Speed Kills

Quick Summary: Stay buried in the pack and then, when the timing is right, sprint for the finish line.


Unlike a track sprinting event or a horse race, it may be more advisable to move slowly and quietly out of the gate in order to catch competitors off guard.  The goal should be to do all of the ground work and make progress, essentially getting up to speed, before others even realize that you are in a race.

In Driver’s Education Classes, the statement that “speed kills” is repeated often and for good reason.  In the business world, the statement is also applicable.  There is, however, something else that has to be considered:  Who does it kill, you or your competitor?  The answer is that there is no single answer.  Speed can be a friend or a foe based on the circumstances.  The use of speed should not be left to chance.  Instead, the decision on how fast to move and in what direction needs to be a key element in setting competitive strategies and the resulting tactical plans. 

Rather than provide some “sage advice”, consider the following:

  • Muhammad Ali (formerly known as Cassius Clay), one of the most famous boxers of all time, used his hand speed as his major asset and summarized his approach as “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The hands can't hit what the eyes can't see.”
  • Stay off the radar screen as long as you can.  Do not give fair warning.
  • The television series “Columbo” starring Peter Falk was a detective show featuring Columbo as a seemingly simple-minded detective that would appear to ask obvious, basic questions that disarmed the suspects with his apparent stupidity.  Later, he would weave a tapestry of conclusive facts based on his simple questions and observations.
  • Sun Tzu (Chinese Military Genius, circa 500 BC): “All warfare is based on deception” and “Attack him where he is unprepared; appear where you are not expected”.

All of the above involve a common theme: Prepare quietly and then move quickly.  Said another way, don’t let others know that you are even in the race until you are well ahead, moving fast, making it very difficult for them to catch up.  The article in this series, “First Mover Advantage or Disadvantage” discusses the pros and cons of being the first to launch a product or service offering.  Initial speed out of the gate may not be in your best interest.


It is interesting to note that many companies follow the exact opposite approach by announcing their intentions instead of waiting and announcing their completed results.  Announcing intentions gives others a chance to respond before you are ready.  This may, in turn, give others the opportunity to catch you before you reach the finish line.  Do not give them the opportunity to get up to speed.

One method of avoiding the loss of speed trap is to write all press releases, public announcements, and web posting in the past tense.  Instead of stating your plans, announcing a contract, or other future events, wait until the issue is resolved.  For example, announce a product when it is actually available, announce a new customer after the system is operational and they are satisfied or delighted, or announce a partnership after all aspects have been implemented and results are public.

The satisfying feeling of “revving the engine” to get attention will not help you win a competitive race.

Article Number : 5.070304   

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