Graham Birkenhead, February 12 2019

Are you Confusing Motion with Progress?

On my journey home over the weekend on a busy highway, I was able to watch the driving style of another driver.  We joined the highway together – I noticed him because he was in the wrong lane and squeezed into the on ramp behind me.  We slipped into the traffic stream and went on our way.   A minute later, his car went flying past me on the right and for the next 15Km I watched as he dodged from lane to lane accelerating hard as spaces opened up and braking just as hard as cars blocked his way. And on a couple of occasions he caused other cars to brake to avoid him. I guess he may have felt that his aggressive driving saved him lots of time but likely he didn't consider the extra fuel, tire and brake wear, passenger comfort, and the potential danger he was exposing them to – as well as the other road users. But, at the end of 15Km when I turned off the highway, he was only a few metres ahead of me. 

It reminded me of a common situation in the world of getting stuff done, or as we know it: work.  We like to ‘Do’. We are paid to ‘Do’. We want to get to ‘Do’ as quickly as possible.  It’s part of our culture – it feels proactive, it feels good and we get rewarded for it.   However we have loads of folk wisdom warning us of the pitfalls of rushing to ‘do’ such as:

And while we will often cite them and we sound good in the process, how often do we really follow this advice? 

One situation where this prevalent, is when there is a specific problem to solve or progress required. There is a sense of urgency so we get to ‘doing’ as quickly as possible and management steps in with a good idea: “let’s do this”, “we should try that” – and so we do.  We bounce around all over the place, we work hard, we work fast, or even furiously, looking great in the process. But how well are we progressing?    

Critical thinking tells us that there are 3 major groups of information that can inform our decision-making:

In times of pressure or excitement, our brains will not worry about the boundaries between these things.   We’ll act on what we think we know and take the easiest path to get to ‘Do’. Many a good project has come unstuck due to lack of upfront research and planning in the rush to start work. 

And that car driver, he may have been late, or may always drive like that – I’ll never know.  While he might have personally got ahead by a few seconds, his impact was probably to slow the whole flow of traffic down as well as making his own journey more expensive and even risky.  

How do you know if this is happening to you?  Well, are you or your people burning the candle at both ends; using phrases like: ‘I don't know’,  ‘I guess’, or ‘I think’; are plans going sideways; is there lots of blaming going on? Then maybe it’s time to catch your breath, take stock and find a new way forward. Often we struggle harder making the situation worse – for some reason that is part of our survival instinct, but it usually doesn't work in our favour.    

Most times, it pays to stand back, gather some good information and make a better-informed decision.  It may feel like you are slower to get started, but you may arrive quicker, safer and at a lower cost.  

What is your company ‘doing’ right now that could benefit from a little less motion and a bit more progress? If you want to discuss, please get in touch with me.

Written by

Graham Birkenhead

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