ArticleCity.comArticle Categories “Move fast and break things” vs “Slow is smooth; smooth is fast”. When to use which?

“Move fast and break things” vs “Slow is smooth; smooth is fast”. When to use which?

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“Move fast and break things” vs “Slow is smooth; smooth is fast”. When should we use one mindset over another? And, when is one more effective?

In the last two decades, Silicon Valley companies have popularized the philosophy of “Move fast and break things” as a core tent of their culture. And, simultaneously mocked the slow-moving machines of traditional industries. To their credit, this has supercharged leapfrog innovation and monumental growth in a short period of time.

But, is it the only way to succeed? And, is it always the right mindset to adopt?

8 years ago at Amazon, I was fortunate to have learned a counterintuitive insight from a manager: “Slow is smooth; smooth is fast”. This expression potentially originated from the United States Navy SEALs.

There are many situations when reacting quickly can give us an illusion of progress but our efforts to move hastily can actually slow us down in the medium / long term.

There are 3 questions you should ask when deciding which mindset is appropriate for a given situation:

1. What’s my timeframe for success?

If we are constantly optimizing for one quarter at a time, our techniques are going to focus more on short-term optimization as compared to long-term optimization.

CEOs & Presidents who are appointed for 5 years may be less incentivized to optimize for a 20-year timeframe than ones who are appointed for the long-term. Both would want to leave a legacy behind them. But, their methods would need to vary depending on the time at hand.

When we look at our own careers, we are the CEOs of our own careers. We can either move fast and break things or make decisions that are slow, smooth, and fast in the long term.

2. Do I value speed or quality more?

It’s easy to answer this as “we need both”. But most things in life and business are about trade-offs.

When trying to detect fraud, do we want to be extra-cautious and reduce the blindspots or do we want to reduce the hours spent on reviewing the fake alarms? It depends on our risk appetite.

When offering a product or service, moving fast can give us the illusion of efficiency. But as we keep breaking stuff, more reps cause eventual slowness.

3. Is my decision reversible?

Amazon’s leadership principles articulate this really well. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study.

A bias for action means avoiding analysis paralysis, making decisions, and taking action during times of uncertainty.

Having said that, knowing *when* a decision is reversible and when it’s not is key. Most things in software can be reverted back quickly after a failure. However, in the physical world, there can be implications that are long-lasting and regret-inducing.

In 1986, the Challenger space shuttle crashed within 73 seconds of flight, killing all seven crew members aboard. This fatal accident has been studied as a case in business schools. The decision wasn’t reversible. And, moving fast had a price to pay.

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