How Winning Slow Beats Failing Fast

By Jonathan David Lewis

The marketing world moves too fast for any one of us to comprehend, let alone control. As development cycles, deadlines, and turnover churn faster than ever, thought leaders berate us with admonishments to move faster, fail faster, and be faster. Today’s need for speed in business has reached such a level that dangerous habits and quasi-religious worldviews have even grown out of it.

But what if I told you there’s a better – and slower – way to achieve your marketing goals? Below are three reasons infusing your swiftly moving marketing program with just the right amount of slowness will make it work more efficiently than ever.

Front-Loaded Time Speeds Up Later Efforts

On a Saturday morning, I set out to fix my air conditioning unit. I started by jumping on my roof, diagnosing the problem, and visiting Lowe’s to buy my supplies. Long story short, after four hours, three trips to Lowe’s, and 15 trips up and down the ladder, I finally finished a project that should have taken an hour and a half.

Working in an industry that thrives when efficient, the inefficiency of my home project killed me. But it reinforced a truth I see in my business every day: Failing fast only works if you’ve set the groundwork to win slowly. If I had spent just a few more minutes planning my project, I could have saved hours in repair time. The most effective failure comes within the context of planning.

Think of planning like adding tension to a spring. The more thinking you do initially, the more tension is released when you execute. Of course, the opposite danger exists where organizations perpetually plan and never get to work. As usual, finding balance is the key to optimizing efficiency.

In our marketing practice, we find that deadlines drive effective development. Without a semi-urgent deadline that incorporates thinking and doing, work can flounder. But if a deadline is scheduled so soon that it cuts out time to think, creativity doesn’t have the room it needs to breathe and develop. Find the balance of planning and action that fits your culture, then watch your spring-loaded development cycle work more efficiently than ever.

The Tortoise Wins

Nothing exemplifies the cult-like pursuit of performance like the microdosing trend. Rolling Stone recently published an article outlining this behavior, which largely plagues young professionals in Silicon Valley under pressure to work long hours at inhuman speeds while simultaneously being creative. The pressure has led to some professionals dropping tiny amounts of psychedelics into water bottles to give them what is described as, “a little bit of energy lift, a little bit of insight, but not so much that you are tripping.”

The mind-boggling speed, pursuit of automation, and emphasis on efficiency coming out of Silicon Valley can be intimidating, but the answer doesn’t lie in trying to win an impossible race with the machines. Remember: The hare was cool, but it lost.

Perpetual crunch burns out the best of us. Instead of trying to operate at impossible speeds, focus on the true value we can add to our work. As the tortoise teaches us, consistency beats speed and persistence beats fits of aspiration. It is far better – and healthier – to come to work every day and take a bite out of the proverbial elephant than to burn yourself out, get sick, and have to leave the project or organization.

In terms of efficiency (let alone the human cost), turnover, brain drain, illness and harmed relationships result in huge amounts of lost productivity. In the advertising industry, many of the top agencies over the years have made a name for themselves by operating like “sweat shops,” burning out young teams because they might be gone in a year anyway. Ironically, while these shops often have their 15 minutes of fame, they rarely find staying power and often drift into obscurity a few years later.

Instead of focusing on short-term gain, the best teams work towards long-term rewards. Focus on empowering your team to consistently execute by emphasizing work/life balance, rewarding loyalty, and valuing culture above everything else. Others may pull ahead in the short term, but you’ll win the race and be able to sleep at night in the process.

Originally published on Forbes

Jonathan David Lewis

President and author, Jonathan specializes in the spirit of the matter. Call Jonathan when problems feel ambiguous and morale is low. He’ll know what to do.

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