Go Slow to Go Fast – a Business Lesson from Water Polo

Club Natacio Sant Andreu - Toby Jenkins

When I was up to my eyeballs in water polo, a part of my training was weekly martial arts sessions with Andy Sutton. Back in early 2002 he introduced me to the principle:

“Go slow to go fast.”

This wasn’t just counter intuitive when I first heard it – it seemed plain mad. We’d been training one on one in a park in West End in Brisbane and it really didn’t make much sense to me. At the time I opted to file it away in my subconscious in the “too hard basket”.

Later that same year I was offered a chance to play professionally in Barcelona, for a club called Sant Andreu. I was pumped.

When I arrived in Spain, I realised they had a different approach to training. The general theme of this approach was to opt for high quality at high intensity rather than the incredible volumes we were doing at home. Each session was focussed on skills, strength, game play or swimming. In comparison to Australia, where it was typical to pile on strength work on before, or skills or match work on after a swim session, a swim set was nearly always just a swim set.

 

Go slow

I don’t remember what triggered me to dredge up Andy’s advice, but I thought it would be a good time to test if going slow could actually help me go faster.

Over the course of dwelling on and trying to practice this concept in the swimming training, I realised that by going slow with every stroke, I was able to focus on each element of the stroke from the pull at the top of the stroke all the way through to the push at the end. I concentrated on keeping my body still in the water and stayed focussed on economy of motion. By going slow, I was able to break down my swimming into discrete elements that I could then practice and improve. I felt good, I felt strong and I started wonder if there might be a kernel of truth in the saying.

It was time to test the “go fast” piece. It was time to test myself against the clock.

 

Go fast

There is one swim set that stands out for me. It was a sprint set that culminated in 3 x 100m max efforts and an opportunity to prove myself to my new team. Having been training slow, I was fascinated to see if I could embody the principle.

At the end of the first 100m, I was surprised. I’d clocked around 59 seconds (a quick training time for me) and still really felt like there was more in the tank than I’d realised. The next 100m I focussed on increasing power, while maintaining my focus on each stroke and stillness in the water to see if I could go faster. 58 seconds. Even after this, I still felt like I could go faster. I kept  saying to myself throughout these 100s: go slow to go fast, go slow to go fast. 3rd 100m – 57 seconds.

These times are by no means quick by elite swimming standards but they were amongst the best I’d ever clocked in training and particularly that I was able to improve through the 3 was completely new for my sprinting. By breaking down the 100m into a series of discrete strokes, focussing on every piece of the execution, I was able to produce these times with an ease that I still clearly remember 11 years later.

 

How is this relevant to work now?

One of the problems we’ve had recently with projects has been rework. Ads and I have sat down to address this and ultimately came to reinforce the mantra of thrash upfront in your project planning to get everything out on the table. While it feels like its slowing you down, focussing on and hammering out the details of what actually needs to be done ultimately saves huge amounts of time in the execution.

I’m also a huge believer in the agile approach to projects in that you can’t plan for everything and in fact to do can be dangerous. Slowing down to make the projects small enough to execute and revisiting these smaller projects at crucial points is also key to adjusting for new learning and delivering fast, quality projects.

 

Related quotes:

Since then I’ve heard a number of other phrases that to me, really relate to this philosophy.

“Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.”
This was taken from the movie Shooter with Mark Wahlberg where his character uses it as a mantra as he fires a rifle. A surprising source of inspiration 🙂

“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” Bill Gates
I only became aware of this quote recently and I believe it reflects some of those same sentiments – to reduce the amount you try to do in a smaller time frame to accomplish much more in the longer period.

What do you think? Are there areas in your life/business that you’ve gone slow to ultimately go fast? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

 

Introvert, Extrovert or both?

Have you ever lingered in the bathroom at a social event to take a few extra minutes to re-gather yourself?

Have you ever found that working alone was much more productive?

Or, on the flip side, that working alone was much less productive?

I can definitely answer “Yes” to all three.

If you’re looking to understand why you answered these questions the way you did, then “Quiet – The power of Introverts in a world that can’t stop talking” might help…

I first saw Quiet’s author, Susan Cain, speak in Boston at Hubspot’s Inbound Marketing conference. Her presentation really struck a chord with me as Susan discussed the role and importance of introversion in our business and personal lives. (I’m looking forward to sharing a video interview with her in a second post soon.)

Like other writers I love, Susan insists we question the status quo of how we interact. In a business context she urges us not to accept that any single path will be the silver bullet to the best ideas and best results.

The business lessons for me from the book/presentation were these:

  1. Be yourself.
    While we each have a baseline personality type, we all have some introvert and some extrovert in us. Both need to be nurtured. Having read the book, I’m now including more quiet time in my schedule to restore my energy levels. Interestingly, by allocating the quiet time, I’m enjoying the social time much more.
  2.  

  3. Be flexible in how you approach your work and your work space.
    Rework by Jason Fried and David HH really opened my eyes to the concept that you rarely do your best work at work. In fact, the work you are trying to ship or even stages of that work, may dictate which environment suits you best. Choose silence at home alone, a café with people around but no interruptions, a meeting room with a handful of people or your entire team. (This blog post for me is best done in silence at home)
  4.  

  5. In a meeting – consider others’ introvert/extrovert styles to get their best.
    Giving introverts more time to prepare for group meetings was one really useful tip from Susan. And if you’re chairing the meeting, ensure everyone is heard – don’t just take the loudest opinion, go digging for the best one.

So take the time to consider where you lie on the spectrum of Introvert and Extrovert and consider how you can use this knowledge to get the best out of your team and yourself.

 

The 5 Temptations (and remedies) of a CEO

The 5 Temptations of a CEO - Patrick Lencioni
Not these temptations!

A 1 minute summary of Patrick Lencioni’s 5 Temptations of a CEO:

The 5 Temptations:

  1. You put your own career status ahead of getting results for the organisation.
  2. You want to be popular with your team instead of holding them accountable for delivering on the commitments that drive results.
  3. You want to ensure your decisions are correct to achieve certainty which means despite being willing to hold people accountable, you don’t because you don’t think it’s fair.
  4. You desire harmony in your team rather than passionate ideological conflict (not personal attacks) which means that you haven’t benefited from the best sources of information available to you – your team.
  5. You desire invulnerability rather than vulnerability which means your ideas (and others’) don’t get challenged and your team just goes along with what they think your opinion is.
Fortunately, as well as detailing the 5 above, Patrick shares some simple advice to remedy the temptations.

 

Patrick’s 5 simple pieces of advice for CEOs to counteract the temptations:

  1. Make results the most important measure of personal success, or step down from the job.
  2. Work for the long term respect of your direct reports, not for their affection. …View…them as key employees who must deliver on their commitments if the company is going to produce predictable results. And remember, your people aren’t going to like you anyway if they ultimately fail.
  3. Make clarity more important than accuracy. The cost to you of being wrong is pride. The cost to your company of not taking the risk of being wrong is paralysis.
  4. Tolerate discord. Encourage your direct reports to air their ideological differences, and with passion. Tumultuous meetings are often signs of progress.
  5. Actively encourage your people to challenge your ideas. Trust them with your reputation and your ego.

In the vein of Marshall Goldsmith’s “What got you here, won’t get you there”, The 5 Temptations of a CEO, forced me to take a look in the mirror. Result = opportunity to improve!

My temptations:

I feel the temptation I most succumb to is #2 – a want to be popular among my team rather than holding each accountable. I spoke with Adam about this a while ago before I read this book and his advice was spot on – it’s not what you say but how you say it. Holding people accountable means being clear with what is expected and then demanding great performance. It doesn’t mean you have to rant and rave. In the self assessment section of the book, he says that this temptation often manifests itself in comments such as “When will these people stop questioning us and start understanding what we are trying to do?”.

We’ve just set up our scorecards (How to create Scorecards for Topgrading) with outcomes and deadlines for each of us. I think they will be fantastic opportunities to practice my resolve to turn this temptation around.

#4 is the second one I succumb to – the desire for harmony. Being a debate maker is a crucial skill to master in becoming a Multiplier. With a clear understanding of what outcome we are trying to produce, debate helps to extract all of the information in order to make the best decisions. There are plenty of opportunities to practice this in our weekly, monthly and quarterly meetings.

This was an awesome fable by Patrick Lencioni. I read it in an hour and a half on the beach and now I’ve spent another hour and a half re-reading sections.

I have a feeling I’ll be coming back to this post many times.

20 Habits That Won’t Get You There

what-got-you-here-wont-get-you-there-how-successful-people-become-even-more-successful Marshall Goldsmith

I’ve just finished Marshall Goldsmith‘s great book: “What got you here, won’t get you there – How successful people become even more successful“.

What is the book about?

My one sentence answer is:

It is about removing your personal obstacles to further magnify your strengths. 

Here’s some more detail:

Marshall describes the 20 habits of leadership that hold us back from getting where we want to be:

  1. Winning too much (p45)
  2. Adding too much value (p48)
  3. Passing judgement (p50)
  4. Making destructive comments (p53)
  5. Starting with “no”, “but” or “however” (p57)
  6. Telling the world how smart we are (p59)
  7. Speaking when angry (p62)
  8. Negativity or “let me explain why that won’t work” (p65)
  9. Withholding information (p68)
  10. Failing to give proper recognition (p71)
  11. Claiming credit we don’t deserve (p73)
  12. Making excuses (p76)
  13. Clinging to the past (p79)
  14. Playing favourites (p81)
  15. Refusing to express regret (p83)
  16. Not listening (p86)
  17. Failing to express gratitude (p88)
  18. Punishing the messenger (p91)
  19. Passing the buck (p93)
  20. An excessive need to be me (p96)

That’s quite a few flaws to deal with right?

I was reading the book on a plane trip to Brisbane with my fiancee. We jumped into a cab and she suggested that we could go to work drinks on the Friday night with her friends. I immediately said: “That sounds great. The only problem is I have my friend in town from the UK and I’ve got a huge week so I’ll be pretty tired.” In a classic number 8 style (negativity or “let me explain why that won’t work”), I’d leapt straight to the reasons why it wouldn’t work rather than looking for ways it could work.

As Marshall detailed each of the 20, I kept seeing myself in situations at home and at work displaying these habits. In some parts, he literally quoted words or phrases that I have used… It was like ripping off the rose coloured glasses, looking into a not so pretty mirror and seeing my behaviours clearly and how they impact those around me.

Perfection across the 20 habits is absolutely not the aim. The aim is to take your single worst habit out of the equation – the one that is really holding you back.

So what’s Marshall’s solution to breaking these habits?

It’s a 7 step process:

  1. 360 degree feedback on your behaviour as a leader (see the appendix on p225 for a list of 72 questions)
  2. Confront the reality of your flaws
  3. Apologize to those you’ve impacted
  4. Advertise your efforts to improve
  5. Follow up religiously on those efforts
  6. Listen without prejudice
  7. Gratitude

There are a stack of other great ideas in this book. Here are 2 of my favourites to wrap up:

Feedforward:

Feedback is based on the past (behaviours, patterns, data etc). Feedforward is a way of getting buy-in into the future – particularly when you have decided what you want to get better at.

The question to ask is:

What are 2 things I/we can do to get better at [desired outcome]?

You do not get better without follow up:

Am I getting better? Checking in with those around you to see if you are actually getting better (or indeed anything else) is essential to creating lasting change. It holds us to the goal, it helps us measure our progress, it reminds us that change “is an ongoing process, not a religious conversion” (p162).

Here’s a video from YouTube of one of Marshall’s presentations: 

Why do we exist as a business?

It’s an existential question I asked myself after reading Ben Horowitz’s blog post: Lead bullets.

Fortunately I was reading Ron Baker’s book Implementing Value Pricing at the time.

Ron proposes a simple, yet extremely demanding, 2 part answer:

  1. The sole reason for a business to exist is to create value for its customer.
  2. Value, both tangible and intangible, is solely in the eye of the customer.

It’s simple because it can be communicated in 2 sentences.

It’s extremely demanding because of all it implies.

If value is solely in the eyes of the customer, then this answer demands that you understand your customer and their needs and wants, that you help them identify value, that you deliver on the value that you promise and that you continue to help them extract value across the lifetime of your product or service.

The beauty of this is that those who can live up to it will reap the rewards by being able to charge a price commensurate to the value delivered.

“We are committed to delivering value at least 3-10x the price we charge.”

This is our new commitment at Bluewire. It changes the discussion with an existing or prospective customer from adversarial sales to genuine partnering and deeper relationships. It sets a standard of excellence for our delivery and ongoing service. It creates accountability to deliver on that value.

2 elements of the book really clarified this new perspective on value for me:

The first was a graph:

Customer Value vs Price vs Cost Graph

Price reflects a portion of the value created for the customer, so if you grow the value, you can grow the price.

The second element was this:

Poor business is: Service > Cost > Price > Value > Customer

Good business is: Customer > Value > Price > Cost > Service

The customer must always come first.

Then you measure the value to them, decide on a price, and work out the cost to deliver the service required.

So it’s a call to arms to grow value, both tangible and intangible for customers. And with it comes a renewed sense of purpose, a reason to exist.

It’s the reason you pick up the phone with a smile.

It’s the reason you say no when you can’t deliver the value to the customer in the first place.

It’s the reason you have a moral obligation to help your customers continue to extract value from your product or service.

It’s the reason you keep checking on customers in an ongoing relationship.

It’s the reason your customer has to work with you to extract this value from your product or service as soon as possible.

It’s the reason you need to explore as many options as possible.

It’s the reason to stay current with events and trends and best practice, because you might be able to help your customer extract further value from your services.

It’s the reason exactly the same advice can have hugely different value to different customers and hence the reason you can charge different prices.

It’s the reason you must keep improving your business, so you can help your customers improve theirs.

It’s the reason your communication is so important – how do you know what is valuable to the customer without talking to them?

It’s the reason that value is not rational – it is not always absolute dollars, but speed, response times, flexibility, comfort, self-esteem, “cool”, a smile, trust, ease of use, great design, simple, fun, taste, great service, friendly atmosphere, lighting, music, attitude all make a difference.

Ultimately, it’s the reason for everything you do as a business.

So, finally, to blend Ron and Ben:

If you don’t deliver value to your customers, why do you need to exist at all?

I think it’s a question worth revisiting everyday.

Not Choosing Is A Choice Too

I read once that your gut feeling is the sum total of everything – everything you know, everything you’ve ever been taught and everything you’ve ever experienced – boiled down to a yes/no, right/wrong choice and impetus to act. I absolutely agree.

Recognising:

Recognising there is an issue is a critical skill.

You don’t even need to know what the issue is, you only need to recognise that there is one.

For me it’s a gut feeling of anxiety, butterflies, nerves or even sometimes a physical reaction (sweats, shaking hands, etc) to an interaction or a situation, which says “something isn’t right here”.

It’s a physical indicator of your intuition and is enormously powerful and informative. It varies dramatically in intensity – from “hmmmm – not so sure about that” to “if I don’t do something about this I’m going to explode”.

Recognition can be trained with time and practice.

Questioning:

Once you’ve recognised there is an issue, you can analyse it by questioning:

  • What am I feeling nervous about?
  • Why did that situation make me feel uncomfortable?
  • What is it that didn’t sit well with me?

Choosing:

Based on the intensity of your gut feeling and tempered by the answers to your questioning, you can choose how you act.

This is a critical point.

You can choose how you act.

You can choose to confront, let it slide, do something, do nothing, ask for help, draw a line in the sand, run, fight, hide…

Then you can choose when to act – immediately, in an hour’s time, in a day, if it happens again.

Just remember that not choosing is a choice too.

Finding a resolution:

This is not about problem solving – that’s up to you and how you work best. It’s about the steps that lead up to it.

A genuine resolution might come immediately or it might take hours, days, weeks, months, years.

You’ll know when you find one because that very same feeling in your gut – the anxiety, nerves, butterflies, whatever it is – will vanish. You’ll know you’ve found a resolution.

With choice comes the responsibility for outcomes. Positive or negative.

But at least you got to choose.

You Can’t Eat On Facebook – 3 Timeless Fundamentals from Never Eat Alone

Never Eat AloneYou know it’s a good book when you dog ear the last page. That’s what I did with Never Eat Alone, by Keith Ferrazzi. I did it for this quote:

…you can’t do it alone. We are all in this together.

It’s a book about the power of relationships.
It’s a book of advice and practical  tips for starting, growing and strengthening relationships.
It’s a book that takes it one step further and holds up your relationships as the single most important ingredient to your success.

While the success part is all in the eye of the beholder, I completely agree with him on the importance of relationships – and it’s a timely warning.

Social Media is something that we advise clients on all the time. Sure it’s great to have lots of Facebook fans, or Twitter followers. But ultimately you’ll need to turn these contacts  or “weak ties” (as Malcolm Gladwell has contended in his article “Why the revolution will not be tweeted”) into people who take action – whether that is downloading your e-book, buying your product, or overthrowing a government.

Never Eat Alone is all about acknowledging the power of your relationships and then helping you to grow and strengthen them.

There are definitely some great tactics in this book, but my top 3 take homes were reminders of timeless fundamentals that just can’t be over looked:

  1. ALWAYS follow up
  2. Build Mentor/Mentee relationships
  3. Have dinner parties with friends – old and new

To paraphrase Verne Harnish:

We are not B2B or B2C, we are all P2P. [People to People]

If you believe that like I do, then read this book.