going slower also makes what you are doing more interesting-the
audience yields to your pace, becomes entranced. It is a state in which time
whizzes delightfully by. 

You must practice such illusions, which share in the
hypnotist's power to alter perceptions of time.
End Time. You can play the game with the utmost artistry-waiting patiendy for the right moment to act, putting your competitors off their form
by messing with their timing-but it won't mean a thing unless you know
how to finish. Da not be one of those people who look like paragons of patience but are actually just afraid to bring things to a dose: Patience is
worthless unless combined with a willingness to fall ruthlessly on your opponent at the right moment. You can wait as long as necessary for the condusion to come, but when it comes it must come quickly. Use speed to
paralyze your opponent, cover up any mistakes you might make, and impress people with your aura of authority and finality.
With the patience of a snake charmer, you draw the snake out with
calm and steady rhythms; Once the snake is out, though, would you dangle
your foot above its deadly head? There is never a good reason to allow the
slightest hitch in your endgame. Your mastery of timing can really only be
judged by how you work with end time-how you quickly change the pace
and bring things to a swift and definitive conclusion.

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