In every walk of life, from medicine to relationships to business and politics, we are all hooked on the quick fix. Today, the quick fix has become the standard across the board in our fast-forward, on-demand, just-add-water culture.
Random House Canada has released the paperback version of Carl Honoré’s book The Slow Fix. The author, a Canadian journalist living in London, is already known for his bestseller In Praise Of Slow and a relaxed parenting primer, Under Pressure, which would be a welcome antidote to the modern phenomena of helicopter parenting prevalent today.
In The Slow Fix Honoré emphasizes the need to learn the art of the slow fix and draws on examples from today’s progressive, successful leaders in business, politics, science and society, to argue his point and make his case.
Carl Honoré feels that if we are to start solving problems thoroughly, we must first understand our fatal attraction to speedy solutions. He talks about how the human brain has two mechanisms for solving problems: System 1 (Quick Fix) and System 2 (Slow and Deliberate). Carl Honoré is first to admit that the Quick Fix mechanism isn’t just for life and death situations, but also serves as a shortcut for us to help navigate daily life and save us from trouble. But not all problems are created equal and in order to get to the root of a problem we have to learn to use the second mechanism of conscious thinking which involves more planning, critical analysis and rational thinking. In reality when we apply System 1 mechanism to problems – i.e. making a snap decision – we are essentially also utilizing System 2 principles. These entail sizing up the scenario, plucking out the relevant data, joining the dots and pinpointing the best course of action. Psychologists refer to this as “thin-slicing” because we extract all the necessary information from a tiny sliver of experience.
But as Carl Honoré suggests: quick fixes whisper the same seductive promise of maximum return for minimum effort. Trouble is, the equation doesn’t add up. When companies learn this, they will become much more successful. Toyota learned the hard lesson of ignoring the slow fix when over 10 million faulty vehicles were recalled (which is covered in the book). But in 2010, Akio Toyoda the company’s chastened president, explained to the U.S. congress how the company fell from grace: “We’ve pursued growth over the speed at which we were able to develop our people and our organization.”
Anyone who’s experienced a creative eureka moment knows that these moments seldom come when we are stuck in fast-forward mode, juggling emails, straining to make our voices heard in a high-stress meeting, rushing to deliver a piece of work to an impatient boss. On the contrary: they happen when we are walking the dog, or soaking up some Vitamin D on a hammock. When we are calm and unhurried, that’s when the brain switches into a richer, more refined mode of thought.
So what are the essentials for solving complex problems?
At one end of the spectrum, it requires widening the lens to think holistically and take in the long view, while at the other end it requires zooming in on the tiniest details. You have to slow down to spot, understand and master the details. One of the first things you can do to achieve the latter is to make lists. When tackling a problem, write down the idea, however small you think it is. Then put those that will clearly advance your long-term goal on a To Do list. The rest can go into a Maybe list.
If you take time reading this book (slowly, of course), you will glean a lot more from it. The scenarios are abundant and with slow comprehension and critically thinking you will be able to appreciate the lessons. So many lessons go unlearned in a workplace, simply because they subscribe to the culture of “fix this fast” and in the end use up all their resources and energy to cover up mistakes. Imagine a workplace that puts all its efforts on making every error a catalyst to working smarter? Albert Einstein was once asked what he would do if he was given one hour to save the world. His answer was, “I would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution.”
5 books that shaped Carl Honoré’s thinking on Slow
Faster by James Gleick
Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser
In Praise of Idleness by Bertrand Russell
The Discovery of Slowness by Sten Nadolny
Slowness by Milan Kundera
Sukasa Reads recommendations on how we think
Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Gut Feelings by Gerd Gigerenzer