Velocity

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before:

You’re sitting in a meeting, you’re about to begin the presentation, and the client says, “Oh, wait, I want Bob to be in on this call.” And you’ve never heard of Bob. And Bob hasn’t been involved in the previous eight meetings. So when he calls in to the conference room, you have to spend the first 55 minutes of the meeting (and you were only granted an hour anyway) getting Bob up to speed. At which point your client says, “Oh jeez, we’re out of time – when can we meet again?” And Bob chimes in that he’d like to talk to each of you individually to give his two cents, so he wants to know when HE can meet with everybody, and your client is pantomiming signals to you that after you meet with Bob, he wants to meet with you again, before you present – and your Creative Director is thinking that with all this new information, there is nothing in the presentation that is going to be even remotely relevant anymore, and you’re trying to think up ways to keep the team from quitting, your wife from divorcing you, and your kids from forgetting your name when you visit them during the holidays.

Sound familiar? Yeah, me too.

“Velocity” by Ajaz Ahmed and Stefan Olander is a sort of antidote for those experiences. Subtitled “The Seven New Laws For a World Gone Digital” it could, with apologies to Stanley Kubrick, instead be captioned: “He Who Hesitates is Pets.com or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Get Shit Done.”

Ahmed, the founder of the hugely successful agency AKQA and Olander, the Vice President of Digital Sports at Nike have joined forces in an effort to eliminate the “analysis-paralysis” and “death-by-a-thousand-meetings” standard operating procedure that pervades business today. Written as a conversation between the two of them, “Velocity” is a compelling, if somewhat idiosyncratically told, argument for doing and for instinct over process, collaboration and analysis.

What makes their argument convincing is not simply their success (although frankly that could be enough). It’s the simple fact that the world is moving much too quickly for us to be shackled by a 20th century concept of endless tests and discussions. They recognize that we live in a world of unprecedented connection between brands and those who buy them. A world in which you can – indeed should – plan on making adjustments to your marketing, retailing, even product, based on your customers’ continuous input. Adjustments that were unthinkable a dozen years ago because they were impossible. Adjustments that are the very warp and woof of the smart business today.

And it’s true. Every minute you spend in another meeting including yet another layer of people in another conversation about running some marginally new idea up the flagpole, is another minute that the consumer has changed utterly and that the playing field has shifted irrevocably – and not in your favor.

But as much as I agree with Ahmed and Olander that “it’s easier done than said” and “no good joke survives a committee of six”, I also know that this kind of “just do it already” and “I’ll know it when I see it” mentality can lead to the kind of self-aggrandizing bad decisions that wreck companies. Making multi-million dollar decisions based purely on your personal whims is no way to run a business. Right, Dov Charney?

Indeed, Stephen Colbert has made a career out of parodying this end of the decision-making spectrum:

“That’s where the truth lies, right down here in the gut. Do you know you have more nerve endings in your gut than you have in your head? You can look it up. Now, I know some of you are going to say, “I did look it up, and that’s not true.” That’s ’cause you looked it up in a book. Next time, look it up in your gut. I did. My gut tells me that’s how our nervous system works.”

And while I don’t think that’s quite what Ahmed and Olander are saying, it certainly could give someone with a less nuanced interpretation license to be reckless.

Which is why the real value of this book is as a corrective. Apply its laws to your business to swing it back from slavish adherence to process and towards creative innovation and intuition

Just don’t have another damned meeting about it.

Velocity: The Seven New Laws for a World Gone Digital by Ajaz Ahmed and Stefan Olander was published by Random House UK on 5/5/12 – order it from Amazon here or from Barnes & Noble here – or pick it up at your local bookseller (find one here).

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