Why Usain Bolt is slow, and why it doesn’t matter

Usain Bolt regularly starts slowly. His first 20m is often comparable if not sometimes worse than that of his peers (if there are any). If the only split times you were shown were his first 20m or his second 20m you might describe him as just another sprinter. Just another sprinter? Usain Bolt?

But then he becomes the Kingston Express.

He kicks in about 5 gears higher. And becomes Usain Bolt.

His acceleration is quite remarkable. Split times suggest he does his last 20m over 5% faster than his second. In 100m sprints, that’s a lifetime. There’s an anaology buried in here somewhere. If slow starting is good enough for Usain Bolt it’s good enough for me.

In an age of relentless ‘need for speed’, where information travels faster than it can be consumed and political, economic and commercial decisions are expected to be made in real-time we tend to start fast, hoping for the win. It’s utterly delusional. And it is ruining us.

A range of decision makers (politicians, sports managers, entrepreneurs, parents) will base their decisions on limited and early data, often under pressure as deliberation is a perceived weakness. They think they’re testing the market, the public reaction or performance, but in fact they’re often reacting to a small and limited data-set. Making a decision too fast. If you did that with Usain Bolt, you’d have written him off before he’d even got started. You’d be a braver man than I.

We’re getting increasingly impatient and increasingly demanding. Slow is perceived as bad. But perhaps we need to give things time to grow? Examples abound around us. Trees take time to set roots, and benefit more once they do so. Businesses hit more points of serendipity the more they they let the market assist their development over time. Relationships grow with time, judging them early can be ill-judged and fateful. Our greatest politicians and leaders are those who have taken considered (fast or slow) decisions not the impulsive ones designed to please a baying public.

Maybe it’s time to slow down, make stronger more foundational decisions, in all aspects of public and private life; and not just get carried along the rapid currents of modernity. You might think Usain’s got it all wrong.

I don’t.

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