Finding your rhythm – the art of working fast and slow

Working fast and slow

If you’ve ever worked for a big corporate there’s every chance you’ve undergone tests and profiling to determine your work-flow style. Slow, strategic and methodical. Spontaneous, quick thinking and action-orientated. Supportive, involving and organised. You get the gist.

It takes all sorts to make a business tick and I’ll be the first to champion balanced teams. My issue, however, is with pigeonholing people to a single style and undervaluing the importance of adaptability. Straitjackets might suit big businesses but they offer little incentive to people to become more rounded. And confirmation bias means that as soon as you’re diagnosed towards a particular work-style you’ll take on more of that type of work and use it as an excuse to stay in your comfort zone.

To be an entrepreneur is to be a T-shaped thinker

I’ve learned that the real art is in being able to straddle all these work-styles and jump between them at will. It’s the ability to show a real burst of pace and leading with your gut when faced with one decision, only to step back and take in the bigger-picture for the next. If you run your own business, you know you’re required to do this multiple times daily. There’s no hiding behind a single work-style.

The ability to work fast and slow, not one or the other, isn’t just great for your career. It can be the secret to transforming entire sectors. 

Setting the treadmill of journalism to a different pace

Lets take the news industry. The always-on, first-past-the-post format of today’s news has a lot to answer for. We crave it and seek it but it’s not good for us. Our unhealthy appetite for quick answers means those we trust to guide us are more likely to misjudge the state of play than get it right (how did nobody see Brexit or Trump coming?) and sees ‘Breaking news’ applied to the tiniest of revelations.

But there is another way. A counter movement is simmering up that favours longer-term investigations of simply informing. So-called ‘Slow journalism’ dives deeper into the issues that matter once the dust has settled. This refreshing approach by the likes of Delayed Gratification, Vice and (to some extent) Pitchfork magazine might just catch on. 

Thinking slow to act fast in marketing

A new tech-savvy generation of eyeballs to market to and a million ways to do so has lead marketing down a path of tactical one-upmanship and unfulfilled visions.
For brands to cut through the noise and stay relevant beyond the hype they need to stand for something more than just their creativity. Responsible creativity is not just witty and charming but meaningful and purpose-driven. It treats tactics as a means of achieving a vision and avoids the slippery slope of chasing short-term games with disposal content.

The really intelligent brands know that if people are blocking ads, they perhaps need to stop serving them. They’re creating acts of culture instead.

So, who’s doing it differently? Patagonia and their crusade for eco-fashion and conservation. Raphia, pushing cycling and cyclists towards excellence. Lidl quietly being the first supermarket to pay the Living Wage, publishing its full textile supplier list and stop selling one-use carrier bags whilst others are caught in the headlights of constant price comparison. Volvo in their own words: “Our vision is that by 2020 no one should be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo car”, leading to innovations such as LifePaint.

For me, right now, I’m working to a mantra of making positive change. This influences every decision I make and enables me to make them very quickly. It guides everything I do, from writing this newsletter, to pursuing or rejecting new projects, and deciding which conference or event I should attend.

You reap what you sow in venture funding

The first rule of start-up club is to create something people actually want or need. The second, for many, is to secure venture funding and then again a year later, and again a year after that.
Venture funds can be likened to running with scissors. The short gain mindset influences the companies they court, creating an incredibly fragile start-up ecosystem that’s over reliant on outside investment and peer validation instead of profits and customer satisfaction. If hundreds of thousands of start-up failures are tolerated as collateral damage in the hunt for a rare unicorn, then it’ll be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
It’s refreshing to see the Warren Buffett school of slow and steady investing starting to infiltrate the tech start-up scene. Sacrificing speed for healthier returns long-term is a better model for everybody.
Of course, you can always follow MailChimp and do it the un-Silicon Valley way and make it big without equity-based funding. These narratives about alternative tech successes are only just starting to be celebrated.

The changing pace of product development

I used to be the biggest advocate of Gantt charts, back in the day. There’s something beautifully reassuring about seeing a whole project laid out end-to-end, without a hiccup ruining the aesthetic flow.

Truth be told, of the many hundreds of Gantt charts I’ve seen not one has ever accurately predicted how a project would turn out. It’s a fallacy in working at a single pace and putting blind trust in slow.

Scrum, on the other hand, uses a combination of product vision, collaboration with the end user and development reviews to iterate in speedy bursts. Slow thinking instead comes in the form of reflections and retrospectives, keeping everything on track. The perfect example of working fast and slow.

Stuart Goulden