Wednesday, December 1, 2010


from Harvard Business Review:
Speed Kills. Slow is Fast.

Most of us believe that speedy decision-making is critical for success today, and dub its absence as procrastination or managerial dithering. However, by focusing on how quickly we make decisions, are we abandoning the need to listen, discuss, evaluate, and respect different points of view? Are we fostering a culture of jumping to conclusions?

These questions struck me some time ago when I read a post by an Indian newspaper journalist about the Dongria Kondh, who have been resisting the plans of a British mining company to mine bauxite from Niyamgiri mountain, where they live and which they hold sacred. The Niyamgiri hills constitute a unique ecosystem that harbors numerous flora including some 20 species of orchids as well as vast natural resources. (If this sounds a bit like the Na'vi in James Cameron's movie, Avatar, it is — in fact, the Dongria even appealed to Cameron for help.) They have succeeded in halting the project for the moment, with the Indian government refusing to grant environmental clearances.

The clash between a powerful multinational and 1,453 tribal people has led to a debate on development in India. I am not taking sides on the issue; what caught my attention is the subtext, viz. that we should be open to others' views. In fact, the journalist admits he found more questions than answers after visiting the region. However, I see very few people presenting all the sides to an issue and then leaving others time to read, think, and debate. We are usually in a rush to jump straight to opinions — and sadly, the loudest is often heard the most.

If we forget our divergent opinions and focus on making our actions converge, we will make progress faster.
We will make steady progress, a little at a time, by concentrating on actions that we can all agree on. For instance, (almost) everyone may agree that people development should come first in India, so our top priorities should be education (life skills, not letter skills), healthcare, and sharing knowledge that lets people make informed choices.

Another area of convergence may be making an effort to delve deep, so we gain an appreciation of an alternate point of view that may not appear logical initially. That may change our opinions and decisions. For instance, we need to gain a better understanding of the Dongria and their aspirations, and until then, we must listen more than we speak about the issue. I know I don't fully appreciate the situation's complexity and wish to learn more through the discussions and debates that I hope this post will trigger.

Like developmental challenges, most managerial issues are complex and have deep-rooted human emotions associated with them. A Niyamgiri mountain lies at the heart of most situations we executives deal with. Speed is important, but if we can pause for a moment, we will hear the heart beating — and make decisions that people will implement twice as fast as they otherwise would have.

So why don't we go slow while making decisions, but act quickly after we reach consensus?


About the author

Vineet Nayar is CEO of HCL Technologies Ltd., leading global IT Services Company. His new book is Employees First, Customers Second (June, Harvard Business Press).