(originally published on Huffington Post)
I was recently speaking to a friend who had retired from the military. As he reminisced about his time in service, he described a basic training exercise that was designed to make everyone fail. Our instinct, he said, is to move quickly. To get from this point to that, as quickly as possible. But that particular training exercise required slow and steady movement. As a result, nearly everyone failed. The point of the exercise was to teach soldiers how to think about navigating a problem, not surrender to instincts.
His story reminds me of one of Aesop’s fables – the tortoise and the hare. It also reminds me of the “Money Fight” between Floyd Mayweather Jr., and Conor McGregor fight. Not because slow and steady wins the race, or that we discovered that a boxer may be able to outlast an MMA fighter to win the match. Rather, each of these examples illustrates a meaningful analogy for entrepreneurs and the way in which we make progress towards success.
The point really hit me when I was standing in line at Big 5 Sporting Goods. I saw a few different types of fidget spinners on the rack near the checkout lane. A few months ago, you could only find them online or in a few brick-and-mortar niche stores. Now, you can find them everywhere. Before, it wasn’t uncommon to find them for $30.00 a piece. Now you can find many for a couple bucks. It’s crazy how a market can shift in a matter of months.
Contrast like that is always evident when we compare toys like Hot Wheels and Nerf guns to Beenie Babies and fidget spinners. Some products are built into brands that thrive on longevity. Others are destined to hit a home run once, and never again. Sprints versus distance.
It’s the same with entrepreneurs. We all default to a certain pace, whether we intend to or not. Some of us tear out of the gate, only to find that if we don’t hit our markers within a very short time, we lack sufficient energy to achieve our objective. Others start out slow and steady, just like the tortoise, hoping to eventually make it to our marker of success. Meanwhile, the competition blazes past us, leaving us to arrive to a worn out market moving in an entirely new direction.
How can you determine the entrepreneurial speed that’s right for you and ensure you will achieve the level of success you’ve envisioned? Here are three easy ways:
Don’t confuse product speed with your speed
All products have a speed that impacts their life cycle. Entrepreneurs too often confuse the speed of a product with their own speed. This typically happens when the entrepreneur becomes the product identity. As that happens, the entrepreneur creates an environment around him or her where all activities submit to the speed of the product. This situation confuses the overall business strategy with a product strategy, and eventually the two merge. In a scenario like that, failure is likely. An important side note – the exact same logic applies to service-based businesses.
The key here is to identify your speed. Your products or services may need to hit the market quickly and gain momentum. You, on the other hand, may take time envisioning and developing them. The two can co-exist, and when they do, they (your entrepreneurial speed and the product’s speed) each have a better chance of success.
Don’t confuse speed with action, or action with meaning
Many entrepreneurs do a lot of “stuff,” but accomplish very little. They have meetings, phone calls, “sessions,” and are constantly moving – oftentimes very quickly. However, when you look at their products or services, it’s a thin offering. Too much time walking in (proverbial) circles, and not enough time actually getting ideas out the door. Seth Godin is well-known for telling the world to “ship” ideas out the door, even if not perfected. Your work needs to see the light of day, but that can’t happen if you’re “strategizing” about it all day long. Entrepreneurs are at high risk of believing that moving quickly yields action which leads to success. That’s simply not true. You can pack your day with all sorts of activities, but your entrepreneurial speed becomes pointless if your actions aren’t meaningfully connected to your mission.
Your mission is accomplished by meaningful actions. The speed of your actions has a direct impact on whether or not you accomplish those actions, and ultimately on whether you reach your goals.
Slow and steady doesn’t win; fast wins
It’s counterintuitive primarily because we’ve been programmed to believe that ‘slow and steady’ wins the race. Some would argue that Floyd Mayweather simply outlasted Conor McGregor in the “Money Fight.” The tortoise won because the rabbit fell asleep during the race. We believe slower is better because we’ve been taught slower is better. Real life has a different opinion.
If the rabbit stayed awake and ran, he would have won. The rabbit is faster! If McGregor had more direct contact with Mayweather early on, he may have won (because he came on stronger, faster). Entrepreneurs who can move quickly increase the likelihood of winning. Why? It’s simple math: markets, technology, communication, money, consumer habits – it all moves quickly. If an entrepreneur can’t keep up, that entrepreneur is already losing. To stay on pace with your target for success, you have to move at the speed of your target (and preferably one step ahead). Today, it’s usually fast. But fast is relative, so the ultimate test of your speed should be what’s necessary to stay ahead.
How to translate speed into success
Your entrepreneurial speed does not exist in a vacuum. Pay attention to your industry, your market, your staff, your marketing – is it all moving too quickly for you? Maybe you need to pick up the pace. Or, maybe you need to take charge and put the brakes on all those things. Speed is really about self-awareness and control. Become aware of what’s going on in your business and control the speed to maximize opportunities around you. That’s the best way to translate entrepreneurial speed into success.