There is a scene in the comedic Mel Brooks Star Wars parody, Spaceballs, where the Darth Vader equivalent character – Lord Dark Helmet – orders his spacecraft to move faster in pursuit of the rebels.
“Take us to LUDICROUS SPEED!!!” he commands emphatically while glaring at the spacecraft commander of sorts who is somewhat meekly standing next to a dashboard which has two speed settings, “Ridiculous Speed” and “Ludicrous Speed.” Upon moving the dial to the death defying speed as ordered, the entire spacecraft is jerked into action.
Lord Dark Helmet, while holding on for dear life, screams “My brains are going into my feet!”
In the corporate world these days, many of us have certainly felt at times like the company we work for has moved the dial to “Ludicrous Speed.” In some ways, it seems to be the reality of corporate life in general these days: we move really fast, and then we try to move even faster making us all question whether our collective brains are going to our collective feet. But what are the business implications of the ludicrous speed which seems to be the new corporate normal? And maybe equally importantly, despite feeling like we are moving incredibly fast, are we really moving as fast as we think we are? We might not be. Ironically, even though many of us may feel like we are running really fast and therefore getting to the finish line faster, the result of running too fast might actually be causing us to get to the finish line more slowly.
There are two common symptoms I’ve seen across lots of companies that could be indicative of the challenge above – our perception of speed not being matched by the speed of our business outcomes:
Symptom #1: We have a lot of meetings where we end up talking about the same things over and over again. Is this Groundhog’s Day? Have you ever asked yourself in a meeting, “Haven’t we had the exact same conversation about this topic last time?” Or “I thought we already came to agreement about this topic three meetings ago.” You can rest assured that it isn’t likely that you are being secretly filmed for an ill-fated Groundhog’s Day sequel – Groundhog’s Day 2: The Hog Returns to Corporate America – but rather that you might be in a company that is moving at ludicrous speed. These kinds of issues often arise as the result of not taking the time – or feeling like we don’t have enough time – to rigorously document outcomes, get all of the information we need, and/or get all of the right people to the table engaged in the conversation and not distracted about something else. I have personally participated in many meetings in companies who are approaching ludicrous speed where key leaders are literally working on their laptops on something else during important decision making processes – not because they are trying to be disrespectful but because there is always something else that is urgently pulling them away. It happens a lot but the outcome is a lot of duplicate meeting time which ultimately slows us down despite feeling like we are moving quickly.
Symptom #2: We re-do a lot of work: Do you or co-workers feel like you are doing the same project many times? This is often the result of either not having the time up front to gain clarity on what we should be doing or trying to move so quickly towards an outcome that we don’t spend the proper time on the front end with appropriate planning. The result is that we jump quickly right into the work. Then we work quickly to do the work again. Ultimately, we’ve moved quickly throughout the process several times but have taken longer to get the end result.
So what can we do about this “ludicrous speed” problem? Here are a few thoughts I’ve learned along the way from some great mentors I’ve had in my career:
Be clear on the difference between “urgency” and “impatience”: I once had a business mentor who talked about how important it is to differentiate these terms. Often in the corporate world, we act with impatience thinking we are moving with urgency, he would say. So what is the difference? Impatience often yields some of the symptoms just described because we are not tolerant of the things we need to do to get things right simply because it feels like they inherently take longer. Impatience also leads to potentially shifting from activity to activity in the name of action in particular if certain activities are taking longer than we’d like. Urgency on the other hand means moving forward with speed combined with and measured by an appropriate level of rigor. We should choose behaviors of urgency and not behaviors of impatience. We can still move quickly but without the chaos or caused by impatience.
Understand the difference between created or arbitrary urgency versus real urgency: Sometimes in the corporate world today, we have developed such a habit of moving with urgency that we impose urgency upon ourselves in situations that absolutely don’t require it. The result is that we are literally running at full speed all of the time and are distracted across numerous urgent initiatives unnecessarily. Just like a long distance runner paces him or herself throughout a long race, there are many initiatives in the corporate world where we can pace ourselves so that we have the energy for the truly urgent ones. As leaders, it is important to help people understand what initiatives require real urgency. Really assessing on the front end which category an initiative falls into could help us in this.
Front end planning saves back end time…and pain. Don’t just jump in right away: Lastly, as hard as it may be to actually do, we must avoid just diving in. Many a great employee has metaphorically hit his or her head on the bottom of an empty pool in the corporate world as a result of this. A great mentor of mine used to proclaim that “…we often aren’t granted the luxury of a lot of time before diving in, but even just a short period to think first could help us eliminate many mistakes due to moving without planning. Always plan – even if it’s just a few minutes. That few minutes will save you hours.”