Take Your Need for Speed Down a Notch

Exploring the dichotomy between velocity and patience

As I write this in late 2017, Walmart is successfully competing with Amazon. It’s about time – No, really, it is about time. Walmart didn’t snap its happy fingers last quarter and uncover an out-of-the-blue solution; the company has been working on its web strategy for years with some false starts and many headlines saying it was bound for failure. Alas, I wouldn’t be too quick to dismiss Amazon’s capacity to destroy old-line businesses, but there’s finally some news that companies can fight back.

I asked an executive I know about his recent board meeting, and he was pleased. His board recognized he has continued to grow revenue and profits in an industry that many headlines would indicate is in deep doo-doo. When I asked why he was winning, he said, “Because of investments I made in programs and infrastructure three to five years ago.” He also chose a different strategy than most of his peers — one that takes longer to execute. Luckily, this private company’s shareholders are patient.

Don’t change leadership and strategy as frequently as your underwear. Ideas often take time to get traction.

I’m fascinated with the dichotomies one must manage when running a successful enterprise. Perhaps the most challenging is the one between speed and patience.

Speed is often a critical advantage in product development, delivery times, communication, manufacturing and human service. But patience is the key to many investments, solving complex problems, gaining skills, planning and building relationships.

We're prone, however, to mix these up. Quick fixes to a worn out business strategy are as effective as the "6-Hour Broccoli Diet." You don't learn leadership in a 30-minute podcast, nor do you respond to customer complaints at a snail's pace. Check out Nobel Prize winner and psychologist, Daniel Kahneman's book, "Thinking, Fast and Slow."

When my eldest son was a kid and we dined out, he’d ask if it was a “fast food” or “slow food” restaurant (preferring the former as a child.) I appreciate that as I have a bias for speed in many business activities. I often believe there’s no real return by gathering more knowledge, involving more people or consulting additional experts when you’re really avoiding or delaying a tough decision.

However, slowing down to ask the right questions before changing strategy, understanding the problem before attempting to solve it, exploring customer needs or getting to know the candidate you’re about to hire are good examples of areas when patience trumps speed.

A preparatory question to ask yourself before making a decision or taking a critical action is:

Will more information help me make a materially better decision, or am I delaying because I’m avoiding a tough issue?

Or, in terms my young son would’ve understood, “Is this a fast issue or a slow issue?”

Categories: Management & Leadership