Fall 2000


Great hall of Café Brauer

Click photo for large color version

The third of three forums on learning sponsored by Fast Company and Saba took place on May 18, 2000 in Chicago, Illinois. Fast talk made contributing editor Kelle Sikes ask, “The Speed of Work…is this a barrier I really want to break?”

If you're interested in future Fast Company/Saba events, send an email to info@linezine.com and mention this article.


Many things bother me about the new economy, but the one thing that really gets my goat is the idea that everything in the new economy has to be f-a-s-t. With that mind set, I flew up to Chicago on May 18 for the Fast Company and Saba sponsored forum “Learning and Speed in the New Economy,” daring them to show me why I should value speed.

Learning and Speed: A View from a Speed Curmudgeon

“It’s not about be f-a-s-t it is about make f-a-s-t.” >> - Thornton May, Panelist and Vice President/Corporate Futurist at Cambridge Technology Partners

Ironically, the pilot for the flight out to Chicago must have known how I felt about speed because for the first time in twenty years, he showed up an hour late. Due to our synchronized thought, I entered the great hall of Café Brauer in Lincoln Park late and lingered in the doorway scanning the linen covered tables for an empty space.

 “The worst thing you can do is waste anyone’s time late to meetings, etcetera.” - J. Neil Weintraut, Panelist and General Partner of 21st Century Internet Venture Partners.

For a moment, caught in the doorway, I could not help but take in the tempo contrast of the Prairie School architecture (polished wood floors reflecting the cool greens of the park outside visible through giant windows, capped by a lofty, oval-arched, wooden ceiling) to the rapid-fire discussion of the panelists well under way. Sigh. I took a depth breath and resigned myself to the fact that although the atmosphere looked as if it were made for languishing, I was now entering the zone of New Economy Speed. I nabbed a spot and settled in.

 “We live in multiple speed zones; hours, minutes, days, weeks…objectives and focus are what often frees up time.” - Ray Blair, Panelist and Director of e-Procurement at IBM

An audience member tossed out a question as the panelists took a breather from the opening discussion: “How do you determine what you need to forget?” Thornton May seized the question and explained that it all revolved around the idea of making fast, not the idea of being fast. With making fast as a foundation, it is acceptable to toss out anything that does not lead you to make fast. You ask yourself, “Can I use the information to make core processes fast, make talent fast, make new markets fast, make learning fast, all to make the organization as a whole fast?”

With this concept in my head, I glanced at the top of my neighbor’s note pad:

  How do you make organization faster?

  How do you learn faster to beat competition?

  How do you sustain speed and keep focus and talent?

Huh? From the look of her notes, if there had been any discussion of whether organizations needed to be fast or not, the answer the group had willingly arrived at was “Yes.” Of all the darn luck! These speed-crazed, new-economy people were so f-a-s-t that they had already put a f-a-s-t yes to the debate on whether f-a-s-t was the only speed for an organization to go.

“…speed had to be a top priority. It had to become part of their everyday agendas; part of normal life.” ¾ Ray Blair

At that moment all I could think about was the genius of Nike’s slogan; the entire American workforce has not only embraced it, we have fully internalized it! Just do it! Finally, proof the campaign has permeated the human brain beyond compelling the purchase of shoes. Doom. Doomed to a life of speed enhancing electronics, cell phones, e-Stores, microwaves, and three-pound laptops. These were the visions that danced in my head.

 “The value of time has to be quantified, and inserted into company culture. Time is not free.” ¾ Thornton May

I returned to earth as someone espoused the advantages of generational blending. Here the discussion took a turn, hypothesizing that a need for speed arose from the blending of generations and an ever-growing desire for instant gratification. Apparently we young generation Xers and Nexters have evolved to a state that only permits warp speed in contrast to our older colleagues. In addition, we apparently demand gratification delivered at the same break-neck speed. The extrapolations went on to propose Xer and Nexter customers drive selection and consumption of f-a-s-t products and services that yield even f-a-s-ter gratification.

To keep up with the demand of this market, organizations must be f-a-s-ter to market. To be f-a-s-ter to market, organizations need to make f-a-s-t. To make f-a-s-t requires f-a-s-t employees. And logic concludes: to make f-a-s-t employees, blend the generations so the warp speed Xers and Nexters are driving the organization, f-a-s-t.

 “In the new economy, ideas have no time to evolve. Increasingly the only advantage is being the first to market.” ¾Neil Weintraut

Another inter-cranial trek took place; maybe I am still sleeping on the plane? Focus. If f-a-s-t is a requirement for competing in the new economy, how do you get there?

The panelists continued to be wry, witty and knowledgeable from a big picture perspective, but it was only when we broke into small groups that the conversation became infused with the practical.

In my group, it was the consensus that an organization had to be f-a-s-t because new competition was springing up f-a-s-t all of the time. To stay ahead of the competition and lead the market, an organization has to anticipate consumer needs, make f-a-s-t, and grow f-a-s-t. To survive and thrive in this climate, employees and the extended enterprise must have the know-how to make f-a-s-t; which equals learn f-a-s-t.

Like a series of slow motion tackles on a single football-tackling dummy, the members of my small group successively shared their experiences on how to make an organization New Economy f-a-s-t:

  Increase everyone’s making speed and capacity by sharing authority. Then you can give middle management work to do with their lessened management responsibilities.

  Create a speed storybook with successes, tried failures, and known speed bumps to make organizational learning faster and wiser.

  Distribute authority and ownership, granting the authority to decide when you need to slow down to increase retention and decrease burnout of talent.

  Use communities of practice to learn collectively to form the best ideas fast.

  Fast, New Economy, world-class customer service requires world-class employees. World-class employees work in organizations that are gratifying.

  Build an organizational culture that shares authority and rewards, and allows for learning through failure.

  Define what is valued and allow people to use shared authority to make success. Asking permission can kill speed. The speed imperative does not come from the top down.

  Don’t look to age as a relative definition of ability and expertise. Speed can come from learning each employee's skill sets, how to effectively deploy their skills, and which skills to build.

Hmmm… Is it just me, or is the F-A-S-T of New Economy speed just the new hip way to describe performance improvement?

Kellee K. Sikes is a contributing editor for LiNE Zine and Principal of Pioneer Technologies, a consulting company focused on business development and project management based in St. Louis, MO. Choosing not to embrace f-a-s-t in all of its New Economy facets, she helps companies master performance improvement at speed with a life. Contact her directly at kellee@linezine.com



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