Form over Speed

This fall I spent a day hiking the Appalachian Trail in Maryland with my daughter Beth.  Early in the hike we had a steep ascent on what is called a hard rock scramble, that gray area between hiking and rock climbing. During the climb I heard the expression from my daughter – ‘form over speed.’ She was coaching me that I needed to be more aware of how I was climbing and not the rate of the climb. Carrying a weighted pack can throw your balance off a bit and not taking your time could easily cause a fall; and falling at this place would have surely meant pain.

The beauty of hiking for hours at a time is that you can mull the catch phrase “form over speed” over and over in your head.  The first place my mind took me was to my brother Scott as a golf pro giving me a golf lesson (I can’t remember if I asked for the lesson or not…) and him stressing ‘tempo’.  A fluid golf swing has all the elements of the right form and pace. When I swing in tempo, I hit more good shots than bad. When I rush that swing in my quest to smash the ball, disastrous results often happen.

I have a neighbor who is exceptionally methodical in what he does.  Jerry is a person who pays very careful attention to detail and who does things in a precise manner.  He follows procedures and instructions exactly.  I trust his knowledge on those things he gets involved in, as he researches all the elements.   I have also entrusted him with rebuilding a generator, snow blower, lawnmower, tractor – just to name a few. The results he obtains are outstanding.

I on the other hand am often guilty of moving too fast with not enough attention paid to details. I have some scars – physical, emotional and even financial – as reminders.  A recent example that troubled me for weeks (and I trust moves me more in the right direction) concerned our dog, Rooney. Rooney is the family dog, a rescue we adopted over two years ago.  She and I have developed a strong bond.  One night in my haste to get things done in the backyard, I unknowingly left the gate open and out she went exploring. A black dog on the loose at night is not a great combination. Fortunately, it didn’t take too long to get her back (minutes that seemed like hours) but the fear of what could have happened was overwhelming.

The founder of the Roman Empire, Augustus, would use the Latin phrase “Festina Lente.” This translates to: “Make haste, slowly.” It served as a reminder for Augustus to perform activities with a proper balance of urgency and diligence. Today we say, “haste makes waste.”  This rhyming warning, was first recorded in 1575. A similar expression can even be found in the Old Testament, Proverbs 19:2 – “Desire without knowledge is not good; and whoever acts hastily, blunders.”

In weight lifting, it is form over speed and weight. Against popular belief, working out quickly and based on speed is not the best for the body and not the ideal way to build muscle and tone the body. What trainers tend to focus on is the form going into each workout. There is no point of rushing or working out quickly if the form is incorrect. Working out slower and methodical is important to working out the right muscle group, and working them out correctly. The focus on form over the weight lifted builds the basis of proper technique while preventing injuries. Over time this focus on form creates a foundation where the end result is greater strength.

A successful sustained business will build its foundation of doing the right things, right as opposed to quick hitters (or going 100 miles an hour in a hundred different directions). Stephen Covey has a great quote, “Doing the right things for the right reason in the right way is the key to Quality of Life!.” For those of us over 50, People Express Airlines is a great example of going too fast. A low-cost airline that operated from 1981 to 1987 and was an instant success. The issue became that their rapid expansion and desire for greater revenues placed an enormous debt burden and stretched their business capabilities too far. Krispy Kreme is a more recent example where speed to profits took precedence over building the right processes, leading to the collapse of much of their franchisee network.

I had a recent boss who used the phrase “Go slow to go fast”.  He was addressing the speed gap that exists in business.  There is a difference between how important speed is to the competitive strategy and how fast the company can actually move. Organizations fearful of losing their competitive advantage spend much time and many resources looking for ways to pick up the pace. They confuse operational speed (moving quickly) with strategic speed (reducing the time it takes to deliver value). Harvard Business Review conducted a study of 343 businesses that embraced initiatives and speed to gain an edge.  Simply increasing the pace of production often led to lower-quality products and services. Those firms that “slowed down to speed up” improved their top and bottom lines, averaging 40% higher sales and 52% higher operating profits over a three-year period. The higher-performing companies made alignment (form) a priority. They allowed time to reflect and learn, became more open to ideas and discussion, and encouraged innovative thinking. By contrast, the firms that moved fast all the time, focused too much on maximizing efficiency, didn’t foster employee collaboration, and weren’t overly concerned about alignment.

In Jesus’ well-known Parable of the Sower (Mark’s Chapter 13), He warns that the seed of the gospel would fall on diverse types of soils, some of which would appear receptive and allow the plant to spring up at once because the soil was not deep. Yet when the sun rose, the plant would be scorched and withered for lack of roots. So, there are some who hear the word and receive it at once with joy. But without any roots when persecution, troubles, and the worries of life come along they quickly fall away. Speed to salvation is not sustainable, you can’t cheat the process and process is analogous to form.

Although I will admit that it is hard in today’s world of go, go, go and multi-tasking; it is imperative that I better condition myself to ‘go slow to go fast’, hear my brother’s voice tell me ‘tempo’, and use my neighbor Jerry as a role model.  In the words of my Dad, “take time to do things right and you will not have to take even more time to do them over.” 

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