A version of this article appeared at Inc.com
There’s a saying in my business which I’ve found myself using a lot recently: “Fast, good, cheap – you can have any two.”
If you’re familiar with the phrase, you’ll know the truth it holds. If you haven’t seen it before, it’s worth noodling on:
– Producing something fast, that’s also good, doesn’t come cheap;
– You can often get something that’s good, and cheap, if you’re prepared to wait;
– If something’s fast and cheap, usually it isn’t much good.
I’ve been pondering this conundrum as I hear some of the ever-more-outlandish expectations leaders and founders have of their businesses: strategy without hard thinking; zero defects without investment in planning; bench strength without people development; culture overnight…one colleague of mine was informed by a potential client that they wanted ‘massive, impactful credibility in the marketplace’ – in a month.
Folks, you can’t build credibility in a month (not in any credible market, that is), just as you can’t build a robust culture in a weekend, and you can’t design a truly effective strategy or business model if you’re not prepared to do the hard work of gathering data, analyzing it and then, well, thinking.
There are two important reasons, I believe, why business leaders are developing an I-want-it-now attitude to many issues and challenges that simply don’t work that way:
1. The near-instant availability of information.
Remember the days when researching something meant a trip to the bookstore, or a library? When numbers got entered onto paper instead of spreadsheet cells? When gathering people’s opinions and ideas required mail (as in the US Mail) and telephone calls?
Maybe you don’t – but even if you’re too young to remember that time, it’s not hard to realize that when gathering underlying information took a lot of time (and often required a major investment in other resources, too), using that information was usually a considered, less frenzied process.
Nowadays, our access to information is virtually real time. And guess what? The consequent, massive reduction in the sunk cost required to get information leads us to expect to process that information in a similarly instantaneous fashion. Sometimes that’s just fine – real-time information about an upcoming traffic jam on my way to work should lead to me taking immediate action if it is to be of any use – but sometimes the “instantly get / instantly decide” correlation doesn’t exist: the next-day results from a new product launch may enable me to make strategic changes immediately, but will that instant decision be any good? The strategic implications may well benefit from longer study.
2. The lauding of startup mentality as a competitive advantage.
Startups need to turn on a dime to survive. Flexibility and the ability to (forgive me) ‘pivot’ are crucial in any business’s early days. Hence, decision-making can be – must be – fast.
But when a business grows and becomes complex, guess what happens? That ‘decide now or we die’ mentality becomes as inappropriate as a diaper on a twenty-year-old. In order to implement decisions fast, a larger, complex business needs to make its decisions in a more considered manner – and no amount of startup pixie dust can change that.
So if you’re frustrated with getting things done in your organization, consider the triad: Fast, good or cheap – which are you trying to short-change?