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Slowing Down to Go Fast

Twenty-five years ago, fax machines – which took minutes to transmit one page of data and print it out on wax paper in barely legible text — were considered the height of communications technology. These big, bulky devices had to be plugged into an electrical outlet in order to function, and were not very portable.

Today, 4G cell phones can instantly connect us to any person or piece of information, anywhere in the world, at any time. These completely portable devices fit in the palm of our hands, and require only a charged battery to operate. They can forward information to printers, web sites, Facebook pages, email accounts — basically anywhere you need the information to go.

How’s that for change?

I bring this up because while cell phones are one change we all love (and sometimes hate), I’m getting a lot of pushback these days against the relentless pace of change. More and more I hear people say, “Enough change, already! Why can’t the world just slow down for a while?”

While I sympathize with this viewpoint, I have some bad news: change is not slowing down any time soon. In fact, it’s only going to happen faster, and in more ways than we can currently imagine.

According to a recent KPCB report, the current cycle of tech disruption is significantly faster and broader than previous cycles. As a result, new products and technologies will drive a re-imagining of almost everything we do in business and in daily life. Not very encouraging for those hoping for a change of pace!

In business, I don’t see the problem as too much change; it’s that we’ve become numb to it. Change has become so ubiquitous and so relentless that we no longer take the time to think about what it means. Instead of pausing to think about change, we just let it happen to us. As a result, we miss out on opportunities. And we put our businesses at risk from competitors who do take the time to slow down and assess what all these changes mean.

To cope with today’s Usain Bolt speed of change, we need to get in the habit of doing two things. One, every time a new technology (or innovative application of an existing technology) enters our market, we need to pause and ask:

  • What does this mean to our business?
  • What does it mean to our customers? Our suppliers?
  • How will this change the way our industry adds value to customers?
  • How will this change our customers’ perception of how we add value?
  • How did we not see this coming?
  • What can we do to ensure we don’t miss the next big change?

Two, we need to build in the time to stop and look at the data. Not the soft data, but the hard data.

What’s the difference? Hard data is information based on tangible, solid facts. Soft data only appears that way. Hard data leads to asking the right questions. Soft data leads to making assumptions that may or may not be true.

For example, suppose your sales go up 20% this year. Hard data is the fact that sales have gone up 20%. Soft data is all the reasons you think sales have gone up. Your sales team is working harder. More customers have come into the market. The industry as a whole is on the upswing. It’s the economy, etc.

These may or may not be true. But in a world where every day we’re running as fast as we can just to keep up, it’s easy to grab onto this kind of data without taking the time to verify its accuracy. And when our soft data turns out to be wrong, it can have disastrous consequences for our decision-making processes.

That’s why, when every instinct is telling us to run faster, we need to slow down and check to see if we’re running in the right direction. And the more change speeds up, the greater the need to pause and make sure we get it right before responding to new developments in our markets.

Unlike Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, we can’t click our heels and magically return to a simpler, slower time. However, we can pause from time to time, look at the data, and assess what the latest change means to our business. “Slow down to go fast” may sound counterintuitive, but in today’s hyper-fast world, it’s the only way to go.

Call to action: At each management team meeting, build time into the agenda to discuss what the latest change means to your business and your customers.

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