susan@backboneinstitute.com  262-567-5983

On the nature of urgency in your life

I’ve been having very specific conversations with people about how they make decisions and I’ve been struck by the emphasis on speed. Speed is good, I’m told, because it conveys a sense of urgency. Urgency is critical to success! Speed builds momentum and engages people’s enthusiasm. Speed is proof that decision makers know what they’re doing.

That comment raised my left eyebrow. I asked for further elaboration.

Technology enables real-time information gathering across a range of functions from manufacturing processes to data transactions to customer service and employee development. This near-constant surveillance enables quick decision-making and doesn’t impose any drag on an organization.

“What about think time?” I asked. No need for that when technology keeps you up-to-the-minute informed, I’m told. I don’t know about you, but I find that a little scary.

E-learning is cited as a perfect example of how the benefits of speed apply to an entire organization, giving people all kinds of opportunity to learn and grow.

Exploring that example, it’s true that e-learning has been a boon to many businesspeople. Having the opportunity to learn at their own pace on their own schedule is terrific. But the application of the learning often leaves a lot to be desired. Racing through coursework and successfully completing simulations is one thing. Remembering what learning you set out to achieve and then applying that learning to the work you do–that’s what’s important. And that’s what so often gets lost.

There’s a kind of hypnosis that develops as people start to manipulate data at faster and faster rates of speed. Pride in proficiency eventually trumps consideration of an objective. “Why are we doing this?” gets buried under “Look how fast we can capture information!” I’ve seen really smart people look at real-time data that supports their point of view, nod in happy satisfaction, and make terrible business calls.

At risk of sounding dinosauric (I made that up), I must point out that effective decision making takes time and attention, not to mention the ability to be conscious of what you’re doing and what happens as a result. In the Internet world–the Age of Speed–there is a dearth of time. What used to be considered thoughtful is now considered ponderous. There is precious little time to think about what you will do or why and it seems that fewer and fewer people care. They simply react to market conditions, customer demands, and employee needs, pointing to data to justify their decisions. How come so many of these decisions turn out to be wrong?

I wish we could talk less about speed and more about attention, knowledge, and commitment to a well-considered course of action. One of my favorite memories is of a roomful of smart executives talking fast, putting up numbers and charts, passionately debating information and then sitting back to ponder everything in front of them. It was a strategic planning meeting that concluded in two days, but effectively started a new way of working together that was fast and slow, smart and thoughtful, witty and deeply committed. Man, it was fun!

In retrospect, I realized that in giving up a measure of speed, they gained respect for one another and pride in their collective decision making. I’d say that’s a great trade-off.

Categories: Business

About Susan Marshall

Susan Marshall

Susan A. Marshall is author, speaker and founder, whose mission is to create a stronger, more confident future, one person or team at a time.  Through personal experience and hands-on work with executives from diverse industries at all levels, Susan has had the privilege of helping thousands of people do the difficult and exhilarating work of growth.