Slow Down to Speed Up

Speed isn’t everything. It seems incongruous to hear that statement in this century. It is incongruous coming from us: we work anytime, all the time, whenever we are needed, at warp speed. Conditions can change at the drop of a hat, and we have learned to change with them. An immediate need comes out of nowhere, and we have learned to respond immediately.

The problem comes when warp speed is our only speed.

That happens everywhere in the industrialized world today, largely because expectations grow as the technology grows. Being able to do things faster—via mobile wireless, social media, e-mail, and so on—requires us to do things faster. Clients, suppliers, colleagues, co-workers, all expect the speed of the latest device. It will not be long before someone asks, “What do you mean you don’t have a 4G phone? How can you not?”

Our always-on lifestyle compounds the issue. Because we can connect anytime, anywhere, we are expected to be available anytime, anywhere—in the service of moving as quickly as the marketplace.

But always-fast, always-on comes at a cost. Some things only happen at a slower pace: the reflection required for making complex decisions, the open-ended discussions from which new ideas come, the hard work of resolving conflict. Many strategic blunders from the past 10 years have come from people not taking the time to connect, exchange ideas, or think through the ramifications of their next decision. On the other hand, taking the time often empowers us to speed up again with a clearer purpose and a better goal.

Many of us here are learning to “slow down to speed up.” Whether alone, in one-on-one meetings, as a department, or as a firm, we take a deep breath and listen to what is going on around us: the accomplishments, the setbacks, and the flurry of activity that make us who we are. In other words, we sit back and “see what is there.” As part of that process, we connect more thoroughly than we can with a passing hallway conversation or quick IM.                                     

And something extraordinary happens. Solutions arise to the problems that seemed unsolvable. New ideas emerge to move our clients forward. Each of us understands what the other means. When the pace picks up again, we have more to bring to the table, more avenues for growth, stronger connections to a more cohesive team.

This “slowing down to speed up” can happen anywhere. It might take place organically, as on a long trip with the cell phone off. It might require setting aside regular office hours for meeting, connecting, and checking in. The key is not so much the format, but what it facilitates: the chance to pause and take stock.

Speed is the world’s new pace, and we do need to keep up. But as people, we work best when we change speeds. Try slowing down to speed up and see the difference.