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Think Fast, Eat Fast

Back in the day I took part in a huge exercise in corporate futility when Intuit (makers of Quicken and QuickBooks), which had grown to perhaps seven or eight hundred employees, took two days off to go to the San Jose Convention Center, split into small groups, and try to come up with a bottom-up Mission Statement.

Now, there may be nothing more sterile than a group-generated mission statement.  The group process filters out anything but the most common-denominator, banal business chestnuts: “we are our people”; “we add value by serving our customers”; “we strive for excellence in everything”.  In the case of Intuit, we had had a corporate culture thanks to Scott Cook and others of the founding team that stressed “doing right by the customer”, making the software easier to use than a pencil, and so forth.  This was all lost in the torrent of groupthink and, when the final document emerged some months later, it was, IMHO, useless.

It had a section on Operating Values, which was probably the least useless section in the book.  One of them sticks with me today: “Think Fast Move Fast”.  It stressed Intuit’s committment to reaching decisions and acting off them swiftly.  Not bad in theory, perhaps (although what company wouldn’t have this as a principle?).

The reality was somewhat different.  Many of the teams were running around like chickens with our heads cut off, making “ready fire aim” decisions that had be undone by other “ready fire aim” decision the next week or month.  Some of us more ironic wags — and remember, as my British friend Steve Rowe said, that “irony is sarcasm with an English accent” — paraphrased this Operating Value as “Think Fast Eat Fast.”

Alas, running around like chickens with our heads cut off has become universal, and is a big sap on productivity.  Ten quick decisions undone by one another and mooted by inertia easily exceed the overhead of one more careful decision.  We are awash in a sea of shooting-from-the-hip Think Fast Eat Fast-ery.

Slow down, eat a little more slowly, and think about stuff just a bit before rushing off.

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About the author

an Gordon is Research Director for Valhalla Partners, a Northern Virginia venture capital firm. Dan has twenty-eight years experience working with technology, as a computer scientist, software developer, manager, analyst, and entrepreneur. Prior to joining Valhalla Partners, Dan was a Director and senior staff member at the PricewaterhouseCoopers Global Technology Centre, analyzing technology trends and consulting on technology-oriented strategies in the software, e-business, wireless, optical, networking, semiconductor IP, and life sciences arenas. He worked with clients from North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Australia. Dan was a Contributing Writer and Contributing Editor to the Technology Centre’s annual Technology Forecast, and a frequent speaker at industry and general business meetings. Before joining PwC, Dan spent 20 years in Silicon Valley as a software technologist, manager, director, and entrepreneur, including senior technical roles at well-known Silicon Valley firms like Symantec, Intuit, and Oracle. Dan has also been involved in startup companies in the applied Artificial Intelligence and Web applications fields. Dan has a B.A. (cum laude) from Harvard University and an M.S. from New York University in Computer Science. He is a Professional Member of the IEEE and ACM. Dan lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife and two children.