The world has become a frenetic place. No matter what it is, if it’s not instant it’s too slow. We’ve forgotten all about that wonderful invention, the cooling off period.

We’ve forgotten that the goal of most things isn’t how fast it gets done but how well it gets done. Speed of action is useful when the car in front of you suddenly slows down and you’d like to avoid running into it or when you realize that’s smoke coming from your kitchen stove.

Speed all too often has terrible consequences in much of the business world. Brian Gunia of Johns Hopkins University and co-researchers have shown that moving slower leads to more ethical actions. It seems that having to make immediate decisions cuts our internal ethical oversight right out of the loop. Think all those bankers making instantaneous trading decisions without any benefit of thinking about the consequences…or legality…of what they are doing.

Compare this to Warren Buffet, certainly one of the world’s most successful, and well respected, investors who has said “lethargy bordering on sloth remains the cornerstone of our investment strategy.” Think it through and make the right decision and there is no need for instantaneous action always.

Those of us who deliver talks and other presentations on a regular basis have learned that the most powerful part of any talk is…the pause. Success is based on empty space not space where every nanosecond is filled with sound.

Just about everyone knows that the best ideas come when you’re taking a shower, walking through a park, in that most interesting place between being awake and falling asleep, or when you’re just sitting around watching the world pass by.  In other words, when you’ve allowed you mind to slow down and wander randomly without any urgency wherever it might go.

Clearly there are things where speed is important and you need to keep things moving. Just as clearly there are things where speed adds no value and even worse, detracts from performance and final results. Unfortunately we are bombarded with the need to move faster and rarely hear about the need to slow down, except from our cardiologists.

Don’t let yourself be fooled into thinking all things are of equal importance and need the same instance response. They aren’t and they don’t. Slow down, ponder, become more successful.  And make your cardiologist smile.

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  1. Ed Henkler July 17, 2012 at 6:26 pm · · Reply

    Great article Steve. As you’ve noted, you really need a mix of speeds. Decisions can be overanlyzed and there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that some decisions are better made quickly and/or following the 80/20 rule. In all cases however, I think it’simportant to incorporate white space in your day…time to reflect and step away from the “constantly-on-call”world.

  2. Great stuff, Steve. According to Jonah Lerner, who writes books and articles on emerging brain science, FMRIs show that right before the moment of insight, the brain has to pass through a brief period of relaxation. So having our best ideas in the shower, etc., isn’t an accident. Turns out it’s a neurological requirement!

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