September 4, 2007

News & Opinion: Excerpt from The Age of Speed

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 2:00 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

The following is an excerpt from Chapter 2 of The Age of Speed: A New Perspective for Thriving in a More-Faster-Now World by Vince Poscente, who unravels the notion that in today's world we need to slow down, and illustrates why harnessing the power of speed is the ultimate solution for those seeking less stress, less busyness, and more balance.

Chapter 2: Want + Need + Access 

Today we want speed, we need speed, and we can get it--all on a level never before experienced. Of course, the human race has pursued speed for ages, but what separates our modern quest for speed from previous generations'--what makes our experience a revolution--is the combination of our ancestral desire with two factors unique to our time: an unprecedented need for speed and a new ability to achieve it. Let's first examine our desire for speed.

The degree to which we want speed today, and have wanted it for generations, is apparent in our unwavering pursuit of it. Throughout history, we have pushed to accelerate our selves, our work, and progress in general. The human race has yet to decide that our current rate of speed is, in the inspired words of Goldilocks, just right.

Look, for instance, at travel. Inventors, engineers, and investors have consistently challenged the time it takes to travel across the Atlantic. When transatlantic travel was confined to the sea, we sought nautical advancements--clipper ships rather than merchantmen, steamships rather than clipper ships. But even the fastest ship was not fast enough. We took to the air, and the pursuit continued. Still, even with the incredible advances made in modern aircraft, we're far from satisfied. Engineers are hard at work developing the Aerion corporate jet (scheduled to go on sale in 2011), which offers an executive and eleven companions the opportunity to travel across the Atlantic at Mach 1.5 or 1.6 at an altitude of 45,000 feet--breaking the sound barrier. Imagine: morning meetings in Manhattan, a meal with clients near Piccadilly Circle, and back in time to help the kids with their homework.


A Mach number is not an absolute measure of speed but a comparison of speed with the speed of sound. The speed of sound at sea level at 70 degrees Fahrenheit is 770 miles per hour, but it changes based on atmospheric conditions such as density, temperature, and humidity. Therefore, the Mach number of a moving aircraft can vary depending on its altitude, even if it's traveling the same speed in terms of miles per hour. 

But today our ability to access speed is transforming our search for it. With the boom in technology enabling us to achieve speed in almost every imaginable way, speed is no longer a luxury--it's an expectation. And the more we get, the more we seem to want. Email, PDAs, self-checkout, downloadable music, real-time news, ATMs, digital cameras: technology has driven speed into every aspect of our daily routines. The ceiling has been lifted, and our options for speeding up seem infinite. Today, we're a society of not only haves and have-nots, but also haves and have-nows. Just consider our modern consumer experience. We have valet services at malls to get into stores faster, and self-checkout kiosks to get out of stores faster. Shoppers in major metropolitan areas can even place an order as late as two o'clock in the afternoon, for anything from a cocktail dress to a book to a blender, and have it delivered the same day--even four days before Christmas.

We crave speed, and we won't be satisfied until we get it. Our tolerance of slow has decreased as dramatically as our yearning for speed has increased. Today, wait time and downtime are considered unacceptable. Our tolerance is so low that 23 percent of Americans say they lose patience within five minutes of waiting in line. Though this may seem immature and spoiled on the surface, the core of our intolerance may be rooted in something quite reasonable: Five minutes waiting is equivalent to surrendering five units of our most valued commodity--time. We've explored the potential of each minute, and we know just what we can accomplish in five. When we are forced to slow down by an external agent, we are being robbed of the things we could have accomplished in that time.

Consider what that means for businesses. There is a new standard for fast, but also a big opportunity: a widespread, deeply felt, unmet demand. People are desperate to save time--even eighteen seconds makes a difference in the Age of Speed. Chase used its ability to cut average ATM transaction time from forty-two seconds to twenty-four as a positioning strategy to appeal to the many speed seekers in its potential customer pool. Saving us a mere eighteen seconds at the ATM was enough of a selling point for Chase to launch a campaign of billboard and window displays using text-message shorthand, "Gt $ Fstr," to lure the fast and furious to its banks.

And think about the offbeat car insurance provider Geico, a company determined to cash in on our zero-tolerance policy for slow. Geico used Speed Racer as a spokesperson and branded a tagline that's becoming unforgettable: "15 minutes could save you 15 percent or more." Geico's direct-to-consumer model is hardly business as usual in the slow-moving auto insurance market, but it works--in part by emphasizing the speed and instant gratification the model can bring customers. The company rose to fourth place in the $180 billion industry on its message of low prices and high speed, and its rivals grew worried.

One competitor tried to deliver a message that positioned it as more customer-centric, emphasizing that it would happily spend more than just fifteen minutes with customers. The company tried to appeal to a perceived consumer desire for more attention and time but eventually pulled the ad, claiming "viewers didn't get it." More than likely, viewers didn't want it. We don't want to spend more than fifteen minutes talking about car insurance or waiting for a quote. We can no longer afford to--our time is simply too valuable. We don't just get and expect speed, we need it.