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Slow Down to Speed Up… Why is this Important?

In our last blog I wrote about “slowing down to speed up,” with an analogy of Gary Kubiak and the Denver Broncos Super Bowl Champs. Now I want to share with you how we came up with this principle from our studies on some of the latest research in human behavior. We would like to see if you believe what we believe, or not, and start a dialogue…

Living in this fast-paced human world of technological innovation and disruption, we figured that studying Neuroscience and Behavioral Economics was a good starting point for our research into how people think, feel, act, and make decisions. With the usage of fMRI technology in neuroscience, the body of knowledge about the brain has grown exponentially. Before this technological innovation, scientists could only study the brain forensically or through observed behaviors of people living with brain damage. Although this was useful, it pales in comparison to the visibility that fMRI provides…. Being able to watch brain activity as someone makes decisions, feels emotions, and reacts to stimuli. We now know specifically what part of the brain lights up and when. We know where and how people make decisions. And we know when the faster subconscious brain takes over vs. the slower conscious brain. We know that sometimes these automatic reactions – fight or flight – that are Superhighways in our brains, due to how we have developed over the years, can help us and sometimes hurt us.

Behavioral economics is a relatively new body of knowledge which contradicts the principle of standard economics: that everyone acts rationally. The leading experts in this field, Daniel Ariely, Daniel Kahneman, and Richard Thaler show that we all make irrational decisions. We all have biases locked into our subconscious brains that affect how we see things. Making decisions based upon the assumption that everyone else acts rationally may not deliver the best results, personally or in business. Thaler invented an idea called “Nudge Theory.” It hypothesizes that big results can happen from small changes or nudges. And, quite honestly, because change is hard, when we try to get people to take larger steps than they can see, we just create resistance. If they try at all, it is half-hearted with little passion. Juxtapose this with someone who makes their own decision to decisively take action. If they do it with passion, enthusiasm, and positive energy it can have a much larger impact than being told what to do.

Beyond neuroscience and behavioral economics, we studied current macro trends and found two intriguing and prevailing trends that affect us all:

The fast pace of technological change (social/digital/mobile, the cloud, big data, and IOT)
The intergenerational change occurring in the workforce
Each of these trends in their own right are significant innovations, and businesses are combining them to break older and more established business processes, disrupting whole industries (Uber, Airbnb). Also, baby boomers are retiring daily, and millennials are now the largest cohort group in the workforce. Millennials know how to use new technologies more naturally, more effectively, and more frequently than boomers. What has been the effect of these trends?

People are stressed and harried
People are always “on,” and never quite finished at the end of the day
Attention spans have shortened
Miscommunication causing disconnects is rampant
For all of the great things about our new fast-paced communication tools, they can crush our productivity as well. Not because millennials are goofing around on them; but because to gain commitment and alignment for critical innovations, it takes clarity and dialogue. People need time to reflect, object, and rethink. When they have that time and agree, they develop vision, passion, and creativity. They start to take their own nudges, having a large effect with 100% commitment and effort, versus the half-hearted pushes that they execute with less passion.

In our work over the last 30 years, my co-founder, Christine, observed from a behavioral psychology and organizational development perspective that high performing companies have committed workers who are aligned with the vision and strategy. They know exactly how their work furthers this purpose and get a strong sense of pride and accomplishment from “making a difference.” I have also observed this as a software executive, managing sales teams, operations, and executing turnarounds. We know that in poor performing units and companies, people are not aligned and not committed; they do not see how their work makes a difference and are giving less than 100%. This lack of effort and passive resistance to change has always “wreaked havoc” in companies; stealing productive capacity, high performance results, and the fun and accomplishment of being on a winning team. Who likes an epic story where the hero loses? Of course, the big problem was and is that this is hard to see, hard to know, and hard to change. We realized that the macro trends facing us could exacerbate this negative. If the world is really speeding up, with digital disruption and transformation a must to stay competitive, isn’t it more important than ever to have inspired, high performing employees who lead innovation. Well we think so and we can define it, create it, and change it when needed. We believe it all starts with the principle of “slow down to speed up.”

This counterintuitive idea is that when the world tries to force us to do things fast, slow down. Spend some time knowing what your most important priorities are and the WHY of those priorities. Spend time gaining alignment with key collaborators that need to support the initiative. Spend time understanding their opinions, points of views, objections, and stories. Then jointly build a compelling story that energizes you and your team, inspiring them to take small actions that deliver big results. We think that if you just breathe; keeping yourself and your people from overreacting and letting their emotional subconscious brains lead, you will go faster in the end with a quantum effect.

We realize that we are not the first people ever to say “slow down to speed up,” and do not take any credit for inventing this principle. But we do think that our 21st century innovative mobile communications encourage us to react immediately, if not faster. Email, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and all our other social networks are communicating, pulling, demanding, and “re-tweeting” conflicting messages. What else can we do but go fast? That is why it is even more critical that we make this “slow down” principle a guiding one for each of us and our organizations. We think that if you do “slow down” it will help you achieve your real potential. It will make a difference in your world, and it will help fulfill your own true purpose vs. responding to whatever “siren song” is running rampant on your devices. Be careful not to let them draw you into their story vs. creating and living your own.

For the next blog in this series, I will discuss our second guiding principle: Nudges. Comments, questions, or opinions are welcome. At CI², we strive to continuously improve and innovate. Thank you for your time and energy.