“Slow is Smooth and Smooth is Fast”

Last week I was working with a coachee on a complex issue. She was constantly pushing hard in our conversation towards setting actions and a strategy. It was clear to me that we were yet to fully explore and understand the problem. Not only that but implementing this emerging ‘boot strap strategy’ at the pace she was proposing would have significant and unknown impacts on her team. We talked about sometimes acknowledging the need to simply sit with the problem- long before ideating a solution. At the same time, I was working with a start up on a ‘go to market’ strategy for a product. There was a similar urgency to action ahead of devising a proper and considered strategy- the result was likely destined to fail. I think there is great merit in choosing when and how to act or even sometime not to act at all. Acting with thoughtfulness and a deliberate grace might be a method to getting a better solution and being able to ultimately implement faster. Both these parallel experiences forced me to recall a saying… “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast”

In a world that often glorifies speed and instant results, the adage, “Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast,” may hold profound wisdom. So, let’s explores the significance of this saying and its application in various aspects of life and work. We can delve into the principles behind this mantra, examining how a deliberate, methodical approach can lead to greater efficiency, effectiveness, and mastery. By understanding the essence of “slow is smooth, and smooth is fast,” we may be able to navigate our personal and professional endeavours with patience, precision, and ultimately, accelerated progress.

The saying, “Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast,” has its roots in military and tactical training. It emphasizes the idea that executing a task with careful attention and deliberate movements can ultimately lead to faster and more successful outcomes. The phrase implies that rushing and hasty actions can result in errors, setbacks, and inefficiencies. It emphasizes the importance of mastering fundamental skills through deliberate practice and repetition. As retired Navy SEAL Commander Mark Divine explains in his book “The Way of the SEAL: Think Like an Elite Warrior to Lead and Succeed,” (which I highly recommend) “In the SEAL Teams, we used to say, ‘Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.’ It means that by slowing down our actions and performing them with exquisite precision, we actually speed up our response time.” This sentiment highlights the notion that rushing through tasks haphazardly often leads to errors and inefficiencies, whereas approaching tasks methodically and deliberately lays the groundwork for swift and effective execution.

If we look at the phrase in its two constituent parts, we get greater insight. “Slow is Smooth” This part of the saying underscores the importance of starting slowly and methodically. It encourages individuals to focus on mastering the foundational aspects of a task before attempting to increase speed. Building a strong foundation is akin to laying the groundwork for future proficiency. This might be sitting with a problem a little longer or thinking carefully about the interrelation aspects of a problem.

“Smooth is Fast” Once a task has been mastered at a slower, more deliberate pace, it becomes smoother and more efficient. As movements or actions become fluid and automatic, individuals can perform them more quickly without sacrificing accuracy or quality. In my experience as a coach and chief executive a well devised strategy with a strong implementation plan will always defeat a fast high-level strategy with little depth. Most strategy at individual or corporate level fails at the execution stage- and is neither smooth nor fast!

We might look to a range of applications from individual skills development to institutional strategy. In skill development, whether in sports, music, or any craft, the principle is invaluable. Deliberate practice, where learners focus on precision and technique, leads to mastery and the ability to perform tasks at higher speeds without sacrificing quality. My poor guitar playing or swimming technique is testament to this. When faced with complex problems or critical decisions, taking a deliberate and thoughtful approach can prevent impulsive errors. “Slow is smooth” encourages individuals to thoroughly analyse situations, consider alternatives, and make well-informed choices, ultimately leading to efficient problem-solving.

Effective communication and conflict resolution may usually benefit from a more calm and measured approach. Rushed or emotional reactions can escalate conflicts, while “smooth is fast” encourages active listening, empathy, and thoughtful responses, leading to more efficient conflict resolution and better relationships.

In the realm of personal productivity and time management, the principle of “slow is smooth and smooth is fast” offers valuable insights into optimizing workflow and achieving optimal performance. Productivity experts often advocate for approaches such as “single-tasking” and “deep work,” emphasizing the importance of focusing intently on one task at a time and minimizing distractions. As productivity guru Cal Newport writes in his book “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World,” “Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction.” By cultivating habits of concentration and eliminating unnecessary interruptions, individuals can enhance their efficiency and accomplish more in less time.

I often work with individuals over this “insufficient time paradox”. The “slow is smooth” aspect of time management involves setting priorities, planning tasks, and avoiding unnecessary rush. By focusing on important tasks deliberately, individuals can accomplish more with less stress. “Smooth is fast” suggests that a well-organized workflow results in increased productivity and less time wasted on correcting mistakes. I often tell coachees that multitasking is “just doing two things badly simultaneously”.

Effective leaders understand the value of measured decision-making and clear communication. “Slow is smooth” leadership involves taking the time to set a clear vision, define goals, and provide guidance. “Smooth is fast” leadership means that a well-organized team, with well-defined roles and efficient processes, can achieve results quickly and effectively
The mantra can also apply to personal growth and well-being. Rushing through self-improvement efforts can lead to burnout or frustration. By focusing on gradual progress and sustainable changes, individuals can achieve long-term goals more efficiently.

There is a challenge we must acknowledge within this mantra. While the concept of “slow is smooth, and smooth is fast” offers numerous benefits, there are challenges and misconceptions to navigate. Some may interpret it as an endorsement of complacency or procrastination. It’s important to clarify that it promotes a methodical approach, not a lack of ambition or urgency. This is not an excuse for inaction. Taking time to think still requires the action of thinking.

By recognizing the value of deliberate, methodical approaches and embracing the pursuit of mastery, individuals, teams and businesses can achieve their goals with greater efficiency, effectiveness, and a heightened sense of control. I encourage you to give this a try, applying this mantra, with focus and constant repetition….’slow is smooth, smooth is fast’; ultimately leading to accelerated progress and success. And surely a world that slows down to speed up and feels smoother can only be a good thing?

Stuart Rimmer is a performance coach and strategy consultant