Slow is Smooth. Smooth is Fast
In a fast growing environment, it can be very tempting to throw caution to the wind and go as fast as you can. Sometimes, it can also feel like the only right way to do it, because everyone else around you is also doing the same thing. If that is the way you want to go, I want you to consider all perspectives and make that decision very consciously, thoughtfully, after having considered everything you should.
The reason I say this is because if you are living your life largely focused on the outside, focused on what others are doing, you might tend to get influenced by the rush and speed that some other business owners find exciting. It is very natural to be influenced by the environment. But you need to be sure that you want to take that path, or want to take that path right now. Because maybe that direction is not for you. Or maybe this is not the right time to take that route. You need to be sure. If you decide to go fast after considering all the other options and their pros and cons, you will be more confident and hence have a much higher probability of success.
There was an event held recently at HanaHaus in Palo Alto and one of the panelists who was an ex-founder said that when I was running my company, the only thing I could think of was a billion dollar exit, which he now believed to be not the best way of looking at things. There are many examples of other founders who, after having raised money from the investors, are now so focused only on meeting significantly high growth numbers that have been imposed upon them by the investors, that product and service quality, or the original vision, or values, or what you were meant to create in the first place, what inspired you in the first place, all of that has been forgotten. Beauty has been sacrificed at the altar of speed. In some cases, you change your priorities and strategic direction rapidly, and sometimes dramatically, because a particular direction is not working out very well.
Now this can also be a very good decision at times, and might seem very reasonable to do. If this GTM strategy is not working and another one is, do more of that. Yes, sometimes it is the right thing to do. But what I want you to focus on is being sure that what you are doing is really the right thing to do. I want you to be sure that you are doing it because you believe in it, believe in your vision, believe in what you wanted to create, and not doing it because now the goal is only meeting revenue numbers, whether they align with the vision or not. Because if that is the case, you may hit the numbers, but this attitude might not inspire your team. If your only vision is to meet revenue targets, without a strong non-financial vision to pursue, it might get difficult to attract and hold on to good team members.
Let us take an example. I recently met two employees of a healthtech company. One of them had resigned and the other was still with the company. But both of them had the same story to tell. They said we joined the company because we found the founders really inspiring. They had a great vision, and individually they are very talented. But after we raised money from the investors, the original vision that inspired everyone - the vision to make people healthier, improve their well-being - that vision was lost. And we saw this change happen very gradually, but very, very clearly. In the meetings before the investors came in, we used to talk much more about making people healthier, how can we get them to work out more, walk more, run more, eat healthier. After the investors came in, the conversations in the meetings slowly started to change. We were now talking more about where the revenue will come from. We were talking more about tying up with ecommerce companies to offer discounts to our members. We were talking more about whether this skin lotion will give us a better return or that necklace. The conversations around making people healthier slowly disappeared, and today they are non-existent. I don’t remember when we had a discussion on member well-being last. We now use the word “coupons” way more than we use the word “healthy”. We flip from one revenue strategy to the other aimlessly in search for better revenue, even if it is not aligned with what we started with. The entire team that was extremely motivated earlier, is now confused, disoriented and insecure.
One of those two people had resigned because he felt aimless and uninspired. The other continues to work there but she has decided to become a quiet quitter - she has made a conscious decision to work only so much that keeps her job safe, be nice and polite to the people around her, and is now spending a lot more time doing freelance work on Upwork while actively looking for another job that truly inspires her.
Being focused on your vision and being reasonably flexible about how to get there is a very powerful attitude. But you need to ensure that your goal is still the same, it is still what inspired you initially. That is what inspired your people to join you. If you had started with a healthy and worthwhile non-financial vision, you need to be sure that you are staying true to your original vision and that the goal now is not just to meet revenue numbers while ignoring the original vision. And yes, I repeat, that initial vision must be to create something healthy and worthwhile. Don’t make something that will make your customers or users more restless, insecure, anxious or will deteriorate their quality of life. Don’t just make something people will buy or consume. Make something that is good for them.
If you examine this attitude of rushing through things, growing fast without being true to your original vision, you will notice that in most such cases, nothing truly inspiring or beautiful is built. Something large, perhaps. But not truly beautiful.
You must choose both. Don’t just choose financial success. Choose financial success AND a fulfilling and meaningful journey for everyone concerned. If you focus on creating a meaningful journey, your revenue, profits, valuation, will increase in this scenario, not decrease. If, however, you were to only focus on financial success, you might either go out of business because there is no substance in your product and eventually the money will run out, or you might create something large or financially successful but it won’t be beautiful, it won’t have a soul.
To choose both financial success and a fulfilling and meaningful journey, you must mix slow with fast. You must slow down constantly, regularly, so you can find the time to go deep within, have long conversations with yourself about your values, ask yourself repeatedly - Is this who I really am; Is this who I really want to be, is this what I really want to do, what was my original vision, what did that mean to me, does it still inspire me or have I lost my way, is this the kind of culture I wish to build, are these the behaviours I want to see repeated in our organisation?
Slow down regularly, so you can go faster.
Slow down regularly, so you can soar higher.
Slow down regularly, so you can listen to your inner voice. Your inner voice is speaking to you, but you may not hear it if you keep your attention outside all the time.
Contemplation - deep thinking - enables you to feel your values more deeply and understand what truly inspires you. It helps you define, and constantly remember, your non-financial vision clearly, so it continues to inspire you, so that you remember to talk about it when you meet your team, so that they continue to be inspired. Contemplation also ensures that you are authentic about your non financial vision, and not just saying things because they are politically correct to say. The same practice of Contemplation also helps you find insights about product market fit, business model, your key differentiators, your marketing strategy, which investor to raise money from (and not), and answers to many such other critical questions. Contemplation is the method you use if you wish to become a thought leader in your domain. Today most people who are called content creators are really content compilers, or content repurposers. They scan the internet and repackage what is already available. You cannot create original insights, original frameworks, original works without Contemplation.
Newton used it.
Beethoven used it.
Alan Turing used it.
Now you must use it.
Add mental fitness to your physical fitness routine so you can do both together. As you go for a walk, or work out at the gym, listen to these episodes, listen to the principles in the program, listen to the guided Contemplations - let those words fall on your ears a few minutes every day. Listen to them when you are driving. It will keep your mind clear, focused, and most importantly, in the right direction. Whenever in doubt, remind yourself of the cycle - a fulfilling, purposeful and peaceful life can be created only if you make the right choices or decisions. To make the right decisions you need to be deeply connected with yourself and you need your own personal decision making system. Contemplation helps you remain deeply connected with yourself and the Adios principles help you create that personal decision making system, which helps you make the right decisions, which leads to a fulfilling, purposeful and peaceful life.
Being busy working all the time might feel very productive because you are in action all the time, but that is an illusion.
To create something beautiful, in action must be balanced with inaction.
You should feel guilty if you don’t take regular breaks for Contemplation because here is what you are really saying - I do not want to create something deep, inspiring and beautiful but only something that gets big quickly.
As a founder, you are also the Chief Contemplation Officer of your organisation and it is your responsibility to create something inspiring so the team is motivated to work towards something worthwhile. Restlessly chasing growth metrics without being thoughtful about why and what you are doing will fail to achieve that. Being thoughtful will help you create something deep, and also attract the right people to join your team. They will stay for the strength of your values, for the power of your vision, and for the beauty of the culture you create.
Many other companies can pay them the same amount of money or even more. The color of money is the same everywhere. It is the color of your values, vision and culture that truly differentiates you. To retain that color, you must mix slow with fast. Always being fast and restless might feel exciting, adventurous, or even victorious, but it is not good for you.
And if as a founder you chose fast and restless previously in your earlier venture, or if you worked on something that was good financially but did not truly inspire you, it does not matter. That’s the past. Make a different choice this time. You have many years left in you. Use that same intelligence to now create something inspiring, because it takes the same time and effort. The difference is in the approach you take. Choose Contemplation this time.
If you wish to create something inspiring, you need to be intentional about it. Hope is not a strategy. A habit of regular Contemplation will help you make the right choices to make that happen. Going slow makes you deeper, calmer, wiser. Going slow is the only way to find true inspiration.
Fast excites. Slow inspires.
Fast keeps you on the surface. Slow lets you go deep.
Fast is the past. Slow is the way to go.