Picking Your Pace
Luke Bryan has a song, Fast—
That's the kind of car you wanna drive when you're sixteen
That's the kind of boys that you want on your home team
Yeah, you think you're gonna catch your big dreams just like that
And here you are, looking back
There’s something about moving fast. There are seasons in our life where it’s celebrated and sought after. There are moments when moving fast feels as if it’s the wisest, most valuable, and, quite possibly, the only option we have.
The same could be said for growing a business. Sometimes, moving fast feels imperative to survival or mandatory for success—rooted in the fear of missing an opportunity or losing traction in a fast-evolving market. But, the thing about fast is—whether in business or life—it’s impractical to sustain and nearly impossible to scale. (Don’t believe me? Ask your product manager/owner or team—they’ll have a perspective. I promise.)
I would argue that—similar to life—sometimes the business life cycle requires fast thinking. But that speed should come in seasons, not persistently the way you exist. In this dynamic, seasons of speed are bookended with seasons of pragmatic growth at a strategic and reasonable pace. The goal would be that your business life cycle looks like fast >> slow down >> fast >> slow down…and so on. The slow-down seasons provide space for you to recalibrate, match the infrastructure with operations, and build toward the future—instead of constantly chasing it.
But, business leaders often get jumpy when things turn to slow-down mode—uncertain of what comes next or fear that they’ll lose ground. So, they amp up speed once more, favoring fast over quality. The initial jolt of speed on the strategy produces movement or quick results, but the results are nothing more than a blip on the radar—as the forward motion unravels before it can become true momentum.
Are you saying we should all just take our time when innovating?
Not in the least.
I’m saying innovation should be a cycle. And, slowing down at critical junctures can actually help you speed up when it matters—moving faster than you would if you had never slowed down. But what should the fast-slow-fast-slow season look like?
Here are some guidelines—
Speed must be inversely correlated to the length of time. Meaning, the faster you move, the shorter time you are expected to move without a break. Think of sprinting versus long-distance running. Create goals that are fast, short, and attainable with speed.
A shallow win is one that moves the needle for right now. It’s necessary to have in place before you can move to the next phase, but it’s not intended to be the “forever solution”. These wins have a place in innovation and are necessary for growth. But the entire system can’t be built on them. So, pick your shallow wins—perhaps it’s a quick logo or an MVP to test, or maybe it’s a beta service to gain insight into how people use the resource—but don’t even attempt to boil the ocean.
Production over infrastructure.
This is an in-motion state of being. The expectation is to move. The fast phase is focused on producing. If the innovation is net new and you’re starting in the fast phase, be sure you are selecting items that do not require a sound infrastructure to build—otherwise, you’ll be redoing it in the future. If you’re coming out of a slow phase and moving into a fast phase, then you should be focused on building the strategic initiatives that came out of the slow phase.
Easy decision-making hierarchy.
The fast phase can’t be bogged down with red-tape, multi-step bureaucracy. Especially seen in large corporate innovation settings. So, set up clear go-no-go perimeters to help your team quickly move through the decision-making process.
This is the phase you are hyper-focused on building toward those long-term goals. The sprints may be a little longer and require a bit more collaboration. The problems are stickier and require a ton of insight. This is the phase where you answer the big questions.
The wins here are long-term wins. They set up your service or product to move in an identified direction for a long period of time. They define you. These are the wins you build on top of in the future. Perhaps it’s identifying your target audience or positioning the product toward a specific industry or segment. Maybe it’s introducing feature sets that are foundational to the future experience.
This phase is more planning than doing. And, it’s deeply focused on understanding the market, the buyer, the user, and the problem you’re solving. This is the phase where the infrastructure, operations, and scalability come into focus. You build it to last.
Decision-making may take a little longer or go through a few rounds. That’s okay, there’s a need to dialogue and stress test ideas—because they are intended to be around for a while. So, name the swim lanes and get clear on the focus, but understand the conversations in this phase should be working through the hard-to-answer questions.
A few more thoughts.
In all phases, high levels of communication, clarity of the goal, and realistic performance metrics should be applied liberally.
What results is a cycle that assists in fast growth. So that, in each of the sprints, whether fast or slow, you are building on the phase that came before. This is what’s called building momentum.
Here’s the thing about slowing down—you never really, not really, slow it down. The pace feels slow because you are moving intentionally. But intentional innovation is what moves the needle forward.
When you get to the other side, it may be that Luke Bryan was right—
Sixty seconds now feels more like thirty
Tick-tock, won't stop, around it goes
Sand through the glass sure falls in a hurry