Why we should all be slowing down, to speed up.

We talk a lot about a VUCA world in consultancy (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous), and even though the acronym was coined in the eighties, it was absolutely made for 2020.  

Right now, we’re living and breathing volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. The goalposts are changing daily. While we’ve been working with clients to deliver cultural change, or supporting them to innovate and work remotely (and also from my own personal experience), it’s been clear that the pandemic has been driving a pace of change that’s phenomenal. In the last month, this seems to have intensified ten-fold: in direct contrast to the slower pace of lockdown, it seems we’re all now compelled to create ideas, produce and deliver faster than ever.

‘Fight or flight’
I’ve been trying to make sense of why this is. I think it’s inextricably linked to our natural ‘fight or flight’ response to fear and threat. When we’re unsure what’s around the corner, it’s human nature to act fast. That adrenaline kicks in, and everything is imbued with a sense of urgency.

From a business survival perspective, this means the bottom line for many is in peril. We’re now in a recession for the first time in 11 years, and with the spectre of another partial/local lockdown possibly on the cards, that will only intensify economic struggles.

It doesn’t matter what sector you’re in, whether you work for an SME or global corporation: all teams, across all industries and sectors are feeling the heat. Business leaders are under pressure to steer a steady ship, and in turn, directors, managers and everyone on the ground is fighting fires and manically trying to stay afloat.

Cutting through the noise
There’s also a proliferation of material out there at the moment, on Linked In and various business journals, instructing us on how we can succeed – and even thrive! – during this pandemic, extolling those ‘essential leadership traits’ we must all strive to embody. Is it any wonder we’re feeling utterly overwhelmed, and unable to cut through the noise?

In addition, many of us have lost any separation between home and work. The pandemic has emptied our offices, and work and home have gradually morphed into each other.

Skipping the middle ground
So, what are the long-term consequences of this? How is it manifesting itself on the ground? What I’m seeing is a strong tendency for us to move straight from idea to action, and we’re skipping the middle ground where all that crucial planning and preparation take place. When we’re trapped in the mindset of immediacy, where speed of delivery is paramount over anything else, there’s no time for insights. We lose the capacity for considered response, and methodical implementation. It’s just go, go,go.

But, what ultimately happens when you drive your car without taking your foot off the gas? You crash and burn. You end up depleted, with nothing left in the tank. We’re human. We’re not designed to function effectively at this breakneck pace for long periods of time.

Collectively, would it be so awful if found the brake pedal again?

Change the game
To consciously reconnect with our work, our responsibilities, and our people, surely we’ve got to bring it down a level. Research shows that teams can be more productive when they slow down. It takes time to process ideas, to weigh up problems and their solutions, to assess risks and opportunities – but above all, to prioritise.

When you’re standing in the firing line of demands and expectations, the adrenaline starts coursing through your veins. From this standpoint, everything seems non-negotiable, everything is of the utmost importance, and nothing can be dropped off the priority list. But picture the consequences of this mindset, spreading through your workforce and flooring your teams and workers like dominoes. We cannot do everything to the very best of our abilities, and therefore some things have to drop. Or just get temporarily shelved until next week.

If we want to survive this year with our business, our staff, and our mental wellbeing in tact, then I’m convinced that rushing, pushing, productivity and delivery are not the panaceas we’re looking for.

I’m not saying it’s easy. It can absolutely feel counter-intuitive to reduce the pace, and slow down that momentum, but I’m convinced that it will pay off. Maybe that’s innovation in itself?


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Image by Thorsten Frenzel from Pixabay