If youve ever doubted the benefits of pace and predictability, youve not crossed the street in Hanoi, Vietnam.
I just spent a week in Hanoi with our Executive MBA participants. On their first morning, they learned how to cross the street. How is that a productive use of time for very smart, very senior-level executives? Believe me, for a lot of reasons, including peace of mind and safety of body, learning to cross streets in Vietnamese cities helps many people avoid going weak at the knees.
When I first worked there in the early 1990s, the vehicles on the road were 85 percent Chinese-made bikes (many lacking useable brakes). Most of the rest were Honda Dream II 80cc motorbikes, with a few very nasty Russian trucks thrown in, just waiting to squash bike riders like me. The roads were blurry with bikes and motorbikes, not moving fast but definitely crowding the space.
Today, the vehicle mix is 75 percent snazzy motorbikes, pink, red and yellow, with sharp noses and 2-foot-long banana seats that can fit a Vietnamese family of four. Another 30 percent of the vehicles are sedans and SUVs, each taking the space of nine motorbikes. Throw in the odd Bentley, Ferrari and Maserati, turn three-lane roads into 12 lanes, and youve got your hands full.
Crossing the street then becomes a skill and, as some say, an act of will. The rules are few: Step off the curb and stroll with a purpose. In short, dont stop, dont sprint, and dont slow down. By strolling at a set pace, you are predictable, and the motorbikes and cars treat you like a fish crossing a stream not going upstream or down, but across, with the other fish just making its way and moving around.
In business, we often think that a faster pace (in research, in getting to market, in providing service) provides an advantage. And at times, it does. Likewise, we may imagine predictability to imply boredom or lack of creativity.
But in some areas, both slower pace and more predictability may be useful in business just as they are in street crossing.
For example, outside the U.S., a meeting often starts with small talk and tea, to get to know the other person. The pace seems slow, like wasted time, for busy Americans anxious to get the deal done. But in parts of Asia, Latin America, Africa and even Europe, this slow pace helps build trust and can pay off later. If people trust one another, future deals can be more efficient. If that trust (and slower pace) doesnt happen earlier, then you may never understand why you can never reach a deal.
Likewise, as Daniel Kahnemans 2011 book Thinking, Fast and Slow shows us, people simply think and react and respond in different ways and paces. So when youre in a meeting, dont watch and listen just to the fast responders. Wait for those who need some time, who need to think, and slow the pace to include them as well.
Today, take a break and look for those areas in your work life that need a slower, more predictable pace.
If you get really good at that, your next step could be crossing the street in Hanoi.
Nancy Napier, executive director of Boise States Centre for Creativity and Innovation. email@example.com