It’s Not the Big That Eat the Small…It’s the Fast That Eat the Slow: How to Use Speed as a Competitive Tool in Business
Jason Jennings & Laurence HaughtonHarperBusiness (2001)
Speed Plus Torque = Victory!
In the Prologue, Jennings and Haughton explain that they “began with a blank canvas. No points to prove, no axes to grind, and no one to impress. We truly wanted to figure this ‘speed thing’ out and boil it down into easy-to-replicate tactics.” They developed criteria for selecting the fastest companies and then focused on them: Charles Schwab, Clear Channel Communications, AOL, H&M, Hotmail, Telepizza, and Lend Lease. The book presents a number of real-life lessons from these high-speed companies and their full-throttle executives. The authors also provide “time-proven instructions on becoming faster than anyone else.”
As I read this book, I began to think of an organization as a vehicle. As such, what are its requirements? First, a specific and appropriate destination. Next, a capable driver. Then, a sufficiently powerful engine and enough fuel to keep it running. Also, a transmission with different gears (including reverse), shock absorbers, and brakes. Gauges keep the driver fully informed of available fuel, oil pressure, speed, time, etc. Jennings and Haughton discuss “speed bumps” and could have just easily included a discussion of terrain and weather. A number of organizations — S&Ls 15-20 years ago and dot coms more recently — have failed because they could not cope with “rough roads” and “foul weather.” In several instances, imprudent speed was a factor in their demise. I want to stress this point because Jennings and Haughton do not glorify speed per se. In certain situations, however, speed is the determinant insofar as success and failure are concerned. Rapid response to customers’ needs, for example, or to a new business opportunity. To extend the vehicle metaphor, executives also need a multi-gear “transmission” as well as an accelerator and brakes…and the skill to use each as well as the wisdom to know when.
Jennings and Haughton have a Snap! Crackle! and Pop! writing style that is eminently appropriate to the subject. They also have a delightful sense of humor which substantially increases the entertainment value of their work even as they focus on an especially serious subject: business competition in an age and at a time when it has never before been so intense and when prudent speed frequently determines the difference between organizational life or death. This is a brilliant achievement.