Adrian Savage’s book, Slow Leadership, was published in 2006, which possibly makes it all the more appropriate to be finally mentioning it now. Some things take time, you know. Even the blog of the same name, which he wrote as Carmine Coyote, ceased to be back in 2009, yet he appeared in an interview with OfficeArrow seemingly published earlier this week (just this once, I’m questioning the veracity of Google’s additional search tools.) Whatever the truth behind the digital date-stamping, the idea lives on.
The larger, and generally rather loose, Slow Movement can be dated back to the early 1990s in Italy and the origination of the Slow Food Movement. It wasn’t – perhaps appropriately for a country associated with zipping about on scooters as well as glamorous languor – entirely about removing speed and haste from the equation. Embracing elements such as seasonal and local ingredients, sustainability in farming and shopping practices, Slow Food was (and is) about food, taste, flavour and taking the time to appreciate the flavour and the occasion. As the Re:Focus blog commented in another article contesting our contemporary obsession with haste and pace, Go Slow, the value of a home-cooked meal isn’t just the total price of the ingredients:
We can’t make something with love in a microwave.”
The article also makes a larger point, which possibly better explains the connection between the different ‘Slow’ movements, be they in food, management and leadership, parenting, gardening, money, travel or more besides:
It is the single greatest gift we can give someone – to give them our time. To offer hours, days, weeks, months or more knowing full well that any time we spend we will not get back, ever. Time is a non-refundable commodity. Once it’s spent, it’s gone. Time, more than money, has real, lasting value.”
And, of course, when we receive something of value, we tend to take note. There are also age-old expressions that suggest we’ve long been aware than speed isn’t everything: “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, “time well spent”, and so on. We may tend to cheer the first past the proverbial post, but we can also recognise that some posts deserve greater effort in passing than others: not all achievements are equal.
So do what the movements proponents mean by being slow? It’s not a simple matter of despising anything rapid. As the author of one of the movement’s best-sellers, In Praise of Slow: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed, Carl Honore has pointed out, the argument is more nuanced than that:
I like my Internet connection to be fast and I play two of the fastest sports around, ice-hockey and squash, in my spare time. I live in London, which is a city of volcanic energy, and I enjoy working to deadlines. Speed has its place in the modern world. Often you have to move quickly, particularly at work. The problem is that speed has become a way of life. We do everything in a rush. We are stuck in fast forward and that is unhealthy.”
As one of the reviewers at Amazon explained, a literal reading of the word ‘slow’ isn’t the actual argument: a musical term – tempo giusto, which the Oxford Companion to Music defines as “the speed that the style of the music demands (usually Moderato)” – explains the idea better. The familiar Urgent vs Important matrix might help: things that aren’t urgent don’t have to be done at breakneck speed, especially if our responses to them would benefit from time to think, experiment and revise. Or thinking in terms of value, the time, quality, cost triangle may be relevant. Slower may cost more, but may also be better: how much do you value the quality of the deliverable, and how far are you prepared to compromise it?
Communication practices are another aspect of ‘slow’. In an eminently quotable article for The Wall Street Journal, A Manifesto for Slow Communication, Granta editor John Freeman commented on our ability to appropriately parcel out our finite attention to best ends:
The Internet has provided us with an almost unlimited amount of information, but the speed at which it works—and we work through it—has deprived us of its benefits. We might work at a higher rate, but this is not working. We can store a limited amount of information in our brains and have it at our disposal at any one time. Making decisions in this communication brownout, though without complete information, we go to war hastily, go to meetings unprepared, and build relationships on the slippery gravel of false impressions. Attention is one of the most valuable modern resources. If we waste it on frivolous communication, we will have nothing left when we really need it.”
This is not so much the problem of talking to the hand as talking to the hand-held. As that time-honoured triangle hinted, it might be fast and cheap but it’s necessarily that great – or at least, our use of the fast and cheap doesn’t necessarily lead us towards the optimum.
But more than anything else, ‘slow’ is about perspective – and allowing ourselves to take a step backwards once in a while to see it in its broader context. As Dr Nigel Spencer pointed out in a guest article here, reflecting on his professional coaching practice in the light of a historian’s sense of timescale, putting the issues into a broader perspective can give us a refreshing – if humbling – sense of ourselves too:
At an individual level, the choice to change is definitely ours, and that of our ‘resourceful’ coaching clients. At a group level, we have been a contributing factor to change, even if the precise difference we have made blurs with other influences impacting on our firm’s daily Trojan Wars and Charybdis-like whirlpools. Beyond all this, we must accept there is a frame of reference well beyond our conception and influence where we are simply ephemeral, miniature actors playing out Scene One of a much longer drama that will continue well beyond our time.”
Naturally, we wouldn’t advocate that you rush to embrace the concept of slow. But if you’re in no hurry and can wait until 19th June, why not have a taster session while you enjoy World Sauntering Day?