Fast-Twitch Hell: Where the Fear of Being Slow Leads Us

It didn’t start with Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink – an excellent book that looks at how we access what we know, but which many people happily misinterpreted to mean they really were good not just at multi-tasking, but also at making decisions quickly.

The prejudice against being slow has been with us at least since my teenaged years (the mid 1960s). How many times did I get my money and appropriate change ready as I neared the cash register, so the clerk would not put her hand on her hips, roll her eyes, and sigh as I looked for exact change. We did have a respite from the eye-rolling in the 70s, when the government short-changed us on the available supply of nickels, dimes, and quarters, and everyone was expected to dumpster dive in their purses, wallets and pockets for exact change. But no more. We must be fast. We must make decisions quickly. We must not seem to be slow, or not with it, or – God forbid! – old.

I suggest that it’s far more important to listen, and to respond (within the range of) correctly, than it is to be fast. A healthy knee muscle cannot help but jerk quickly when the doctor taps it with the rubber hammer. When we choose to react with knee-jerk swiftness to situations not governed by our involuntary muscles, we often do the wrong thing. We have a frontal lobe for a reason.
Slow, careful archer

When I work with adults over 45 on social media, I like to create a safe atmosphere where we can build thinking models, so that they can integrate new media into their experience, building on models they already have. I like to go hands on, because what we do with our mind and with our hands together is more likely to stick.

There’s a point towards the middle of any of my LinkedIn workshops where participants go off in many directions, depending on their area of interest. It is almost always a productive experience – unless we get a participant who is determined to do everything fast, for fear of appearing slow. A typical user of this type has brought in a borrowed or seldom-used laptop and no mouse. I know they are in trouble when the fast-twitch clicking begins.

They have started out boldly, populating LinkedIn fields, checking out functions, and then, by chance gone to some screen, tab, or action they didn’t want. The desire to back off from the error quickly, and bury the evidence has driven them to click anything and everything as fast as possible. Now they are in fast-twitch hell – or at least Purgatory – and embarrassed.

In order to help them, I may have to do everything short of physical restraint. (I am not good at figuring out what happened when a screen is paging up and down and flickering madly from queued keystrokes.) We need to move back to the non-judgmental place where slow is OK, and we can ask the questions that allow us to resolve the problem.

If we stick only to the things at which we are already competent, we have decided to stop learning. To continue to grow, we need to be free to experiment, and fail, especially in the classroom. Out of that comes experience, knowledge, maturity, wisdom, gifted intuition and speed of action when we need it.

There is a time for reacting quickly. The fireman in Gladwell’s first story cleared the house quickly to save lives. He acted from the deep wisdom and intuition that comes from long experience. We often must react quickly and correctly while driving on the highway to avoid accidents. Those who have had driver ed and driving experience are more likely to avoid accidents.

When we are learning something new, we need to give ourselves the time to absorb instructions and to practice executing them correctly. As we master the techniques, we almost always become faster, but more important, our actions are more correct, and the results more fruitful. We feel genuine validation, and others respect us for our judgment and thoughtfulness.

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One Response to Fast-Twitch Hell: Where the Fear of Being Slow Leads Us

  1. Pascale says:

    Your post reminds me of the Slow movement – slow food, slow cities, and many more, Slow learning could be the new rage.
    Thank you for this thoughtful post.

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