Entrepreneurs understand that their world is accelerating. Growth is exponential. Technologies are converging. Business lifecycles are collapsing. Communication is instantaneous. But consider this, in a race between a 1920 Model T Ford, whose top speed is 45 miles per hour, and a new Mercedes-Benz sedan going 100 miles per hour, the Mercedes will win. There’s no question that the Mercedes can travel more quickly. Yet, which driver is more comfortable, more in control? Which driver is sipping a latte and listening to Enya?
Absolute speed is important, but relative speed is everything. Similarly, professional football has gotten undeniably faster in the last generation. The players are bigger, stronger, and more agile. Yet, after ten years in the league, star linebacker Ray Lewis said, “Nowadays the game has slowed down so much. When I sit and watch film from ten years ago, and I watch now, I think, wow, why would I take that step, or why would I even go that way?”
“It’s all about angles,” Lewis added, and “all about knowing where the players are going to go before they even think about doing it. It’s about recognizing the formations.”
For Ray Lewis, experience and constant study slowed the game. He never claimed to know the future. Only, that if he paid attention, he could anticipate how events might unfold just a little bit before his opponent.
There’s a word for this ability to read angles and recognize formations. It’s not “smart” because Lewis was always a smart player. It’s called “wisdom,” and it’s about reacting to things faster than others because you can recognize the shape of the near-future a second, a day, or a month before others do. It’s about finding ways to turn absolute speed into relative speed—so you can enjoy that latte even as the world passes by at 100 miles per hour.
Hacking Speed for Entrepreneurial Wisdom
As an entrepreneur, wisdom normally accumulates one day at a time. But if you could hack this pace, one-day-of-experience for one-day-of-work, you might be able to slow the world down even as it accelerates. And that ability, as Ray Lewis discovered on the football field, would be a game-changing competitive advantage.
Below are three ways you can hack speed and accumulate entrepreneurial wisdom:
1. You need to embrace speed
If you are a skier, do you complain that the snow is cold? Of course not. You dress for the weather. You recognize cold as the thing that makes skiing possible, even enjoyable. On a mountain slope in winter, cold is a given. For a twenty-first century entrepreneur, speed is a given. Choosing to embrace it is the first step in slowing things down and creating an advantage.
“Slow down and everything you are chasing will come around and catch you.” – John De Paola
2. Be a student of today
If the entrepreneurial world is accelerating, so too is our ability to analyze, forecast, predict, integrate, and disseminate information. Take advantage of all the smart people helping us to make sense of the world. Read the blogs. Listen to the podcasts. Follow your industry on social media. Take some quiet time every week to study the angles and check the formations.
3. Seek wisdom in experience
That’s what Ray Lewis did during his career and what other great players do today. That’s what smart entrepreneurs do, too. I’ve spent the last few years writing about the history of American innovation. It’s been an eye-opening and productive journey. Nothing puts events in perspective and slows the world down better than “studying the videos” of the entrepreneurs who preceded us.
For example, one of America’s first serial entrepreneurs, Eli Whitney, saved his bankrupt musket business with a spectacular (and maybe deceptive) product demo; wouldn’t it be good to understand how that entrepreneurial “formation” came together?
Alfred Sloan of General Motors found himself more than 40 points behind Henry Ford in market share, yet, less than a decade later, GM had passed Ford, never looking back. As a modern entrepreneur, that would be a very helpful “video” to watch.
Likewise, J.K. Milliken’s use (and overuse) of employee benefits to create a loyal workforce and John Merrick’s leveraging commercial success to fight for social justice both have modern applications, as does Elizabeth Arden’s ability to sense and then shape consumer needs.
“Trade your busy life for a full one.” – Courtney Carver
These stories are reminders that, while others might focus on absolute speed, you can manage the relative speed of change. Be a student of today, study the historic formations and angles and learn from experience. Enjoy the latte.