No matter how big the project or how far away the end goal is, human nature compels us to keep going until get it done. It’s no surprise we are geared this way — we live in a crazy, competitive world where the first one over the finish line wins the prize. That desire to be first drives us ever faster. But the downside of rushing headlong into an endeavor is the heightened potential for running full speed into missteps that would have been apparent had we taken the time upfront to guard against them. In other words, you need to go slow to go fast.

Going slow to go fast means taking incremental steps, stopping to ask questions, checking in, and course-correcting progress (or lack of it). It means taking extra time in the early stages of a project. It may seem counterintuitive, but this strategy will more than make up for time lost to get it right.

A lesson learned

“Going Slow to Go Fast” (GSTGF) is a key tenet at Compass Datacenters. It would be great to say we embraced this concept from the time we started the company, but, like most valuable lessons in life, we had to learn it the hard way. In the company’s early years, we were pursuing an important, significant project that we were certain to win. Or, so we thought. We lost the bid because we went too fast early in our desire to secure the business. We didn’t crawl. We didn’t walk. We ran right out of the gate, and we stumbled. We made mistakes in our bid that now seem so obvious. So, we went back to the drawing board to redesign our prototype.

How did our failure serve as a catalyst for processes that lead to wins? On reflection, we decided to force ourselves to go slow even if it’s painful. Yes, it flies in the face of human nature’s desire for speed, but we know that if we look ahead at the steps required for new customer projects, the construction will go faster when we take time with the design. We cannot rush it, and we ensure we are on the right track. 

Guiding principles

The foundation of GSTGF is predicated on two core convictions. The first is “Humility In-Pride Out.” In our model, we promote the notion that none of us has all the answers, and that it’s imperative to get input and ideas from everyone else in the room. We must assume there are always others — often our colleagues — who have a different set of experiences and life perspectives. Why wouldn’t we go slow to get their recommendations to address the task at hand? 

The second principle, “Continuous Improvement,” is also closely aligned with our goal of going slow to go fast. When we see something broken, we often move quickly, jumping to the solution instead of taking incremental steps to reach our goal. But, what if you fixed one small thing each day? That would add up to 365 things fixed by the end of the year. That’s a lot of consecutive, incremental solutions, and it adds up. You may be familiar with James Clear, the best-selling author of “Atomic Habits.” The subtitle of his book is “Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results.” That’s what I’m talking about here.

When it comes to continuous improvements, we also adhere closely to the Pareto Principle (PP), commonly referred to as the 80/20 rule, which demonstrates that focusing on the key elements of a project (the 20%) delivers 80% of the results. It’s about working smart. Layer in Humility In-Pride Out and Continuous Improvement, and you’ll optimize your success. 

Avoid the grand unveiling

To go slow to go fast, we must learn from others to ensure their input and ideas are baked into our company’s solution. It takes humility to leverage all the smarts of the team, but we must be humble to achieve success. Humility is such an important character trait for us that we look for it when we interview candidates for jobs with our firm. If they believe they’re the smartest person in the room, they’re not a fit for us. 

Predicating all our discussions on the foundation of Humility In-Pride Out gives of the freedom to acknowledge what we don’t know and what we need to learn. Having this mindset throughout the organization makes brainstorming natural and helps discussion flow. In short, Humility In-Pride Out forces us to operate as a team.

In this way of working, we avoid what we call the grand unveiling. The tendency to present a big idea before it’s fully vetted and discussed. Before those incremental — sometimes painful — steps to ensure you’re on the path to the best solution. By GSTGF, we’re able to get buy-in, make modifications along the way, and solve problems. 

Here is what has led to our success and will lead to yours: Agree on your approach. Slow down. Be thoughtful. Ask questions. Swallow your pride. Lean on each other. Strive for continuous improvements. Challenge assumptions. Act with integrity. If you follow this path, you will more than deliver on your commitments to your customers.