Trigger Happy

By Lloyd Graff

Jeopardy Champion Arthur Chu, Notorious for Unorthodox Game Strategies. Courtesy of

A favorite blogger of mine, Seth Godin, wrote a piece Sunday in which he recounted not making his high school quiz team because he was too slow with his buzzer. He would wait to push his buzzer until he “knew” the answer, which usually resulted in one of his competitors answering before him.

Eventually Godin learned that the secret to winning a quiz game is hitting the buzzer as soon as you feel the answer coming. You often have enough time between striking the buzzer and time running out to retrieve the answer. If you can’t pull up the correct answer the penalty is usually not so onerous that you can’t make it up later.

From my experience in business, this buzzer analogy is right on. I’ve discussed this with clients in the turned parts business and some of the smartest ones have confirmed this assessment. The key to getting the big juicy long running jobs is to know you can get the answer in time to make the parts successfully in the long run through innovation and refinement of the tooling, even if you don’t know the path at the time of bid submission.

Graff-Pinkert, my used machinery business, was just involved in an auction deal that I initially felt was too risky. But we took a shot in the end because we thought there were enough things that would go right in the deal to overcome our fear about the negatives.

Taking a new job or starting fresh in a venture also often requires a preemptive buzzer hit.

A doctor treating a cancer patient or a heart surgeon performing a procedure can’t know how things will wind up for a patient in the end, but they have to make a decision and hit the buzzer anyway. They have to trust their knowledge and creativity to adjust course in midstream.

Successful buzzer pressing is not just about guts. It takes knowledge and preparation to win on Jeopardy or be successful in business. But waiting until you are sure you know the right answer will rarely win the prize.

Questions: Will you take on a job if you know you can at least break even?

If you could be on any game show which one would you choose?

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5 thoughts on “Trigger Happy

  1. Jack

    Depends on current work load. If we’re hurting for work, sure.

    Game show? Wheel of Fortune.

  2. Lloyd Graff

    My favorite game show is Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me on NPR. Hilarious radio with Peter Sagal and Bill Kurtis.

    We will go into bigger deals if we are confident we can break even.

  3. Don Anger

    I would.
    Show them the quality you are capable of and then there is a good chance of more work at a better price later.

    Family Feud, but Steve Harvey is scary. Give a wrong answer and he makes you feel mentally challenged.

  4. Robert


    I think trigger happy should be part of a well informed strategy. Knowing your unique abilities and listening to your experience tempered gut allows for placing the odds in your favor a greater percentage of the time. Nothing is assured in life and casinos were not built on not having an advantage. Sure, the house loses occasionally but it wins more than it loses.

    Risk profiles should be understood and are indicative of your appetite for the frequency and magnitude of successes and failures. Our business is highly based on the gamble, driven by an extremely competitive landscape. Best know when there is an opportunity to recognize potential upside through product, market knowledge and ability to execute, rather than being the guy holding the losing bag due to the drive of the biggest ego driven checkbook.

    For auction companies who have a solid book of business, there is a way to recover losses in a portfolio structured investment strategy however for those who are only involved in a few transactions, pulling that trigger may have truly negative consequences that are difficult to recover from.

    Know your business, know your market, know your tolerance for risk and know your partners’ ability to execute and motivating drivers as to why they are so willing to pull that trigger. There are real and measurable consequences in this business.



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