We are obsessed with speed: the need to get things done fast, and done now.
But is this obsession with speed really getting us anywhere fast – are we seeing real business efficiency?
Despite cars that can easily reach 40 or 50 mph in a few seconds, it is said that traffic in London today moves at a slower pace than horse drawn carriages of the late Victorian age. This might be one of those urban myths; however, it has been quoted so many times that it might as well be true. Funnily enough here in Brighton and Hove, the latest speed restrictions mean that maximum speeds are now set at 20 mph for most of the city, so it seems if the sheer weight of traffic doesn’t slow you down, the council will!
Anyway, to business and being efficient at work.
Isn’t it funny, therefore, that the more we try to speed things up, all we seem to do is find bottlenecks somewhere else in the system? I can recall working in a pre-internet age, which meant that there was no email, no Facebook and no Twitter; and yet things still seemed to happen at a sensible pace. Yes, there were delays, however, we found ways to get around them and, to some extent, the delays meant that you had time to digest things.
In our desire to have everything immediately, we seem to be forever playing catch up. So whilst we have indeed sped up one part of the operation i.e. the delivery mechanism, we are yet to speed up the processing bit.
An example perhaps will illustrate the point.
In market research, we have seen huge improvements in data gathering over the last decade. Research can get ‘into the field’ (and out of it) with great speed. Data processing can take place at the click of only a few buttons, and report charts formatted in hours, not days. Do you remember the time when we had to send slides out to be created in 35 mm format, and, if there was a mistake, we just had to live with it? But, of course, the real insights come from internal processing. Not just insights from the final report, but also absorbing a meaningful proposal or survey questionnaire.
So whilst it does appear that things are moving ever more quickly, the one important factor we humans still need is time to consider, time to reflect and time to assess.
The question is, despite the increased velocity of the workplace: Are we doing things more efficiently today? I suspect not. The increased speed in parts of the process merely creates more noise in the system, and we struggle to prioritise what is really important.
So, what is the answer?
Technological advances do not of themselves improve productivity, as we have seen, they merely move the processing capacity issue somewhere else in the system. What we are perhaps failing to do is to take proper stock of the impact of speed. When we do, we will be able to take advantage of getting things done fast and thus reap the real benefits of increased productivity and business efficiency.