“Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.”
It’s an old Navy SEAL saying about efficiency and command, and it’s one that I carry with me everywhere I go and in everything I do. It’s an idea that can be expressed in many different ways, in many different areas of life:
- Good writers command their rhythm. The writer who controls their rhythm has the power to capture a reader’s imagination.
- Good speakers command their tempo. The speaker who controls their tempo has the power to capture the listener’s attention.
- Good leaders command their velocity. The leader who controls the velocity at which they operate is unequivocally the leader.
In the art of achieving your objective in writing, speaking, leading, and any skill you put your mind to, the common thread is control. And more specifically, it is your ability to control speed. Speed is a function of time that most people simply don’t have the luxury of controlling. Anyone can speed up. Acceleration is easy. Most need to do it, and the world relies on it. Given that fact, through a lifetime of habituation and necessity, few have the ability to turn the dial back and slow down intentionally. But in a crowded, accelerating world of individuals vying for status as “the leader,” your superpower rests in your ability to avoid the bottleneck, aim for quality, and control the speed at which you operate.
Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.
Slow. Slowing down is uncomfortable. Bank tellers feel inclined to rush when there is a long line waiting on them. Waitresses feel pressured to speed up during the dinner rush. Students are motivated to finish the test in 90 minutes. Because society programs us to optimize for speed, quality necessarily suffers, mistakes are made, and more time is spent blaming and fixing than progressing. When you rush, you destroy the precise variable society allegedly seeks to optimize, speed. The first step towards control is to slow down.
Smooth. Once you’ve managed to slow down, your next priority is to smooth out your process. In the military, speed is a second-order expectation. On the outside, we assume the drill instructor screams about speed, but they’re actually more likely to punish those who make mistakes. Yes, speed is of the essence, but not ahead of quality and precision. At the shooting range, soldiers practice over and over again loading, aiming, firing, loading, aiming, firing. It takes time to become fluid in these motions. But the main objective is to eliminate mistakes and optimize procedures.
Fast. When you’ve mastered the smoothness of quality and precision and your actions have become second nature, you can now optimize for speed. When you slow down and smooth out, you might feel like a turtle (don’t be the tortoise) racing the hare. The hare is fast, but reckless and unfocused. The turtle is sluggish, but steady and deliberate. But at any moment, the turtle can find water. And in water, a miracle happens: the turtle suddenly becomes fast—up to 10-12 times faster. If you can be steady and deliberate, if you can execute quality results, you will eventually find water. You will become that swimming turtle.
Speed plus quality—that is the ultimate leverage. That is the stuff of leadership.
Most people will cut corners because they’ve been fooled into thinking that speed is what society really wants. But that is easiest way to tarnish a reputation. Other people fake apathy because they’ve been fooled into thinking that indifference is “cool.” In both cases, the focus is on external validation, and as a leader, that is something you cannot afford to be concerned with. When you prioritize quality and then speed, you become skilled at your craft and you become efficient, confident, and unrushed. You become a leader people want to follow, because you are able to command your rhythm, your tempo, and velocity.
By slowing down, you may not beat anyone in the race. But the race is not the point. Sure, your competition is out there moving faster than you. But the moment you fall into competition with others, you’re no longer fit to lead. Leaders stay above the fray and focus on mastering process instead of pleasing and competing with others.
Go at your own pace. Speak at your own tempo. Play your own game.
Be the swimming turtle, and let the hares doom themselves.
Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast.