Festina lente: Make haste slowly

On corporate speed – slow is smooth, smooth is fast

KH driving rally carSeven years ago I wrote a book on how to speed up complex companies – Speed Lead – which sold over 50,000 copies and generated a lot of interest amongst our clients. The vast majority of comments were very positive, but a couple of negative ones focused on the assumption that to do things fast was to do things in a trivial or superficial way.

Nothing can be farther from the truth. To do something truly quickly, everything that underpins it must be well organized and incredibly slick. Look at the level of technology and organization in a motorsport team or all the years of application, dedication and technique building that go into becoming a top athlete. It is the same in business: to deliver activities quickly we need to be very well organized, otherwise our processes fall over.

The motto “Festina lente” which translates as “make haste slowly” or “more haste, less speed”  was apparently the motto of the emperors Augustus and Titus and also the Medicis. I believe the saying “slow is smooth, smooth is fast” is also used by the US Marines.

When I competed in motorsport, I learned a new technique by practising it slowly to get the form perfect, then progressively speeding up. On one occasion I spent most of a day practising increasing the speed of the gearchange.

Now imagine trying to take badly executed gearchange and just do it faster:it’s not going to work. My coach told me the objective was to speed up by a 100th of a second. When I asked whether this was a good use of the day, he told me that in a typical rally there were over 700 gear changes. A 100th of a second improvement in gear change speed was worth seven seconds – the difference between first and third. While I think he may have overestimated my talent level, it shows the level of obsession you need to be truly fast.

So to deliver activities quickly, focus on making your processes smooth, develop the skills of young people, and obsessively drive out waste and delay. Concentrate on achieving great technique and form before trying just to do things quickly.

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