Speed as a Habit, by Dave Girouard, CEO of personal finance startup Upstart, for First Round
All else being equal, the fastest company in any market will win.
All business activity really comes down to two simple things: Making decisions and executing on decisions. Your success depends on your ability to develop speed as a habit in both.
On Making Decisions:
A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan next week.
General George Patton said that, and I definitely subscribe to it. Do you remember the last time you were in a meeting and someone said, “We’re going to make this decision before we leave the room”? How great did that feel? Didn’t you just want to hug that person?
The process of making and remaking decisions wastes an insane amount of time at companies. The key takeaway: WHEN a decision is made is much more important than WHAT decision is made.
There are decisions that deserve days of debate and analysis, but the vast majority aren’t worth more than 10 minutes.
On Executing Decisions:
I’m always shocked by how many plans and action items come out of meetings without being assigned due dates. Even when dates are assigned, they’re often based on half-baked intuition about how long the task should take. Completion dates and times follow a tribal notion of the sun setting and rising, and too often “tomorrow” is the default answer.
It’s not that everything needs to be done NOW, but for items on your critical path, it’s always useful to challenge the due date. All it takes is asking the simplest question: “Why can't this be done sooner?” Asking it methodically, reliably and habitually can have a profound impact on the speed of your organization.
This is definitely a tactic that starts with individual employees first — ideally those in senior positions who can influence others’ behavior. As a leader, you want them to make “things I like to do” become “things we like to do.” This is how ideas get ingrained. I’ve seen too many people never question when something will be delivered and assume it will happen immediately. This rarely happens. I’ve also seen ideas float into the ether because they were never anchored in time.
You don’t have to be militant about it, just consistently respond that today is better that tomorrow, that right now is better than six hours from now.
There’s a funny story about my old pal Sabih Khan, who worked in Operations at Apple when I was a product manager there. In 2008, he was meeting with Tim Cook about a production snafu in China. Tim said, “This is bad. Someone ought to get over there.” Thirty minutes went by and the conversation moved to other topics. Suddenly Tim looked back at Sabih and asked, 'Why are you still here?' Sabih left the meeting immediately, drove directly to San Francisco Airport, got on the next flight to China without even a change of clothes. But you can bet that problem was resolved fast.The candle is always burning. You need leadership to feel and infuse every discussion with that kind of urgency.
Recognize and remove dependencies.