The Tortise and the Hare: Culture, Speed and Leadership

Have you ever noticed that speeding cars don’t get there faster? This morning on my way to work a car, tailgating me all the way up Western Road flew past me as soon as the road widened into four lanes. But I caught up to her at the next light. Given that it was raining (something about an upcoming Franken Storm), it might have been a good idea to slow down.

There is some pretty decent research on decision-making that suggests that many of our decisions would be much better if we made them more slowly, not more quickly. If you have read Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow, you will be familiar with the idea that certain types of critical thinking require that we fire up System 2 type thinking. Rather than relying on short-cuts or decision-making guidelines that are built-in human pre-sets, we need to carefully and consciously think through options.

This need for time and thought is counter to the prevailing business wisdom that speed to market and first mover advantage is everything. Yet often first mover advantage is a myth. Second movers can reduce R&D and marketing costs, and enter proven markets. Second movers can avoid product design issues developing better products than first movers. Second mover is a less risky strategy. Apple was not first to market in the digital music player market, it launched after the MP3. Do you know anyone who owns an MP3 now?

Often, like my friend in the car this morning, organizations in a hurry can rush along, only to be stopped at a red light, due to poor planning or just bad luck. Or, they crash, due to wet roads or other bad environmental conditions. Speed as a strategy can be good. But it can also be risky. Sometimes slower and steady wins the race.

Slower and steady is also less likely to burn out highly valuable people with unique skills and market knowledge. They are a source of intangible competitive advantage that is very difficult to copy.

I’m not advocating moving at the pace that is behind the curve. Catching up to innovations of ten years ago will guarantee business failure. So the big question is how to optimize your speed for the environment. Too fast? You burn out employees and take big risks. Too slow? You miss market opportunities and lower profitability. Which one are you? How do you adjust the pace of work in your organization?



5 replies »

  1. You’re busted buddy. Slow down. Enjoy the red lights. Breathe deeply. (PS. we Canadians don’t have the 5th, so you’d be in trouble here….)

  2. Great post. In a lot of areas, fast is slow and slow is fast. Timing quite often is the difference between being on the “cutting edge” or being on the “bleeding edge.” I’ve spent some time on both and much prefer the cutting edge!

  3. Excellent post, Colleen. One of the reasons bad decisions prevail is the tyranny of urgency – we think we need to act quickly (constantly). Very few things are truly urgent … or if they are, you’ve got bigger problems than the urgent matter at your doorstep currently. Thanks for this!

  4. I love the term “tyranny of urgency” – I think I’ll borrow it for some current discussions…. Thanks for reading

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