[EAS] Go Fast! No, Don't!

Peter J. Kindlmann pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Wed Mar 29 18:56:59 EST 2006

Success in modern life has much to do with how you cope with paradox.
Sometimes even in the same newsletter.  --PJK

(from INNOVATION, 29 March 2006)

       "Speed is emerging as the ultimate competitive weapon," says Business
Week columnist Steve Hamm, pointing to the increasingly shrinking window of
opportunity for capitalizing on new ideas. The phenomenon is happening
across industries, transforming markets in retail, auto manufacturing,
electronics and medical devices, among others. At Nissan, new car
development used to take 21 months -- now, they've got it down to 10 1/2
and shrinking... Chalk it up to the entry of Asian powerhouses into the mix
and the spread of disruptive new Internet technologies and business models.
"What's changed in recent years is that a slew of new techniques make it
possible to get things done much faster
 A vast network of suppliers around
the world stands ready to do everything from manufacturing products to
drawing up legal contracts," says Hamm. For instance, when Swedish clothing
retailer H&M designs a new outfit, it has more than 700 manufacturers
worldwide to choose among, based on skills, proximity and ability to get
started quickly, often within a few hours. Today's successful entrepreneurs
are quick to get in and are not afraid to fail every once in awhile. But
when they do, as Richard Branson's Virgin Electronics did in 2004, they're
quick to get out. Branson shuttered the faltering music player division
just nine months after launch. What Branson is good at is rolling out new
cell phone services that piggyback on existing infrastructure. Since his
first such launch in 1999, he's added three countries to his roster and
expects to add three more just this year. "It's a template. We'll roll out
in a new country every four to five months. It's fast and lean." And as IBM
consultant George Bailey notes, "If you're not fast, you're dead. But if
you're not also good, you're still dead." (Business Week 27 Mar 2006)


       Innovation is really hard, because it's really hard to come up with
fresh new ideas "when its owner is overworked, overtired, and stressed
out," says Anne Fisher of Fortune magazine; she quotes Wharton management
professor Peter Capelli as saying:  "The physiological effects of tiredness
are well-known. You can turn a smart person into an idiot just by
overworking him," and author Tom DeMarco as urging that we all take a deep
breath and slow down: "Companies need to respect the time it takes to do
strategic thinking. Task-oriented thinking is important too, of course. But
bigger thinking is slow." Another point made by Fisher comes from the late,
great Peter Drucker, who noted: "All one can think and do in a short time
is to think what one already knows and to do as one has always done... To
be effective, every knowledge worker, and especially every executive...
needs to dispose of time in fairly large chunks. To have small dribs and
drabs of time at his disposal will not be sufficient even if the total is
an impressive number of hours." Fisher points out that the "time cost" of
refocusing your attention between different topics may be only a few
seconds with each switch, but says that researchers found that over time it
reduces people's total efficiency by 20% to 40%. She offers a little
scientific Zen for you: "What scientists have only recently begun to
realize is that people may do their best thinking when they are not
concentrating on work at all. If you've ever had a great idea pop into your
head while you were washing your car, walking your dog, or even napping,
you already know what a team of Dutch psychologists revealed last month in
the journal Science: The unconscious mind is a terrific solver of complex
problems when the conscious mind is busy elsewhere or, perhaps better yet,
not overtaxed at all." Keep this handy for when your boss asks you what the
hell you've been doing lately. (Fortune 17 Mar 2006)

More information about the EAS-INFO mailing list