Management: In Praise of Slowness

img_7965

As I sit in front of my keyboard writing this post, ideas surge up, thoughts race fast and furious, my mind is in chaos… Stop this frenzy! Breathe, calm down, take the time… What about writing about the benefits of slowness?

A person whom I coach made a comment which resonated and its meaning gradually came to light:

“When my manager asks me to go in one direction, I always wait two hours… Why? I know from experience that after this time I might have to go in the opposite direction…”

Some other elements brought more relevance to these words.

The old saying which was part of my childhood came to my mind:

« Think twice before speaking… ». In other words, « take the time to think before you open your mouth… ».

I also remembered having recently consulted the book Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences (2002). For the author, system 1 is fast, subconscious and emotional while system 2 is slow, conscious and logical.

These three elements – words of a coached person, conventional wisdom, lesson from a Nobel Prize winner – make me borrow a famous stanza of the poem of Lamartine, « Le Lac » (The lake):

“Pause in your trek O Time! Pause in your flight,

Favorable hours, and stay!

Let us enjoy the transient delight

That fills our fairest day”[1]

[1] Translation by A.Z. Foreman

Yes, the idea of giving time its own pace is becoming one of the new order for companies of the future. If we think well, this is not a new idea. It could have been around for more than a thousand years!

Remember that Prince Siddharta took his time to become Bouddha. The chosen people had to wait 40 years to reach the promised land. And, Rome was not built in a day. And the list can go on… So, since the beginning of time: « chi va piano, va sano, va sano e va lontano » (Note of the translator: Slow and steady wins the race)

So, to approach the third millennium, the manager should replace watches and stopwatches with hourglasses and sundials…

Take the time to decide in order to better manage

All nutritionists will say that we must take the time to chew to better digest food. Eat mindfully and you will eat better…

While digestion starts in the mouth, the decision-making process starts with observation and listening. We take the time to listen to the signals sent by our body when we take the time to eat mindfully. When we take the time to make a decision, we also give ourselves the time to see and to listen to the signals sent to us by the market, the company or our working environment

We cannot think faster than our brain. This is a fact. When we think too fast, our actions are impulsive and automatic. When faced with speed, we even become passive. We rely on computers and automatic systems. In addition to all the risks involved, we give up on making our brains work. This is why, for example, our level of mental calculation is getting lower and lower. Likewise, the younger generations lose the ability to remember texts or dates as they rely on the immediacy of Internet. Furthermore, we find that our capacity to determine logically effects from causes, and vice versa, is reduced!

Go slow to be fast

One of my clients, an executive of a medium-sized firm, is particularly good at adjusting to his environment and to make the most of the opportunities arising for his company. He says that it takes time to make quick decisions. To justify this axiom, he tells an anecdote from his adolescence. One day, his father asked his brother and him to pave a path covered with mud. His brother immediately got a wheelbarrow and filled it with rocks of different sizes, big and small. He pushed the wheelbarrow through the mud without planning a path. The father congratulated him for his courage. My client observed attentively and took the time to think about his strategy. He planned the most efficient path and set it up by installing planks. He carefully selected the biggest rocks. His father was exasperated by what he thought was laziness and urged him to get started.

As you might already have guessed, one of the brothers was exhausted because he had to start the work over and over again whereas the other one finished his task without being too tired or stressed.

Today, my client draws on this childhood experience. He always takes the time to think of a strategy before taking action. In the end, he gets back that time and time is money…

Program the brain without haste…

Our brain is “malleable”. We can continuously create new connections between our neurons (including those of others with the help of “mirror neurons”…) for new tasks and behaviours.

Two factors determine this malleability:

  • Calmness, lack of tension (it can be said that haste is not recommended…)
  • Repeated and regular learning

Finally, it is proven that the prevailing hyper-communication blocks the development of our intelligence. The new communications technologies consume our “available brain time”. They interfere with emotional interaction rituals, the basis of empathy. We no longer take the time to pick up and to process the non-verbal signals sent to us by our peers though some of our neurons (“mirrors”) are dedicated to this function. And yet, an inactive neuron is a dead neuron.

_________________________________

It is now time to think slowly, without haste, with consciousness. Holacracy, “free enterprise”, “happiness at work” and “slow management” remind us that effectiveness is not necessarily the fastest way…

The appreciation of employees within western companies is likely a way to fight competition from Asian countries. Nowadays, knowledge workers are Indians, Chinese… Their countries now build satellites, planes, cars and computers as well as us. They have become our equals in mastering hard skills. What will make the difference will be our ability to develop our soft skills which will, in turn, boost our know-how.

The great inventors of the past had their stroke of genius while they were relaxed or unguarded. Newton was having a nap under an apple tree. Archimedes was having his bath. Nietzsche was walking during a storm. Pasteur forgot to clean his test tubes. In all cases, “grey cells matter”, creativity and innovation have never expressed themselves so well in the absence of directed willpower, and even during games…

Thus, our soft skills need time, indulgence and « let go » to thrive.

_________________________________

In collaboration with:

And a big thank you to Nicolas Delaby who had the idea to translate this article in the language of Shakespeare !!!

Resources:

  • Group of authors. « Votre cerveau n’a pas fini de vous étonner ». Albin Michel, 2014
  • Kanheman, Daniel. « Thinking, Fast and Slow ». Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012
  • Honoré, Carl. « Éloge de la lenteur ». Marabout, 2005
  • Dupuy, François. « La faillite de la pensée managériale ». Seuil, 2015
  • Henry, Sébastien. « Ces décideurs qui méditent et s’engagent ». Dunod, 2014