Move Fast. Break Things. Repeat.

several people white water rafting
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Posted By Marrow
in Leadership
Posted By Marrow in Leadership

During my past life as a whitewater rafting guide, the phrase, “Hesitation is devastation,” was repeated often. As rookies learning how to navigate the frigid rapids of the Arkansas River, inexperience, uncertainty, and fear were ready enemies to the action necessary to avoid a hole or dodge a boulder. 

Amidst this guiding crash course, one of my fellow trainees coined an abbreviated version, “Don’t HEVASTATE!” And it has stuck with me ever since.

Too much time debating whether you should aim right or left was an almost definite guarantee that you would slam right into a rock. The perfect solution later is far too often the enemy of a good and serviceable solution now.

Although I have now swapped out my daily life jacket and river knife for a laptop and occasional high heel, this lesson translates. In life and in business, thoughtful inaction all too often masquerades as responsibility. We succumb to the temptation to kick the decision can down the road, schedule followup meetings, gather endless data, analyze more data, crowdsource knowledge, and google ad nauseam. 

Yet every day, new situations arise and challenges require us to act. Perfect, complete, and definitive information is an elusive luxury. Embracing the unknown and doing something rather than nothing has shown to produce the best results. 

The Harvard Business Review produced a study about what traits distinguish the best leaders and found that time to act was the most definitive. Individuals who could synthesize available information and make the best decision in the moment were seen as the best, most effective leaders. Interestingly, and perhaps comfortingly, when analyzed in retrospect, their decisions were “right” only 50% of the time. 

As someone who’s pot-committed to beautiful, perfect solutions, this was both convicting and inspiring. More Harvard-approved guidance to great decisions HERE.

There is a Haitian proverb that says, “Beyond mountains there are mountains.”* I love this statement as much as I hate it. For anyone who has ever reached a summit only to discover that it was only the first in a series on the way to a destination, or climbed a mountain that had a false peak, you understand the sense of defeat. You work hard and conquer only to find out that there is more

At this point, you are faced with two choices: stop or continue. And I would advocate strongly for the latter. 

It’s the journey and the ascent that builds the strength to keep going. The experience of the past gives wisdom for the future. The more and beyond is the good stuff. The only real defeat is if you just gaze up at the figurative mountain and refuse to keep going.

In short: Move fast and break things. We can put pieces back together and pivot in real-time, but we can’t build a time machine to capture missed opportunities from the past. Fall down, scrape your knees, get scars, and rebound. Recognize that the only constant is change, that if you aren’t growing you’re dying, and that the seeming end is very rarely ever the real end. 

And never, ever, if can possibly ever help it, hevastate.

*This is also the inspiration and title for a moving biography on the life of Dr. Paul Farmer, but that’s another blog for another time.