Every decision is on trial
In the modern business age, speed has been hailed as the holy grail of success. Clouded by the adrenaline of “lightning fast internet time” and “business at the speed of thought” way of operating, the idea that speed is always, absolutely and unconditionally necessary is emotionally and mentally being super-glued to your brain.
I am here to argue for a different course of action.
To anyone inhabiting the lightning-express universe, I would like to offer you a piece of advice: Slow Down!
This is why I say so. Every decision you make as a business leader is on trial. Yes, on trial. If it doesn’t go to trial with you first, It will definitely be on trial when you take it to the rest of the company, or when it hits the market place. As any good lawyer or anyone who’s watched a law film knows, before going to trial, you need to build a compelling case. In business, this compelling case needs evidence that the problem or opportunity you believe needs a solution actually does need a solution.
How Fast is Too Fast?
McKinsey and Company recently did a study titled, ‘How fast is Too Fast.’ They looked into the operations of 80 leading internet companies – arguably the biggest dealers of speed – to find out how much speed helped those companies succeed.
The findings: It turns out speed was only advantageous for 10% of them and only when certain other conditions were present. For the remaining 90%, moving too fast presented no discernible advantages and often resulted in missed opportunities, wasted resources and flawed strategies.
When they asked the managers and executives about the speed of decisions, 4 out of 5 of them said they missed opportunities because they didn’t make decisions fast enough. Isn’t it ironic that despite the downside of absolute speed, people still wished they could decide faster than a speeding bullet?
More! faster! Panic!
It seems like we, just like those managers and executives, are wired to three distinct buttons:
MORE! FASTER! PANIC!
where pressing one perpetually continues the cycle of endless pressure to be faster and do more, all the while oblivious of the real cause of our problems.
Each of us has spent time in this pressure-time capsule as a professional, manager or business owner. It plays out something like this:
A new project or the first quarter of a new fiscal year begins and the leaders and managers rally the troops by delivering the big “we can do it” speech. They forecast their fantasies and everyone is inspired_ or at least acts like it.
People work hard, change a few things in the systems, conduct training, go for team building, talk of accountability, over-communicate, yada, yada. The first month of the next quarter comes and in spite of the hype, the results are dismal.
It now gets serious.
Everyone, especially the managers start pressing the MORE button. “We really need MORE!” they shout. The next month rolls along and the results are a bit better but not by much. The leaders jump on that teeny weeny part that shows that their plan is working while ignoring the glaring challenges. They press the FASTER button with enthusiasm.
Come month 3 and the numbers are in. Everyone is stunned, “We’ve lost ground! How could that be?”
That’s all it takes for everyone to freak out and the managers hit the PANIC button. When they panic, instead of admitting they were wrong in setting out on the said path, they jump back to the MORE button and the cycle continues.
If you didn’t know how ‘business’ is spelt, by the look of things, you could easily be persuaded to think it was ‘Busyness’. Frantic and hyped activities and events have slowly been accepted as a business norm. If you are not doing something all the time, nothing is getting done.
A crucial button has often been ignored: The THINK button. Very rarely do we slow down enough to find the real cause of our problems or challenges. How often do we ask, “Why did this occur? What is really causing it?”
Maybe this story, which you may have heard before told in a different way, might illustrate this better.
Damage at the Jefferson Memorial
Years ago, at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington D.C, the U.S Department of Parks and Recreation had a big problem. The stones of the Jefferson memorial were deteriorating badly and presenting challenges to the maintenance team. Tourists incessantly complained about the situation and the monument’s image not being up to standards. The department was also losing a lot of money buying extra cleaning supplies and materials for maintenance. A solution had to be sort, quickly.
Imagine you were the director of the Department of Parks and recreation. What would you have done?
The most obvious solution might be to replace the stones_ after all; they’ve been there since 1943. A facelift wouldn’t hurt. However, if you were to pause to find the real underlying cause by asking why, things would unravel differently.
Why have the stones been deteriorating?
The maintenance team has been cleaning them more frequently than they would normally need to. At this point, you might be tempted to jump into a quick-fix solution: Either use less abrasive cleansers or use less harsh cleaning chemicals.
Next why. Why are we cleaning all the time?
There are many pigeons that frequently visit the stones on the memorial and leave their calling card. Voila. Eliminate the pigeons. Not so fast, is it the real cause of the problem?
Why all the pigeons?
You dig deeper and find that they feed on the clusters of spiders around the monument. You have your Aha moment. Kill all the spiders! A good amount of bug spray should do the trick. No spiders, no pigeons, no pigeon poop, clean statue, happy tourists.
Why all the spiders though?
The spiders are attracted by the many moths that flock the memorial. At this point, you might be tempted to implement a solution. Duh!…. The previous solution has been confirmed …. just buy the bug spray and kill both the moths and spiders, 2 birds, well, insects with one stone.
Well, the director in charge then didn’t stop there and you shouldn’t too. The question is, if you get rid of all the bugs, do you solve the problem? Not really. The downside is that maybe the bug spray could also damage the stones further. Besides, tourists and the maintenance workers too would be repelled by the constant smell of bug spray.
Next question. Why all the moths?
The moths are attracted to the monument lights during their twilight swarming period.
At this point, you may feel like you have discovered the real cause. I agree. So what’s the solution? You can’t stop the moths’ attraction to light. It’s in their DNA. What you can do, though, is turn on the lights a bit later. Get rid of the early lights and you get rid of most of the moths. No moths, no spiders, no pigeons, and the stones stop becoming the pigeons’ personal restroom.
When the Director implemented this solution, they not only salvaged the situation but also saved on the light bill while avoiding the unnecessary cost and time wastage that the other premature solutions would have brought.
After all is said, …….
Asking why will take time but the solution you will have chosen will have a better likelihood of solving your problem by addressing its root cause. Any solution chosen along the way would have simply masked it and created other problems that would require time and money to solve.
If you do not have evidence, there is no reason to do anything, period. Without valid data, an accurate and complete assessment of the problems and opportunities becomes virtually impossible.
Remember the age-old adage isn’t “ Measure once, cut 15 times.” Slow down a little. Measure twice, cut once. But if you can measure a few more times over, well, ultimately, you’ll save yourself time, resources and the solution you implement will be one that is actually necessary.