Innovation: Slow Down to Speed Up


Too much.  Too fast.  You need to keep up with your competition.  No time to think–must act.

Do you ever feel that way?  Like you’re running faster and faster, but not getting ahead? Like you’ve got too many initiatives, too many ideas and your competition seems to be too far ahead and accelerating even faster?

In their Forbes article Slow Down to Speed Up, John McGuire and Vance Tang point out that meeting complexity with complexity and speed with speed may actually be spinning organizations further out of control.

Why? If you’re living with fast-moving events and uncertainty, then complexity is going to cloud you vision for what to do next.

As I mentioned in my previous post, companies that have great resources feel obligated to apply them to a problem or opportunity as quickly as possible.  They have brute force and they want to use it.

However, McGuire and Tang suggest approaching a problem from a strictly technical perspective can lead to a fixation on solutions that are part of a strictly technical “fix-it fast” mentality.

Being small does have its advantages

Smaller companies need more finesse because that’s all they have.  They can’t overwhelm a problem with expensive technical resources because they simply don’t have them.  A smaller company is required to find the elegant solutions, if they exist.  This is just one more reason why smaller companies often appear to be better at innovation.

Smaller companies understand that their technical resources are limited and expensive.  They take time to think about the right way to apply them.

Take your foot off of the accelerator

Do you get into your car and start driving as fast as you can and then start to think about your destination? I’m hoping your answer is a resounding “no.” In all likelihood, you figure out where you’re headed long before you put the pedal down.

McGuire and Tang talk about the work the Center for Creative Leadership did with KONE America.  In their efforts to create a more collaborative leadership culture they found:

Time lost at the front end has translated into clarity, speed and strength further along in the process.

How does this apply to innovation?

Companies worry about losing time because they don’t have their technical team working on their next product offering.  But even calling it ‘lost time’ is a big mistake. It’s time spent to frame and understand the problem. It’s time spent to make sure you’re working on the right thing.

It doesn’t matter how fast you work, how smart you work or how great your people are: if you’re working on the wrong opportunity, you’re not going to succeed.

Slowing down at the beginning of the process to get a better understanding of your customer and their context gives you direction.  It helps to create a roadmap to your ultimate destination.  Then you really can go fast.

Want proof?  In their Harvard Business Review article, Need Speed? Slow Down, Jocelyn Davis and Tom Atkinson analyzed organizations that slow down to gain speed. They postulate that allowing time for talking about strategy and truly understanding problems and opportunities before acting on them can turn into a revenue and profit advantage. Davis and Atkinson found firms that strategically ‘slowed down’ became more open to ideas and discussion:

They encouraged innovative thinking. And they allowed time to reflect and learn. By contrast, performance suffered at firms that moved fast all the time, focused too much on maximizing efficiency, stuck to tested methods, didn’t foster employee collaboration, and weren’t overly concerned about alignment.

In fact, they found the firms that “slowed down to speed up” actually averaged 40% higher sales and 52% higher operating profits over a three-year period than those who were just in a rush to “do something.”

So how does innovation work at your company?  Do you see an opportunity and immediately start to apply resources?  Do you become frustrated from a lack of speed due to too much “rushing down the road” without a map and a specific destination in mind? Or do you slow down to speed up?

3 thoughts on “Innovation: Slow Down to Speed Up

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