“… they should try slowing down instead. In our study of businesses (conducted with the Economist Intelligence Unit), the companies that embraced initiatives and chose to go, go, go to try to gain an edge ended up with lower sales and operating profits than those that paused at key moments to make sure they were on the right track.
What’s more, the firms that “slowed down to speed up” improved their top and bottom lines, averaging 40% higher sales and 52% higher operating profits over a three-year period.”
Harvard Business Review
This is about something called ‘critical slowing down.’ To be clear. This is not “make haste slowly” which I have written about before.
This is a business management skill, an invaluable skill, and it is incredibly difficult skill to master.
Slowing down to speed up fights against all the natural business instincts. It is a phrase often tossed around in business, one often discussed, one often not done.
It is not done because most people suck at this balancing act (appropriate slowing down and appropriate speeding up). This balancing actually demands one recognize the environmental contextual aspects. Yes. There is a natural oscillation between the two <speeding up & slowing down>. For example, science has shown that climate actually slows down preceding abrupt climatic shifts.
Regardless. Let’s just say that in business slowing down very often becomes high impact high probability events and that the fluctuation between slow to speed increases impact. This fluctuation creates angst and decisionmaking stress because most people tend to see disaster in the swing <which is, in reality, a pace driven transition> because we are leaving one natural state and arriving at another – liminal space.
Let’s face it.
Because each aspect in and of itself is a natural state and each begets inertia <at its worst> or chaotic activity <which is close to as bad as inertia>.
Inertia weakens internal stabilizing forces which compounds inevitable change forces.
Chaotic activity sometimes appears good <it is the semi-appealing ‘we are being busy at being busy’>, but that behavior begets multiple variables which evolve unpredictably and ultimately inhibits critical transitions.
Both states inevitably create what most people see as the unintended consequences in which something can get knocked off balance and become ‘extinct.’ And sometimes the consequences can occur without ever showing signs of critical slowing down.
Here is a truth: consequences occur whether they are intended or unintended.
This business truth happens because business systems, more often than not, are a bit more complex, and contain some complications, in their underlying dynamics than simplistic theory or simplistic diagrams attempting to create structure to an organization and its dynamics with the market & consumers/buyers.
I would suggest that you cannot draw a picture for what is <because it is obsolete as soon as it is drawn> and you cannot draw a picture for what will be <because predicting multi-dimensional dynamics is outside the purview of reality>.
All that said. That is why you cannot pay enough to a business person who has the ability to know when to slow down to enable effective speeding up because, whether they are labeled as such or not, they know how to navigate complexity.
It is here I would be remiss if I did not note, more often than not, the ones who claim to be good at this, are not. It is the ones who do not make the claim, the ones who recognize that more often than not it is something you just kind of sense, that you treasure.
All I know for sure is that I have been fortunate enough on occasion to have slowed down in business and had everything speed up afterwards. It feels amazing and the organization & employees, many who balked at the slowing down, absolutely love the freedom that came after the slowing down.
Here is the truly difficult thing about this whole ‘slow down/speed up’ thing.
You know when you get it right.
But you don’t know when you get it wrong or even when you may have missed the opportunity to ‘slow down to speed up.’
And that makes it exponentially more difficult to convince people it is the time to slow down <and the benefit will be speed later> and exponentially more difficult to figure out when to do it <and makes it impossible to train anyone for>.
I hesitate to say it is a ‘gut/instinct’ driven skill because then many people automatically suggest “judgement over experience.”
In addition I also hesitate to say this is solely a knowledge-driven/experience-driven skill because that ignore the ‘art’ aspect of this.
I would say that this particular business skill is one of those things:
<1> you either have the instinct or you do not and
<2> the instinctual judgement is more often than not driven by at least some experience, and
<3> experience increases the likelihood, but doesn’t guarantee, of future good use of your instinctual judgement.
Many business people screw the pooch on the entire slow down/speed up idea and also falsely implement it.
The most often abused slow down/speed up tactic is, well, there are a couple.
This is close to slow down/speed up, but not the best kind. This is actually “stop, share, get critique, and go.” More often than not this is simple ‘scrape some barnacles off the bottom of the ship’ type management. Sure. It can help speeding up but incrementally … not exponentially.
2. The ‘kick off meeting.’
This is the infamous “let’s take a moment and make sure we are all aligned before we getting going.” What a bunch of baloney. Yes. it makes sense to insure everyone is on the same page when getting started <although I would point out that more often than not everyone doesn’t give a shit about the overall objective just their own components objective and timeline>. But this is not true slow/down speed up … this is more about alignment.
Look. Real slow down/speed up management is midstream management where you have some critical learnings and maybe even some momentum. And you purposefully do not have everyone stop … just slow down … assess … kind of like having a fighter squadron get fuel in flight … and then shoot off on the mission.
Real slow down/speed up business management creates exponential dramatic speed increases and, at its best, velocity. Reality shows that these dramatic shifts don’t really happen as part of a business status quo. They are situational, contextual and often do not happen because a business doesn’t have a business person who sees it, senses it or can steer it.
Bad slowing down never creates good, or effective, speeding up. It just slows people down and most often frustrates employees as wasted time.
Good slowing down creates dramatic shifts – in speed, velocity and in direction.
More often than not they are driven by one person who senses a contextual shift in the dynamics within a situation. One person who doesn’t have a picture drawn to adapt against but can draw a picture of what they see & sense from which others can leverage from to generate speed.
Truth: not everyone can do this.
In fact, while most people, in general, suck at make choices the business people who are really good at making the faster better choices and recognizing when to slow down to speed up are few & far between.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek it just understand that more often than not you will just slow down <and not speed up>. All that said. Remember. Critical slowing down is never about slowing down it is about speeding up your business.