On ‘moving fast’ vs. ‘moving smart’

Move Fast or Move Smart?

I talked to my friend about this the other night and thought it was interesting, so I decided to turn it into a quick blog.

I wouldn’t say that “smart” and “fast” are necessarily the only two ways that an organization can move, and I wouldn’t even say that they have to be opposed — some companies in history have moved both quickly and intelligently on new ideas. It happens, although it’s probably pretty rare.

Put aside the semantics for a second and think of it like this:

  • One side of the argument is that business today is ‘ever-changing’ and ‘moves so fast’ and ‘constant iteration is required.’ If that’s the case — and honestly, it may not be relative to industry — then it would seem that moving fast is the most important thing a business can do today.
  • The other side is that ‘moving fast’ often involves making quick decisions and not fully evaluating a market, a series of conditions, a broader context, etc. — so while you can gain an advantage by moving quickly (you’re there first), you can also put yourself in a brutal loop of always chasing a new thing because you didn’t think through the steps (which would be ‘moving smart’).

Here’s a micro-level way to think of it: if you hear about a cool party, do you move fast to get there? Then you’re the first one there, and while that’s cool — booze and food! — it’s also a little lame. Or do you move smart and think about when to get there, who you want to be with, etc?

That’s a lame analogy, probably, but it has some value.

Personally, if I ever ran a company, I’d try to chase an attitude of ‘moving smart.’ I think ‘moving fast’ has no true advantage in business; once everyone floods the zone (which happens on every good idea), it’s going to usually be the team with the most understanding, empathy, and context for the consumer — and for their own people working on ideas and products — who will succeed. I don’t even think ‘first mover advantage’ matters a lot anymore; back in 2010 business professionals were already saying it was dead.

Here’s the other side of that coin, somewhat referenced above: when you ‘move fast’ all the time, that means that if a strategy wasn’t good — because you didn’t ‘move smart’ — you need to quickly adapt and ‘move fast’ again. That creates a lot of potential employee churn, because you’re always telling your people to pivot to another strategy that doesn’t necessarily work that well, and after a while they’ll realize that they’re pivoting every 2-3 months — and that gets a little bit tedious.

This could probably be resolved if companies started thinking about ‘strategy’ as something that happens all year, as opposed to 2-3 offsite meetings, but I’m not sure anyone is closer to that level of thinking just yet.

In your daily life and work, would you rather move quickly from A to B, or move with a little bit more context and background for what you’re doing?

Ted Bauer