"…though my life has been transformed by deceleration, the virus of hurry still clearly lurks in my bloodstream."
Carl Honoré is in a hurry to tell us about how slow is better. It’s always been his way; ever since a mad dash through Heathrow nearly resulted in him choosing to simplify his life by speeding up the bedtime stories he told to his child and subsequently resulted in him writing In Praise of Slowness. The Slow Fix begins with another personal story of Carl coming to terms with his own adrenaline-fueled demons – he shares his story of having irregular, short-burst, infrequent acupuncture to solve chronic back pain, saying he’s been in a hurry to fix his back for twenty years and has wondered why the treatment hasn’t been working (although the reasons are perfectly clear to his acupuncturist).
As is his way, Carl uses his personal insight as an impetus to begin a journey exploring the phenomenon of our collective disposition towards fast answers, shortcuts and easy solutions. Whether he’s asking the question in hopes that he’s not alone or trying to solve a major social problem doesn’t matter – he travels far and wide, examines everything from education to the military to fine art to fad diets to organ donation and gives us fantastic examples of why slower really is better.
System 1 and System 2
"…our addiction to the quick fix has physiological roots."
Neuroscience provides some insight into why our brains seem to gravitate towards the easy, fast answer more often than not. We have two systems for solving problems: System 1 and System 2 (I’m desperately working to not invoke Dr. Seuss here, with Thing 1 and Thing 2, but I digress). System 1 is fast and intuitive, perfect for life or death situations. System 2 is slow and deliberate – conscious, critical, analytical and rational. System 1 was perfect when we were being chased by wild tigers every time we stepped outside our caves. System 2 is perfect for our knowledge-based world. The problem is that System 1 is more developed and waaaaaaay easier to use than System 2. And System 2’s logic and reason are so good that it can actually help us rationalize our System 1 temptations. Add to this our natural proclivities towards familiarity and optimism, and our inherent aversion to change, and it’s really hard for us to consciously decide against our first instinct in favour of a longer, more complicated and untried solution that might not work. The fact is, though, that when we do invest time and effort and let System 2 do its thing, great breakthroughs occur. So the key is to be willing to defy trends, banish naysayers and ignore pressure in order to solve problems thoroughly and permanently.
Schedule a daily Clinton moment and say, "I was wrong"
"...think of how much more efficient – not to mention agreeable – your workplace would be if every error could be a spur to working smarter."
There are fourteen different behaviours in The Slow Fix that illustrate ways we can change our approach in order to change our outcomes, and the first one is “Confess.” In example after example, the author finds evidence that not only is it cathartic to admit mistakes, it’s actually the most reliable path to learning both for individuals and organizations – and the consequences are rarely as bad as we fear.
From a hipster wearing a Barry Manilow T-shirt across campus (to almost no notice whatsoever) to RAF airplane mechanics flagging inspection failures for even very minor issues, we learn that the learning that comes from identifying, analyzing and then solving a mistake has huge value. A high-end girls’ school in England even instituted a “Failure Week” to help students – and faculty, and parents – get comfortable with honest feedback and the value of being wrong. The message is simple – own up rather than cover up.
Intuition is a double-edged sword
"…practice, planning and preparation allow you to fix things quickly when the clock is ticking."
Experts develop a strong sense of right and wrong, good and bad, working and malfunctioning in their particular area of expertise. Whether it is in Formula One racing, basketball, forensic criminal investigation or corporate mergers and acquisitions, the author offers legions of examples where individuals have made a gut call or split-second move that turned out to be the absolutely right thing to do at the time. In all cases, though, those experts were able to make those split-second decisions because they had invested years in training and experience such that their “intuition” was highly sensitized based on knowledge and skill.
In many other cases, though, intuition was blown off course by emotions and biases – that pesky System 1 interfering in spite of all best efforts to thwart it. The conclusion in this case is to not only prepare (by training, testing and observing over time), but to have our intuitive judgments checked and sometimes refined by others. Second, third and fourth opinions have great value when we are tackling hard problems, which is why the chapter on intuition, “Prepare,” is best complemented by the subsequent chapter, “Crowdsource” where we learn that the power of the individual is most valuable when supported by the wisdom of a group. Or, as the Formula One expert says, “No matter how good you are, you’re always better with someone else. No one can do it all on their own.” The message here – trust your gut, but check it with others if the stakes are high.
Every chapter in The Slow Fix offers Insights worthy of testing. The “devolve, feel, play, evolve” sequence of ideas speaks to the benefit of examining even things that are working to get out ahead of potential problems. Constant experimentation, willingness to abandon the familiar in favour of a crazy idea, and focusing on the process rather than the outcome – all secrets to finding sustainable, significant solutions to complex problems. Simple? Yes. Easy? Not at all.