May 29, 2022 2 min read

Speed as the Wrong Criteria

Speed is not always the best criteria when it comes to human change and development.

The notion of speed is pervasive in our culture and ends up becoming the de-facto basis on which we make decisions. Often we do not even realize that we are in fact doing so.

But speed as a dominant criterion can make us myopic and blind to the reality that we face, especially when it comes to human beings and change.

There is no fruit which is not bitter before it is ripe.

– Publilius Syrus

This is even more so true in the area of leadership development. People change and develop in biological time, not clock time.

Below are two excerpts from Peter Block and Robert Kegan that highlight this notion.

Here’s Block:

We want changes to occur in days, weeks, and months, not years. The most important effect of the How long? question is that it drives us to answers that meet the criteria of speed.

It runs the risk of precluding slower, more powerful strategies that are more in line with what we know about learning and development. We treat urgency like a performance-enhancing drug, as if calling for speed will hasten change, despite the evidence that authentic transformation requires more time than we ever imagined.

– Peter Block in The Answer to How is Yes

Here’s Kegan:

Why does it take time? Because we are in the world of human cultivation, not human engineering. We are not speaking of flipping a light switch. We are speaking of the evolution of mental complexity, of the gradual process of mental differentiation and reintegration, of looking at a way of making meaning we used to only look through, of shifting subject to object.

You have no problem with longer time horizons when you are talking about any other major initiative in your organization; why do you expect overnight success in this one?

You know the future of a tulip bulb is to blossom into a tulip; you know the future of a caterpillar is to sprout wings and fly. But you are not impatient with the tulip bulb or the caterpillar.                                          

– Robert Kegan & Lisa Lahey in Immunity to Change

The next time we become impatient with the lack of progress of a high-performer or even an entire team, consider what our underlying model is? Is it one of clock time or of biological time?

Same goes for our own developmental efforts. What things are we not trying simply because we think it will take too long?


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Sheril Mathews
After a 20 year stint in various technical/management/leadership/ positions in the wilds of corporate America I started LS to help leaders & high performers level up their game.
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