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The Dangers of Speed

telephone booth beside speeding traffic

While the drug commonly known as speed (methamphetamine) comes with some significant side-effects and is hazardous to your health, that’s not the kind of speed I’d like to draw your attention to today. Rather, as was clearly illustrated to me the other day, the potential pitfalls of running (and driving) through our days at full-tilt are many and sometimes just as damaging as the mind-altering version of speed.

Whether it’s the impatient driver of the SUV in the curb lane beside me, who almost T-boned the wailing, flashing police cruiser as it turned left in front of us; or the email a friend bashed out to co-workers in haste, forgetting to remove the inflammatory attachment—all this rushing around has consequences!

A colleague once told me her “super power” was doing things fast. She talked fast, moved fast, typed fast and worked fast. At the time, her ability to get things done quickly was working in her favor, but not everyone is so lucky. The cost and consequences of undue haste are many. They can also be stealthy, slipping past, unnoticed at the time and then circling back to bite you when you least expect it.

Here are the four main areas that suffer when speed becomes your main driver:

1. Accuracy

Probably the most obvious casualty of haste is accuracy. Here are just a few ways accuracy can be compromised by a rush to produce output:

  • Written work is more likely contain spelling, grammar and transpositions errors which reflect poorly on the writer and the organization.
  • Financial information may be inadvertently misstated and calculations go unchecked, which could have significant business implications.
  • Research may be sloppy and data sources could escape verification leading to erroneous conclusions.
  • Those providing information may not be properly vetted (as Rolling Stone Magazine found to their dismay in this journalistic debacle).
  • Product specifications may contain inconsistencies and errors that lead to costly rework.

2. Quality

Close cousin to accuracy, quality may also suffer when the push to produce overcomes all other priorities. Whether you consider the quality of a manufactured product, the quality of office work being produced or the quality of a personal interaction, focusing exclusively on speed is usually a detriment—and yet it persists.

Impatience has become something of a national sport in the U.S., making it harder and harder to live by the old adage “You can’t rush quality.” It seems that North Americans can (and do). Among other interesting facts about people’s growing levels of impatience, the Fifth Third Bank survey found that 96% of Americans are so impatient, they will knowingly consume extremely hot food or drink that burns their mouth and 63% do so frequently.[1] When the food you are eating burns your mouth, I think it’s safe to say that the quality of the experience is diminished!

3. Safety

Even more problematic than its potential impact on accuracy and quality is the effect speed can have on safety; for example:

  • Safety precautions and the proper use of safety equipment being overlooked in the rush to complete a task, increasing exposure to workplace hazards.
  • Poor understanding of safety procedures and the use of safety equipment due to hurried (or skipped) training.
  • Inadequate or missed inspections and shortcuts taken because of deadline pressures, leading to unnoticed, potentially dangerous flaws.
  • Even in the “safest” workplaces, increased accidents caused by people simply rushing around.

4. Relationships

The final and most insidious danger that undue haste represents is its ability to damage (and sometimes destroy) relationships. When you rush communication, it breaks. It’s bad enough that we apply all sorts of personal filters to any communication we receive; when the person sending the message is in a hurry, both reception and transmission risk being garbled. Trust takes time effort to establish and it can be destroyed with one thoughtless, hurried email or outburst. When it comes to building and maintaining relationships, taking the time to craft clear messages and plan respectful interactions makes all the difference.

If you’ve become addicted to the need for speed, stop and consider whether you might be missing some danger signs, not to mention the scenery, in your race to the finish line. In the words of Smashing Pumpkins: “Speed kills, But beauty lives forever. Speed thrills, But beauty knows your name.”


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[1] Fifth Third Bank Survey conducted online by Wakefield Research among 1,000 US adults 18+, between January 15 and January 23, 2015.

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