Is fast the only way in this sometimes cynical world of the one way or the high way. Every Millennial I interview tells me of his or her aspirations to create the next unicorn company and the only ‘skin in the game’ they have is £2,000 in the bank, ‘we do not need to be investor ready’, look here is my pitch deck, investors are guaranteed to back this deal, without crying in laughter or pain or both, I kindly close the meeting down for other meetings of the day.
There is a saying “Move fast and break things”; “done is better than perfect”; “code wins arguments”: such aphorisms litter the walls and pitch decks of start-ups and venture capitalists, and recently the Founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, seems to have completely changed his ‘Move Fast’ famous quote.
Carl Honor, the author of In the Praise of Slow and a huge inspiration of mine, states you can only squeeze so much productivity out of a human being. Eventually people burn out or lose interest, but working too hard and too fast takes a toll from the very start. Staffers become less creative and more error-prone. A long-hours work culture also leads to a lot of wasted time as employees hang around pretending to be busy when all they’re doing is putting in face time.
Study after study has shown that time pressure is only useful up to a certain point. Beyond that, it takes a toll. When people feel too rushed and are constantly working with one eye on the clock, they become less creative. Instead of coming up with bold, innovative ideas, they go for the low-hanging fruit. That is why forward-thinking companies are looking for ways to help their staff slow down. Some are giving employees more control over their schedules so they can work at their own pace, slowing down and speeding up when it suits them. Others are capping work hours. Even Wall Street banks have taken steps in this direction in recent months.
People often assume that, as a proponent of the Slow movement, I must be against new technology. They assume slowing down means throwing away the gadgets, yet nothing could be further from the truth. I am no Luddite: I love technology and own all the latest high-tech goodies. To me, being able to speak and write to anyone, anytime, anywhere is exhilarating. By freeing us from the constraints of time and space, mobile communication can help us seize the moment, which is the ultimate aim of Slow.
But there are limits. The truth is that communicating more does not always mean communicating better. You see parents staring at smartphones while spending “quality time” with their children. Surveys suggest that a fifth of us now interrupt sex to read an email or answer a call. Is that seizing the moment, or wasting it?
Whenever a new technology comes along, it takes time to work out how to get the most from it. Mobile communication is no exception: It’s neither good nor bad—what matters is how we use it. The challenge is to use communication technology more wisely. To switch on when it brings us together and enriches our lives, but to switch off when old-fashioned, face-to-face communication—or even just a little silence—is called for.
Human beings need moments of silence and solitude—to rest and recharge; to think deeply and creatively; to look inside and confront the big questions: Who am I? How do I fit into the world? What is the meaning of life? Being “always on” militates against all of that. You cannot daydream or reflect when your mind is constantly wondering if you have a new text message or if it’s time for a fresh tweet.
(more on “the tortoise and the hare”: link)
The bottom line is that technology can help us slow down if we deploy it judiciously. That means using it to get things done efficiently and thereby save time—but then switching it off so we don’t waste that saved time by being constantly distracted. We also have to dedicate that saved time to Slow pursuits rather than simply cramming it with more work or consumption.
The world is changing: swaths of jobs are at risk of automation; consumers expect products to be available on demand, updated, personalised and yet also secure.
How many businesses can claim they have the technical skills, digital culture and leadership needed for the changes under way? The answer is: “Not enough”.
Recently I was in the US with my business partner, Mark Herbert, discussing some of the US’s business leaders, their creativity, skills and tech start-ups. Spending time in the US is always an opportunity to observe some of the knowledge and experience of the world’s biggest, most successful tech companies. UK business leaders across all sectors have always travelled to Silicon Valley or other US tech-hubs, seeking insights into what it takes to create a “unicorn”, a business launched after 2000 with a value of $1bn-plus. But the pace of change means the world has moved on by the time executives fly home with their intel.
A few years ago, the talk among big-business leaders was all about the recruits: they asked, “How do we get those bright tech minds out of start-ups and into our team — or just how do we stop them leaving us?” A few expensive hires later and some were left wondering why their business had not changed that much. Now their question is about organisational culture: “What is it that enables a tech culture to identify, create and ship products at the speed of light? And how do I plug that into my business?”
The issue of current and future talent shortages “plays to the strengths” of people and capitalising on them. That requires building supportive cultures, strengthening skills, creating important conversations and assigning development projects to enhance collective IQ and EQ – in my new book ‘Meaningful Conversations’ I have written extensively on the subject.
We are learning more about a new area of innovation and creativity within people: maximising cognitive functioning and the partnership of IQ and EQ. Given increasing overseas competition for talent and business results, the author (“The World is Flat”) and New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman points out that in North America differentiation is through innovation and creative relationships and partnerships. He speaks of moving from a world of command and control to one of communication, consulting and collaboration.
As Amy Poehler once said:
“As you navigate through the rest of your life, be open to collaboration. Other people and other people’s ideas are often better than your own. Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.”