Keep Calm and Slow Down

We've all heard the saying "go slow to go fast." Advice that I've readily given to colleagues, but have often struggled to follow myself. It's particularly hard to follow at the start of a complicated project when the details and deadlines can feel overwhelming. With a strong results orientation, my natural tendency is to dive right in and get started. Of course, that's precisely the moment when I should slow down and hit the pause button.

We all need to resist the temptation to take action too quickly. Just as it's difficult to distinguish specific details along the roadside when you're driving fast, it's hard to see the finer details of a challenge without a thoughtful and deliberate review of both the starting point and the destination. And while I agree that in many situations "time is money," we don't get back the time that is wasted. So we need to make sure that we're spending our time wisely and investing it in the right strategies and activities. We need to trust in the process of slowing down and consider this stage an investment - of time - and not a cost.

To get comfortable with this approach, we need to reframe what fast and slow mean. Indeed, some things can be accurately measured for speed. However, for many situations, measurements are being taken at the wrong place. For example, accurately measuring the speed of a manufacturing line is relatively easy to do. The process and desired outcome are already well defined. Applying that same methodology to calculate the time it takes to develop a comprehensive strategy is not a meaningful measure. The real test should be taken at the end of the project. Only in hindsight can we truthfully assess the outcome and lessons learned. The end of a project is another "go slow to go fast" moment. We should take the time to capture and examine those lessons learned in order to increase our pace in the future. That's why trusting the process is so important.

We also need to remember that complex projects are a team effort. So we need to take the time to ensure alignment among team members. If individuals aren't clear on the desired outcome, their respective roles and the decision framework for getting the work done, then any speed advantage achieved out of the gate will be quickly lost.

And beyond the project team, we all know that there are other stakeholders who need to be consulted or informed. Whether directly involved in the project or not, it's often critical to the project's success to have alignment across a broad stakeholder group. Taking the time to identify those individuals and developing strategies to ensure their support is another reason to slow down. This alignment is particularly important when the project involves a significant change management component. Gaining alignment - and where necessary, approval - up, down and across the organization is vital. Also important is our understanding of the informal approval networks within our organizations - those passive naysayers who can sideline a project through influence and behavior.

And "going slow to go fast" doesn't end once we have a well thought-out strategy, detailed action plan and alignment of all the stakeholders. This mantra needs to be top of mind when problems arise, and course corrections are necessary.

I relate this approach to painting a room. I enjoy painting interiors and love the incredible transformation that takes place with a simple coat of paint. But I hate the prep work. I hate taking the time to smooth rough spots, fill holes and tape off baseboards, window frames, and ceilings. Even though I know that the prep work allows the painting to proceed more quickly and with a higher quality result, I'm always tempted to skip it. And I'm always disappointed with the result when I do!

I also find that the "go slow to go fast" mantra can help break through creative blocks and times when I'm struggling with a personal decision. To force myself to slow down in these situations, I spend time wandering. Taking time to explore my environment, my neighborhood, my community, and really see. Taking a respite from technology and focusing on retuning my senses. I'm surprised what I notice on these long, slow walks by myself, and the insights that I discover along the way.

There are potential solutions and opportunities everywhere if you slow down and take the time to discover them.