I can’t count the number of times that my original sensei would say that to me when I started practicing jujitsu. It drove me nuts. I never felt like I was moving fast. Besides, what was wrong with going fast? Now, after twenty years of jujitsu practice, I’m constantly telling my students to slow down.
Speed is a funny thing. It appears to be the most important thing in martial arts: being able to block quickly, hit quickly, throw quickly. However, when you move fast, there’s a tendency to overshoot the target, to over-commit. The block is too wide or the punch is over-extended, leaving you vulnerable. It’s easy to miss obvious feints by an opponent, and walk into a fist. Speed also leaves you physically and emotionally exhausted, unable to actually complete a workout. Indeed, the most skilled practitioners never seem to move all that fast. Rather, they become extremely good at always being in the right place at the right time. Speed comes from precision, but precision does not come from speed.
I’m frequently reminded of this phenomenon when I work with my clients. There is a tendency at many companies to try to do more and more in less and less time. The logic seems to be that if people just worked quickly enough, they would be able to get the job done. Instead, though, the error count is increasing even faster than the productivity. The time spent going back and correcting problems and fixing bugs more than makes up for the time saved by moving faster.
The problem once again is that moving rapidly does not equate to moving precisely. In a corporate setting, that lack of precision translates to instructions not being read closely, exceptions not being recognized, assumptions not being tested, or flat out inaccurate information not being corrected. It can also mean overreacting to a competitor’s product release or to a news story. In jujitsu, you may not have time to stop and think: if you haven’t prepared and trained, then you may just be out of luck. In a business environment, you may feel that you can’t stop and think, but the reality is far different. Unlike jujitsu, decisions don’t need to be made in fractions of a second. There is time to pause and consider the situation: even in the Apollo 13 disaster, NASA’s Eugene Krantz slowed everyone down and collected information before deciding what to do. Knowing when to slow down is what saved the astronauts; moving too quickly would have only compounded the problems beyond recovery.