What is FAST? Actually

When I say the word FAST, what do you think about? For me, several applications come to mind. I think of Usain Bolt, running the 100m dash. I think of at work, when people say you need to get things done quickly. I think of some weird chip on my shoulder phenomenon that just seems to be present? Like I have a weird in my body desire (or insecurity) to want to do things quickly? I imagine there is a value somewhere lodged in my brain that admires people who do things quickly? I use question marks here because my confidence or clarity rather is not as high as I would like to be on this topic, but nonetheless I know with certainty that I often find myself referencing a phrase about speed, something like: “we have to move quickly.” I am not sure where this comes from, again there is probably some anxiousness / neuroticism being activated somewhere deep inside me that is propelling me to want to resolve issues quickly (or achieve things quickly such that I do not have to wait in a state of waiting any longer).

So, as demonstrated through the random-ish references above, FAST can be applied in many places. Today, I am exploring the notion that most people (myself included at times) totally misunderstand what FAST honestly looks like, and also some steps you can explore generally to actually get things done quickly. This latter point is honestly the main point, how can you achieve your objectives quickly?

The paradox here, basically the main point of this entire thought, is that choosing the *appropriate objective* is actually THE way to get things done quickly. Because getting things done quickly in the abstract is a fool’s game and not a game of speed. Speed may be measured into how quickly you achieve your objective.

When I use the term objective here, I recognize there may be some confusion. Because in many cases you often have several objectives, and at least most of the people I know do not do a particularly great job of stating their objectives explicitly. They just leave the thoughts in their head (and for some weird reason just expect people on the outside world to just know what they are trying to achieve). They do not make things explicit.

Perhaps thinking thoughts to yourself should be illegal within an organization. It feels self serving. Get them out. Put them out there. What is the worst thing that could happen?

Making things explicit serves several purpose. The first and most important to me though is that it helps clarify things for yourself. Many people underestimate the impact of this. I would say it has been one of my most profound and strongly held beliefs over the last decade—getting things from your head to some other medium (does not have to be words, but I really like words) is perhaps one of the most impactful things you could do.

Writing out your objectives makes it clear that hey I am going to measure speed simply by seeing how quickly I can achieve the stated objective.

The absolute slowest thing you could possibly do though is to choose the incorrect objective. There is no such thing as an objectively incorrect objective, so perhaps this is better said as when you have a misalignment between your true objective and your stated/or even not stated objective, you may/will end up wasting tons of time. You waste tons of time because you may race towards your objective, and do so in a high quality manner, but if it ends up being the objective that does not satisfy your actual intention, then, well, you will have wasted all or most of your time and need to start over.

This paragraph right above is precisely what ends up happening to most people in life at the macro and micro level. They choose the wrong things to spend energy on. There is misalignment between their true core desires and how they spend their energy. This creates a fundamental issue; even if they were to succeed, which is hard!!, they would still not be satisfied because they are often operating at the wrong level of abstraction.

Choosing the right level of abstraction becomes the most important piece of the puzzle. Choosing what to work on, in what order, that becomes the name of the game when it comes to figuring out how to move quickly.

Far too often, I find, people operating at a “misaligned level of abstraction.” This creates all sorts of coordination issues. This also makes things move *really slowly*.

I find the gaps to be at both ends of the spectrum. Either people are not zoomed out enough (not looking at the big picture) OR they are not zoomed in enough (they are not caring enough about the microscopic details). To move quickly, you should be able to rotate between the layers of abstraction.

Once you actually align (internally) on a stated explicit objective that you believe is at the appropriate level of abstraction, then the game is all about ruthless focus.

Ruthless focus means not getting sucked into distractions that take you off course. Prioritization, according to a plan.

Though, this does not mean the plan should not include strategy. This does not mean the plan is simply to go directly for the objective in a straight line.

The lessons here all lie in the analogy of chess. You may be able to move your pawn quickly. But if you go immediately for the queen, you are very likely to lose the game. Again, you can move your pawns around and create a lot of motion. But this is not necessarily what it takes to achieve the objective of check mating the opponent’s queen and winning the game.

The lesson here—THE lesson—is that racing towards the objective is not always and rarely is the appropriate approach.

In fact, once you have the objective in mind, you may often have to demonstrate patience and play the long game in various circumstances.

When dealing with humans and emotions this can be a challenging thing to do. You may be tempted to yell (not literally scream at people but be upset with people) at other people for instance because they themselves do not see the big picture. They may be in your way arguing over an abstraction that literally does not matter. They may frustrate you by prioritizing themselves. They are not hearing the music. They are in your way.

But you have a choice in that moment. Do you go off script? Do you ruin the movie shot? Do you tell them off? Do you make them feel bad? Why? What is the objective?

To make yourself feel heard? Cool. You get to tell them they are wrong? What is the point? Who wins that game?

A lot of the games we enter on our mission end up being distractions. They end up being there mainly or merely rather to satisfy our own inability to manage our emotions alone. We get sad. We get afraid. And then we make decisions out of fear. Decisions that are not according to plan. This takes time. We say we care about speed; we get angry with others and show our emotions. This takes time. This distracts us from the objective. And again, we do this just because we think it is important to get our thoughts out.

But what if we kept that to ourselves. What if marching towards the master plan accepted that we cannot change people extremely quickly and that we have to accept boring constants of life if we are to pursue our plan? Any blips in people merely come from poor planning. We should understand constraints before going into the plan. Deviations from the plan ideally should only come from us. We should have illuminated all of the risks before entering the execution stage.

So all of the above—and I mean all of the thoughts—are some thinking around how to move quickly and above all else honestly just get shit done. My intuition is that we as a species are not moving that much faster. I mean we are in some ways, like we have bigger levers, but I think the root issue is that we are operating at the wrong level of abstraction. I am not the arbiter of saying what the right abstraction is but I just think we are playing silly simulation theory level games right now for the most part.

Like if we Zoomed out we could then make room to zoom in a ton. And right now we are just missing the forest from the trees. And then, at the same time, and then we are bringing not nearly enough focus to the table. We are basically mainly stuck in the inefficient middle. It would be better to push people towards more of the extrema. That is why I think we need both more craftspeople — people who are willing to obsess over every little detail — and more world-builders — people who are willing to look at the big picture and take a stance. Both of these personas are in rare form today. Both are in ways being attacked by the culture, being discouraged from being either of those characters. Instead we have conformed to sheep.

Fast will come at the extrema. Let’s push there.


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