Slow Down to Speed Up

We’ve all felt that need for speed at one time or another. From deadline demands in the workplace to making decisions in our own lives – often cognitive bias gets in the way and it’s easy to go with the first so-called instinctive idea that pops into our heads.

In this blog, BEAR Strategic Creative Director and Owner, Roberto D’Andria, talks through the notion of slowing down to speed up in order to aid productivity.

Split-second decisions are primal… and primitive

The ability to make split-second decisions is essential to the survival of the human race, so it’s no wonder we’re so keen to veer to instinct and first assumptions when we’re under pressure.

Psychologists believe our cognitive biases evolved to help us make decisions quickly and effectively, by sampling the information available to us and focusing on the relevant aspects. The ability to make snap decisions has been keeping our ancestors safe for millennia.

But I’m going to suggest you do something different the next time you’re faced with a difficult decision: resist the urge to make a judgement. Instead, slow your thinking down at that point in time, spend more time with your options and considerations, and drive quality instead of speed. You’ll find you’re able to work faster later down the line.

My last blog looked at BEAR’s method of cut to the chase, so why, you may ask, am I now telling you to slow down?

Well actually, this isn’t me contradicting myself. In fact, the two concepts sit alongside each other: strategically slowing down means you can speed up and cut to the chase when it matters most.

How’s it done? Let’s take a look.

Challenge blue sky thinking

There’s a lot to be said for ‘blue sky thinking’, but in the world of design and communication, more often than not, when you pluck an idea out of the air it’s unlikely it will answer the brief.

Instead, it’s very possible it will veer you off course, away from the brand’s strategic direction.

When you go after something ‘blue sky’, no matter how good it is, often it can be a very hard sell for your client.

At BEAR, we would never crush creative ambition – in fact, we encourage it – but we would only ever proceed with it if it was relevant to our core strategic thinking.

If you know what you’re doing, you’re not being creative. We have to go to places that don’t make sense but, make sense of those ideas over time. We can’t be afraid to put ideas down, but we have to accept those ideas may not be appropriate because they may not communicate what a business wants to say. Our clients need vindication.

I’ve worked with people where it has felt like they were taking ideas from the ether. They would constantly be coming up with so-called blue sky solutions and often hadn’t taken the time to absorb what we were trying to communicate strategically.

In the BEAR studio, when designers are struggling to get any closer to a solution, I would always challenge them to stop and think about what it is they want to say. To get the answer, you need to slow down in the first instance, which saves you five more iterations and attempts.

Over time, we started using the shorthand of “slow down to speed up” to signal when we would need to stop making snap judgements in place of real strategic thought.

A Quantum world view

Most leadership theories are based on Newtonian world views where leaders strive to control and structure their challenges, and quick discussions to move from A to B in a controlled manner fit that world view.

But McKinsey’s report into slowing down promotes a different kind of thinking. In place of a Newtonian outlook, they propose that a Quantum world view (as exemplified by Max Planck and Albert Einstein’s theories around quantum physics) can unlock a new outlook.

In the Quantum world view – where everything connects – we accept our challenges are complex. We recognise that we need to pace the speed of our work, slowing down in some moments for a deeper dialogue and understanding of our challenges and speeding up elsewhere.

The most important element of the Quantum world view is knowing that solutions are always available and require only that we be conscious enough to see them. When we are, we set the right attention (we’re fully present) and intention, directing our energy to the solutions we want to emerge.

It’s a pause

We’re not talking about taking a long time to do something. Really, what’s needed is a pause in the grand scheme of things. But it’s about knowing when to stop and consider your options – that’s key.

In a 2010 IBM study of 1,500 chief executives, complexity was reported to be the number one issue facing chief executives. According to Forbes, the only way to tackle the so-called “stranglehold of complexity” for CEOs is to slow down to power up:

“Slow down now and you will move faster, further and with greater purpose later – even when, or especially when, you are staring down the triple threat of complexity, speed and uncertainty.”

As Forbes’ feature suggests, a key aspect of understanding when to slow down to speed up, is understanding if you are looking at a problem to solve or a dilemma with which to cope.

Companies that don’t slow down risk reacting purely to symptoms, instead they should have deeper conversations about why those symptoms are happening in the first place.

Cutting out the front end strategy only harms you later

I understand, particularly with investment-driven startups that are very financially sensitive and conscious of where they deploy budget, that taking some time to consider a strategy could be hard to accept.

Alongside that, I can see why instant gratification is a far more tempting offer than a carefully considered approach.

But the number of times clients have come to us and said “cut out the front end, I don’t want to do the whole strategy bit” completely baffles me.

Are you kidding?

They’ll say “Can you just do some logos, can you just do us a look and a feel?”

And now we simply say “no”: Either we do it properly or we don’t do it at all.

Then there’s also the temptation for designers and creatives to go to the solution first because that’s the pretty bit, but it’s often more of a challenge to interrogate what the message should actually be.

“Just create a look and feel”? Fuck that! – how do I get to look and feel without any strategy? If you’re bypassing rigour and going straight to “the look”, you’re creating a lot more problems for the brand further down the line.

From my experience, I know we’ll end up doing so much more work as an agency and the client will end up being so uncertain about what we’re producing. Worse still, they won’t have the tools to go forward with intent. They’ll just have the same questions of communication hanging over them.

What is it you really want to say?

It might feel counterintuitive to take longer to do something than a competitor or peer. But in an age where productivity is so intrinsic to success, it’s not quite as contradictory as it sounds.

That’s why understanding what you want to communicate (and why) is so vital.

Define what you want to say first and foremost. Make sure it’s in line with your business objectives and is customer focused. Then, and only then, go at it and create something compelling, magnetic and beautifully crafted.

Slow down to speed up, the uplift can be profound. After all, as one of the most famous straplines of all time tells us, good things come to those who…

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