Jay Cross has an interesting post about ‘time‘ (one of his favorite topics) for business. In it, he talks about Internet Time (not surprisingly ;), along the lines of his inspired claim that:
Some creative workers would produce more value were they required to dedicate 11 months of the year to learning and one month to innovation and decision making.
I’m inclined to agree, but it made me think something else as well.
To me, business needs to move at the speed of thought. Which is not really what Jay’s claiming, as he’s talking about network and digital speeds in a different context; I agree with his post, but I’m going somewhere else. Our brains are actually much slower than electrons, and yet we rush to make decisions faster than ever. Consequently, I suggest, we’re making decisions that aren’t smart, let alone wise.
To make smart decisions, let alone wise ones, means taking time to think through the consequences. While we try to make it easier to make the right decisions, with policies and procedures and rules, with the ever increasing amount of change I think that the decisions will also increasingly be ones that we haven’t had to think about before. We’ll be facing ever new decisions that require us to be good problem-solvers, ideally even wise ones. And that’s going to take time.
Now, I’m not talking months to decide whether or not to lock the door at night, but rather taking the appropriate time to evaluate the short and long term consequences, for self, others, and society, with a sense of responsibility. This shouldn’t hamper most decisions, but will come into play when it should.
We need to not rush to make decisions, but be willing to allow the time to make a good decision. And that’s contrary to much of management practice and organizational culture. I remember several years ago when we were pushing quite strongly on meta-learning, the push back was that “we don’t have time for reflection”. That has got to change for organizations that want to persist and succeed. (Of course, so to does the push for shareholder returns in the short term!)
Our brains are increasingly the valuable commodity, as Jay argues, so we need to foster the conditions under which they work best. That doesn’t come from speed, but from a supportive culture for experimentation, reflection, and thought. It doesn’t mean getting rid of commitments and deadlines, but setting them realistically, not politically (in the organizational sense of the term).
How do we reconcile the pressure for execution with a need for innovation? It’s an interesting challenge. A few of us are looking at how we can help organizations get a handle on it, in a collaborative way. If your organization is interested in taking this sort of step, do let me know.
Dave Ferguson says
You’re onto something important here (though maybe I just don’t like being rushed). While our brains did evolve to react rapidly in certain environments, those tended to involve finding food and avoiding predators. Another step in that evolution must have come with the survivors sitting around the fire (once they’d discovered it), bragging about how they killed the mammoth. A few began comparing wins and losses.
Alas, in the corporate world, “paralysis by analysis” is a much nastier epithet than “fools rush in.” Too many people act as though the Church of Best Practice was only open on Sunday — or as if its doctrine was handed down once and doesn’t need critical reflection.
Dave, those few comparing wins and losses probably survived better. We sure are wired to process stories, hence the interest in capturing and sharing them. I suppose it’s one way to smuggle in reflection… Thanks for sharing!