Slow is Smooth and Smooth is Fast

I’ve always had an interest in the military due to my father’s military service.  I remember having books on fighter jets and warships growing up.  War is the ultimate arena for decision making, chaos, teamwork, and leadership.  Life and death situations differentiate serving in the military compared to working in corporate America.  Thus, the Armed Forces are a good source of tools and techniques we can apply in our daily pursuits, entrepreneurial ventures and corporate projects.

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One saying used by special operations forces is Slow is Smooth and Smooth is Fast.  At first, it doesn’t make much sense but it is deceptively accurate.  Let’s say a group of soldiers are being hunted by the enemy.  They need to get from Point A (danger) to Point B (safety).  There are several ways to achieve the goal.  They can rush across the battlefield without assessing their surroundings.  Rushing is moving Fast.  An alternative is to survey the area for cover or the high ground.  A soldier spots a hill and a path lined with some trees to provide cover.  The team progresses cautiously towards the hill in case the enemy is closing in.  This is an example of moving Smoothly.  An alternative approach is staying put for a few hours to formulate strategic plans.  That’s certainly an option but going the Slow route gives the enemy time to catch up.  The point is to move toward your goal without being careless or reckless.

I’ve been asked countless times by executives and customers to expedite something.  “Can you launch that product two months sooner?”  The request then trickles down the chain.  I then ask my suppliers to expedite the parts I need to launch two months sooner.  A request to speed something up creates a squeezing effect.  Bad things happen when an individual, team, or company is squeezed.   Individuals make errors and team communication breaks down.  Going Fast gives a false sense of future success.  In reality, risks increase dramatically (the known and unknown kind). 

Here are a few examples I have experienced:

  1. Parts are ordered via an email (engineer didn’t have time to release via CAD system) and Purchasing did not give the supplier the latest drawing.  Result: A running change is needed to switch to the latest design version.      
  2. The Manufacturing team is not given adequate time to run a Pilot build to properly train line operators, prove out manufacturing processes, and implement Quality systems.  Result:  The Manufacturing process was not bullet proof.  High scrap rates followed. 
  3. An injection molding tool was received without a requested feature.  The engineer didn’t notice it was missing when reviewing the initial part samples from the mold supplier.  Result:  The mold tool had to be returned for rework.

Rework, delays and additional costs result from the desire to go Fast.   Oh yeah, stress increases too when you have to move Fast and scramble to fix issues.  Stress has positive effects when it pushes you to grow and become more resilient.  Prolonged, repeated stress can break you and cause more of the detrimental effects from going Fast.  Replace Fast with Smooth.  Do your due diligence but move with a sense of urgency.  Smooth is your best option to achieve your goals.  It’s somewhere in between going Fast (haste, reckless) and Slow (timid, lazy).  Strive to be Smooth regardless if you are a leader or a team member.

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