Every aspect of our lives is speeding up. Workloads are greater, deadlines are closer and advancing technology allows for more of our day-to-day tasks to be automated quickly. Ultimately, and ironically, the time we have to fit everything in is less. Recognising this trend and realising the need to address this increasing pace, Ken Hudson has developed the theory and practice of ‘speed thinking’.
As Hudson explains, “Speed Thinking is a generative thinking system that enables any individual or team to deliberately and consciously accelerate the pace at which they normally think and act.” From his book, Speed Thinking – Thriving in a Time-Poor World, this ‘teaser’ chapter explores the environment that we live in and proposes what it takes to perform in an accelerating world.
It’s survival of the fastest thinker
‘What’s dangerous is not to practice.’
Jeff Bezos, CEO, Amazon, Fast Company, March 2009, p. 65
Over 150 years ago, English naturalist Charles Darwin published his seminal book On the Origin of Species, which became the foundation of evolutionary biology. He introduced the idea that populations evolve over generations as a result of natural selection. In the fifth edition of his book, he used the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’ (first used by English philosopher Herbert Spencer) as a shorthand way of describing natural selection, a process which suggests that the more ‘fit’ (in terms of its environment) an organism is, the better its chances of survival.1 In essence, if the environment changes, you must adapt to survive.
I would like to borrow a little from Darwin and introduce a new concept called ‘survival of the fastest thinker’ to describe the way that we all have to adapt to thrive in an accelerating environment. Speed is our new landscape. Rather than hoping for the world to slow down, we have to speed up our thinking to be able to cope in this new environment. As Vince Poscente, suggests, ‘the biggest reason we should speed up is to make time for meaningful experiences. Speed is not just the way to get more work done – speed is the secret to having time to do what we want’.
We need to accept that the acceleration of all aspects of our work and life is here to stay. For most of us, our lives will only become faster, not slower. We need to adapt and evolve the way we think to this faster pace. The good news is that we already have all the equipment we need to adapt from a slow-paced world to an express one. But this will require a new mindset and thinking system.
The nine forces of acceleration
Let’s start by highlighting and understanding the nine forces that are driving an accelerating environment.
1. It’s a broadband-paced world
Does anyone remember having a dial-up internet connection? It was slow, cumbersome and often unreliable. But now with broadband we can download or send a massive amount of information in the blink of an eye. Not only can we send information faster, but broadband enables new uses such as videoconferencing, streaming audio and video, interactive games and real-time voice services. The more we can do online, the more we expect to do and the faster we anticipate that it can be done. Perhaps the best technological example of this is Moore’s Law, developed by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in 1965. He predicted that the number of transistors on a chip would double
about every two years. Forty-five years on, this is still the case.
More internet customers and connections around the world have also created a multiplier effect. If there is a riot in China or a flood in India, the rest of the world knows about it almost instantaneously. The more people that are online, the more the world is connected and the faster the flow of information and knowledge.
Added to this has been the explosion of text messaging. The increase in penetration of mobile phones in most countries and the convenience and lower cost of SMS has meant that people can communicate more quickly and easily than before. It has also created
an expectation that when you receive an SMS message you must react to it quickly. Speed begets speed.
2. The growth of social and professional networks
Another recent development that has impacted on the pace of information and communication flows around the world has been the growth of social and professional networks. Think of the amazing expansion of Twitter, for example, or before this, Facebook, MySpace or the professional network LinkedIn. These network sites place emphasis on creating and maintaining connections, which means that the flow of information around your network can be completed as fast as you can type. Your network is connected to other networks and a speed multiplier effect is created. Your voice can literally be heard around the world in an instant.
We need to change our thinking to adapt to an accelerating environment
3. Customers expect faster and faster service
Perhaps as a result of the lightning pace of the online world, customers are expecting their problems to be solved quickly in the off-line world. Time is short, so the idea of lining up in a bank, insurance office, supermarket or post office no longer suits the customer today. In many instances, time to respond is the critical factor in how a consumer chooses to spend their money rather than the product range or price. Gone are the days when consumers were willing to wait. They want great quality at an affordable price – and they want it now. Increasingly, customers expect providers to use technology to offer a faster, better alternative (think of online banking, for example).
4. Knowledge at your fingertips
As I write this book, I am constantly checking my references and searching for new examples. Where do I go? Google and Wikipedia, of course. In the blink of an eye, I can find out the capital of Denmark (Copenhagen) or who wrote the novel The Godfather (Mario Puzo) or in what year Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon (1969). In previous times, these questions might have resulted in a trip to a library or checking an encyclopedia.
Today, knowledge can be obtained and shared at a faster rate than ever before, and what you know needs to be constantly updated and challenged. Knowledge is expanding at an ever-increasing rate, just as the half-life of your own knowledge is decreasing. in what year Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon (1969). In previous times, these questions might have resulted in a trip to a library or checking an encyclopedia.
Today, knowledge can be obtained and shared at a faster rate than ever before, and what you know needs to be constantly updated and challenged. Knowledge is expanding at an ever-increasing rate, just as the half-life of your own knowledge is decreasing.
Customers’ expectations of service today
5. Competing on speed
Do you know what Time magazine nominated as the invention of the year for 2007? Answer: the iPhone. This mobile phone developed by Apple has become the perfect metaphor for how business is adapting to and shaping a faster environment. The first generation iPhones were launched in 2007, the next generation iPhone 3G in 2008 and the latest iPhone 3GS was launched in 2009 (what does the ‘S’ stand for? – Speed).
Note how Apple is dramatically reducing its time to market. Every year there is a better and faster iPhone model. Each model is not only better than its predecessors but sets the standard for the rest of the industry in terms of style, cool, functionality and connectivity. Most of all, Apple is competing on speed – faster to market than its competitors, with a better product. This is the new way in which business has to compete in the future.
6. Generation Y
Our 18-year-old daughter is a flurry of activity as she manages to text her friends, call them the moment that something happens, listen to music, keep abreast of what is happening on her Facebook site and (seemingly) study all at the same time. This generation has grown up with multi-tasking and speed of response. Lightning-fast reflexes are needed to keep up with this sensory overload. As Don Tapscott observes, ‘having grown up digital, [the Net Generation], expect speed – and not just in video games. They’re used to instant response, 24/7. Video games give them instant feedback; Google answers their inquiries within nanoseconds. So they assume that everyone in their world will respond quickly too.’3
The implication of this emphasis on speed is that, as members of this generation moves higher in an organisation or start their own business, they will want to keep thinking, working and living at this faster pace. Older business leaders will have to quicken up if they want to keep pace.
Why is speed important to:
- Achieve more in a shorter time
- Do daily tasks more efficiently
- Free up more time for other pursuits.
- Enable common targets and goals to be met on time
- Create ideas and share knowledge more quickly
- Ensure decisions are not stuck in committees.
- Enhance client service
- Ensure profitability (time is money) and growth
- Enable the organisation to be more agile, respond to market changes and stay ahead of the competition.
Source: Responses from a group of partners and directors of an international management consulting firm that attended a Speed Thinking workshop in Sydney, Australia, 2009.
7. Increasing workloads
With an eye on the bottom line, many companies are reducing the number of workers without reducing the amount of work. This means that increasing workloads are now the norm and this is occurring across all industries. According to a recent survey among 1400 chief information officers (employing 100 people or more) in the United States, the greatest sources of workplace stress for IT professionals are:
- rising workloads (36 per cent)
- the pace of new technology (22 per cent)
- office politics (18 per cent)
- work/life balance issues (11 per cent).
These factors have resulted in people working longer and harder, which causes more stress. This is not sustainable, so people are looking for a new way. We need a breakthrough to improve our productivity. Thinking and acting more quickly is one such way.
At the same time people are being asked to do more and more, they have less and less – fewer people, smaller budgets and, most of all, less time. For many people, time has become their most scarce resource. It is not enough to manage time. Certainly, we can all be better at prioritising what is important but what happens when we do not have enough time in the first place? We need to invent a new way – we need to create time. Accelerating the pace at which you think and work is a circuit-breaking idea that can help you create more time to invest in what is important to you.
9. Perform now or else
The last acceleration driver is perhaps the most stark. Managers and small business owners have to produce more with less time while trying to stay ahead of customer and technology changes. And at the same time, they must perform at a high level right from the start. There are no honeymoon periods anymore. New recruits have to deliver immediately. Anyone who is armed with the ability to think differently from others at a faster pace has a natural advantage.
‘Information is no longer the bottleneck . . . thinking is.’
Edward de Bono, New Thinking for the New Millennium
We need a faster way of thinking to cope withan accelerating environment These are the nine factors driving an accelerated work environment. Any one of these might have the effect of bringing about significant change, but taken together they represent a momentous shift in the way business is being conducted. A high-performance sport like swimming, for example, can illustrate this shift dramatically. In the 2009 Swimming World Championships, 43 world records were broken. This is a combination of dramatic advances in new technology (e.g. air-polyurethane swim suits), improved diet, training and competition. It is also a result of a different mindset. Seemingly untouchable barriers like Ian Thorpe’s 400-metre freestyle record were shattered. Swimmers, like most other athletes, have evolved to become bigger, stronger and quicker. It is survival of the fastest. The traditional thinking system has many advantages, but it has not been developed with a fast-moving environment in mind. We need an alternative to the slow, deliberate, conscious and analytical approach taught in our education system.
Our brain has a great capacity to ‘chunk’ information. This means that we can convey, learn and memorise a large amount of information by condensing it into small chunks. For example, instead of ‘Let’s develop a new product aimed at the kids’ market’, you could write ‘Kids’, which might convey all this information and associations. From a Speed Thinking point of view, this means you can save time (by not writing large sentences) and you can generate more ideas, quicker. It is also helpful because of the limited space of each of the thought bubbles.
We have to abandon the ‘one size fits all’ mindset and develop an alternative thinking system that is both faster, more generative and energising – one that can coexist with the traditional approach and provide a real choice depending on the situation, time availability and complexity of the problem. Imagine going for a run after work. You can stretch, walk, jog or sprint in any order depending on your mood, fitness level and how hard you want to push yourself. Research conducted by John Babraj has shown that low-volume, high-intensity interval exercise can have significant positive effects on your total workout.5 Speed Thinking (like sprinting) can have the same effect – it makes your total thinking results better.
Are you a Speed Thinker?
Answer Yes or No to these questions:
- When you are criticised, can you quickly defend your position?
- Is it easy to see the mistakes in the thinking of others?
- Are you good at convincing others when you are right?
If you answered Yes to any of these questions, chances are your thinking is much slower than it need be.
Why? Because the traditional, critical thinking taught at school is judgemental. This is a slower way of thinking than Speed Thinking, which is about escaping from your point of view to a better one.
Source: Adapted from Michael Hewitt-Gleeson, The School of Thinking
One of the best ways I have found to illustrate the differences between traditional thinking and Speed Thinking is by way of analogy. Remember only a few short years ago when you had a film camera? You carefully studied your intended shot and then took your picture. But you did not take many because you then had to have your pictures processed some time later. This was both costly and time-consuming. To take good pictures took time and effort.
With a digital camera, you can take as many pictures as quickly as you wish. After each picture, you can immediately evaluate it. There is no real cost other than a few seconds of your time. Because of this it also means that you can take many shots of the same scene until you get just the right one. If you are not happy with your picture, you keep snapping away. With only a few lessons, the digital camera can be used by kids right through to the elderly. The entire process is fast, fun, and interactive, and the pictures can be downloaded, manipulated and placed on a Facebook page, for example, for all to see within minutes.
In many ways, the digital camera represents Speed Thinking while the film camera is traditional thinking. With Speed Thinking there is no right or wrong approach, just an attempt to try to solve a problem or create an idea or make a decision quickly and effectively. If in a few minutes your solution does not lead anywhere, you can start again. All you have lost is two minutes.
This new way of thinking, like the digital camera, is a more practical and accessible way of adapting to a fast-paced world. So, the next time you are faced with a problem or decision, picture a digital camera rather than a traditional one and off you go.
Speed Thinking is a new way to look at the world. The Speed Links tool and the Four-step Speed Thinking Cycle outlined in the following chapters will open a new world of opportunities. Speed Thinking will help you to unlock your unique magic. You will no longer filter or place limits on what you can achieve. Most of all, it will encourage your authentic self emerge.
In this chapter I have outlined the nine forces that are accelerating the environment in which most of us work, play and live. These forces are likely to become increasingly powerful and, because of their interconnectedness, will bring about even quicker change.
Traditional thinking, with its emphasis on reason, analysis and argument, has proven to be a successful thinking system over the years. However, it is based on thoughtful contemplation and deliberate assessment of various options. It is a slow system designed in a slowmoving environment.
We live in a different world – one that is fast, time-sensitive, constantly changing and more collaborative. We need another thinking system that can coexist with the traditional one. Speed Thinking offers you an empowering choice: you can choose how fast to think. My hope in writing this book is that you will try it and experience the difference. Then you can decide how and when to use Speed Thinking at work and in your life.
Ken Hudson is the author of best-selling books The Idea Generator and The Idea Accelerator. He has formed a breakthrough business called The Speed Thinking Zone, which is at the forefront of helping business people unlock amazing results and thrive in a time-poor world. He has worked with organisations as diverse as DuPont, Heinz, Qantas, Roche Pharmaceuticals, Dell Computers, PayPal and The Benevolent Society. He can be contacted at www.thespeedthinkingzone.com