In this age of speeded up communications, travel, work and life, faster is not always the answer.
Several years ago I commissioned a cartoonist by the name of Rupert Besley to illustrate a concept for me. The concept deals with the insidious human condition of using busyness as a reason (dare we say “excuse”) for not listening to new and potentially useful ideas or taking the time to learn new skills.
How many times have you heard a business executive say something like; “I don’t have time to listen to a new idea, I’ve got too much on my plate right now” (or “I’m behind on a major project” or “I’ve got to get this presentation ready for next week’s meeting!”). A friend of mine once described life in business as either “being busy” or the “illusion of being busy”. It is very easy to get caught up in busyness and not even realise that, like the hamster on the wheel, there’s lots of activity but very little progress.
Slow Down to Go Fast!
A friend of mine tells a story about the time he worked as a firefighter in the Oregon forests as a summer job. He was assigned to an experienced crew chief and they were driven to the location of a large forest fire in the mountains. Rather than breaking out the shovels and axes and getting straight at the job of fighting the fire, the wise old crew chief told his team to grab their lunch sacks and sit down for a few minutes.
My friend questioned the logic of stalling while the fire was raging. The crew chief asked them to slow down for a few minutes to observe the fire. Which way was the wind blowing? How fast was the fire moving? Were there any natural barriers they could use to divert the fire? Where was the best place to build a fire break? None of these critical questions had crossed my friend’s mind since he was focused on action, not effective strategy. To this day he says it was one of the most useful lessons he ever learned and he applies it nearly every day in running his business.
I often send this cartoon attached to an introductory letter when I would like to talk to a busy CEO about corporate culture, culture change and strategy execution. Everyone knows that culture is important and culture impacts performance, but few know the real levers and tools for effective and sustainable culture change. And besides, now’s not a good time . . . . Hence the cartoon.
John R Childress
Senior Advisor on Corporate Culture, Leadership and Strategy Execution
Author of LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid
PS: John also writes thriller novels