“If you don’t have a goal, you will score zero even if you run with the fastest speed.” — Israelmore Ayivor, African author and blogger.
According to some futurists, there may come a time when technology evolves so rapidly we won’t be able to keep up with it. At that point, the future will become completely unpredictable. They call this the Singularity—and some believe it’s just around the corner.
In the business world, change already moves at a breakneck pace. No longer do three- to five-year strategic plans suffice. As I’ve pointed out in my latest book, Execution IS the Strategy, static plans go stale within months. Indeed, some companies are reviewing strategy quarterly or even monthly. Front-line employees must have the permission and the flexibility to work with any tactics available to them in order to execute in the moment—to do what’s required to achieve company goals.
Communications mogul Rupert Murdoch captured this concept perfectly when he noted, “The world is changing very fast. Big will not beat small anymore. It will be the fast beating the slow.” Murdoch knows about speed. After his father died in 1952, 21-year-old Rupert inherited control of the family’s newspaper, the Adelaide News. He immediately set about acquiring other news outlets, a process that accelerated in the 1980s and 1990s until he’d built the second-biggest media conglomerate in the world, News Corporation. He still controls its daughter companies, News Corp and 21st Century Fox, which split in 2013.
On Your Mark, Get Set, Go!
You may not be another Murdoch, but there’s no reason you can’t try to be. Implement these strategies in your quest for speed:
1. Streamline workflow processes. I’ve written reams about the need to constantly tweak your workflow: by trying new things, clearing the path for your team, slashing bureaucracy, replacing broken and underperforming parts, and occasionally overhauling the whole work-engine if necessary. Ultimately, it reduces to a persistent, almost subconscious situational awareness of your team’s productivity from moment to moment, combined with a willingness to step forward and make the relevant changes if your people don’t do so on their own. As a leader, you’re responsible for making things easier and faster for your team.
Here’s a good example: Recently, Roger Perlmutter, the new R&D chief of Merck Pharmaceuticals, stripped away several layers of management in his division. This has resulted in a simpler permissions/approval process, yielding greater innovation and speed with no apparent loss of functionality.
2. Monitor trends and changes within your industry. Stay aware of what’s coming over the horizon (and what’s nipping at your heels), so you can pile on speed and stay ahead of the pack. If Border’s Books—a personal favorite that failed back in 2011—had responded more quickly and appropriately to far-reaching changes in the publishing industry, it might still exist.
3. Forget perfectionism. Stop worrying about getting it just right before you take the first step, or you may never start. The software firm 3D Realms serves as an extreme case in point. The game saw monumental delays, switching to each new technology as it arose, starting with the Prey engine, then Quake, and then Unreal. The fourth installment of their popular Duke Nukem videogame franchise suffered from the development team’s obsessive perfectionism for 12 years before they gave up, eventually letting another company complete it—after 15 years in “development hell.”
4. Reward efficiency. If someone on your team comes up with an efficient way to save time or enhance workflow, reward them with a bonus, a raise, more vacation time, or whatever seems most appropriate. During the filming of the original Snow White in the 1930s, Walt Disney gave bonuses of $5 a pop to animators who came up with little gags about the Seven Dwarves to move along or enhance the story. That may not seem like much now, but a fiver could pay a household’s electricity bill during the Great Depression.
5. Take advantage of opportunities as they arise. If you have limited time to grab hold of something that can benefit you and your team, don’t dither. Either do it or don’t. Rupert Murdoch’s ability to size up opportunities to acquire new media outlets and then snap them up when they seemed right resulted in enormous success for his company. He’s received a lot of criticism over the decades for his ruthless speed and efficiency, but it’s one of the chief factors in his success.
Grabbing the Brass Ring
You don’t have to be superhuman to succeed in business; you just need to tank up with high-octane fuel, like the tips I’ve outlined above. This will help you not only stay on the strait and narrow, but do so with commendable velocity, bypassing competitors who haven’t yet realized the need for speed. Nowadays, consumers—from upper management right down through the end users and customers—want instant gratification. If you don’t give it to them, they’ll find someone who will.