Strategyn

Product Strategy and Innovation Blog

Scaling Excellence: Go Slow to Go Fast

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In their recent book called “Scaling Up Excellence” Bob Sutton and Huggy Rao share a key insight that companies should embrace as they build excellence into their organization: at times, it makes sense to go slow so that in the future a company can go fast. You are probably familiar with this concept from the world of carpentry where the mantra is to “measure twice and cut once”.

But in today’s fast-paced world, slowing down seems to be at odds with success. Companies are afraid of being disrupted and are frantically trying to avoid it at all costs. The business press fuels that fire with stories of how new technologies are going to wipe out entire industries. And while some of it may come to pass, most of it is hype to get people to read an article.

The conflict between the wisdom espoused by Sutton and Rao and what is happening in business world today was brought home through two recent client interactions. The first prospective client, a well known technology company and category leader, achieved its market dominance through technology prowess and developing clever strategy—but now, its growth curve is flatting out. When they came to us, they wanted a 5-year growth strategy—and they wanted it in 3 weeks. Their urgency was fueled by a pending senior leadership meeting (the tyranny of the corporate calendar).

Since our whole consulting business is founded upon evidence-based decision-making that requires 8 to 10 weeks of data collection and discovery, we politely said, “We cannot give you what you are asking for in your desired time frame”. We shared with them this idea of going slow to be able to go fast. We showed them that by investing the time necessary to get the right insights (uncover hidden opportunities) they would be able to formulate a unique and differentiated strategy that would put them back on the path to go fast again. Unfortunately, there was silence on the other end of the phone. They believed they didn’t have the time to get it right, so they thanked us for our time and went on their way.

Another prospective client in the fintech space needed insights to drive their growth strategy and were on a 4-week time line. They were familiar with and liked our model for mapping out the job-to-be-done and gathering the customer’s outcomes. They also wanted us to tell them which of those needs represented the greatest opportunity for innovation—but without doing the quantitative research needed to make that determination (a big mistake). Here’s why:

This fintech company competes in a large consumer market and large consumer markets are never homogeneous—meaning segments of customers with different unmet needs always exist. Therefore, to help them succeed, we knew they needed to do the quantitative survey and segmentation analysis before they developed their strategy. Again we shared the wisdom of going slow to go fast in the future and again there was then silence on the other end of the phone until they told us, “Weeks matter and we have to take action”.

The irony is that many companies find it more important to “do something quickly” than to take the time to “do the right thing.” The result? Companies spend more time and money iterating, reworking, pivoting and failing fast than they would investing in the research and discovery needed to get it right in the first place.

After working with Strategyn, our clients see the value of going slow now to go fast in the future. They see that mapping out markets for growth takes time but once it is complete, decision-making is simpler, faster and far more effective. They realize that decision-making without statistically valid data is fraught with risk, waste and loss of valuable time. As Bob Sutton says, “to spread excellence, you first need something excellent to spread”.

On the bright side, the technology company reached out to us a few weeks later after becoming convinced they had to go slow now so they could go fast in the future. We scoped out an engagement that would enable them to address their growth challenges and are currently engaged in helping them obtain the market insights that will help them develop a data-driven strategy to go fast in the future. They realized that measuring twice and cutting once is not only important in carpentry; it’s essential to sustaining long-term growth.