In Praise of Slow

Italian-wall-plaque-mangia-pregare-amore-eat-pray-loveIn Eat, Pray, Love Elizabeth Gilbert describes a Thanksgiving meal in Italy. Like every good eating affair, it happens over the course of hours. It can be a maddening experience in business for type-A personalities, but when it comes to eating, the communal aspects of sharing transfer from the food to the conversation and company of each other.

Real connections happen over a shared experience. When we are not harried through it, we have the opportunity to savor what is happening, enjoy it more, and digest it better. Looking back, we often edit time in our memories. But the truth is that lives and stories have a longer arc than in our experiencing and telling.

It is fitting that the origins of the Slow Movement are with Slow Food, which began in 1986 in Italy as a reaction to fast food. Carlo Petrini founded it to:

promote the use of fresh local foods, grown with sustainable farming techniques, prepared with love, and consumed in a leisurely manner in the company of good friends and family. He and others soon realized that food was just one aspect of life that benefited from this type of attention and nurturing. Slow eventually became shorthand for a philosophy and way of life that is now applied to many activities and aspects of life, or generally as Slow Living.

Slow as a movement refers to finding the right speed for doing the things that make our lives — eating, relating, exercising, working, traveling, learning, etc. Another overarching theme is that of quality vs. quantity. Rather than it being an either/or proposition, we should slow down long enough to understand how it is both/and by considering:

  • our purpose
  • our goals
  • our priorities

The best results in business are a function of time. Enough is based on the ability of an organization to store energy in the form of brand, intellectual, and social capital to help it endure. What are the trade-offs between quality and quantity, short-term resolutions and long-term effects? Sustainability of a business model is tied to duration and life-span or a company. 

When we talk about fast companies, we attempt to reduce the slow process of it coming into being and enduring into a formula. The result is a half-digested notion of what it takes to succeed. That is what businesses copy. A recipe for disappointment.

Going slow in the right places helps us get better where it matters. For example, when we do quality work and deliver a better experience we earn more of it. Doing more helps us improve how we do things when we are deliberate about learning what better looks like. The two go hand-in-hand.

Carl Honoré builds on the original Italian idea of “slow” as something positive in his book In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed. He says:

that's kind of the world that we live in now, a world stuck in fast-forward. A world obsessed with speed, with doing everything faster, with cramming more and more into less and less time.

Every moment of the day feels like a race against the clock. To borrow a phrase from Carrie Fisher, which is in my bio there; I'll just toss it out again, "These days even instant gratification takes too long."

And if you think about how we to try to make things better, what do we do? No, we speed them up, don't we? So we used to dial; now we speed dial. We used to read; now we speed read. We used to walk; now we speed walk. And of course, we used to date and now we speed date. And even things that are by their very nature slow — we try and speed them up too.


the headlong dash of daily life, we often lose sight of the damage that this roadrunner form of living does to us. We're so marinated in the culture of speed that we almost fail to notice the toll it takes on every aspect of our lives — on our health, our diet, our work, our relationships, the environment and our community.

Sometimes it takes a wake-up call to alert us to the fact that we're hurrying through our lives, instead of actually living them; that we're living the fast life, instead of the good life. For many people, that wake-up call takes the form of an illness. A burnout when eventually the body says, "I can't take it anymore," and throws in the towel. Or maybe a relationship goes up in smoke because we haven't had the time, or the patience, or the tranquility, to be with the other person, to listen to them.


by slowing down at the right moments, people find that they do everything better. They eat better; they make love better; they exercise better; they work better; they live better. And, in this kind of cauldron of moments and places and acts of deceleration, lie what a lot of people now refer to as the "International Slow Movement."

Slowness is the evolutionary way and a strong complement to making decisions, building resilience as we contend with the acceleration in pace of technology, the overwhelm of complexity, and the 24/7 world.

With respect to context, in our conversation on modern virtues, Peter Tunjic talks about composition:

  • What moves slowly or even stand stills (buildings, mountains, streets, trees, people in some capacity.)
  • What moves fast, (weather, people and things that can move around.)
  • The relationship between slow and fast (resistance) – leading to composition – think of a river – the direction is determined by resistance of the banks to the flow of water.
  • The roll of patterns on composition (seasons, the way people walk to work.)
  • The relationship between what we intend (seen as intellect) and our intent (seen as behavior) on composition.
  • Time as a poor measure of composition.

Time is man-made. It is scarce in the Western cultural construct, cyclical in other cultures. When we slow down and create space to think in our decision-making, when we see it as a process, we actually end up making better choices.

Sound bites don't necessarily make for sound thinking. Talking too quickly could be missing an opportunity to listen further, or learn by being more attuned and aware.

When we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change. When we take the time to appreciate who we are, what we have and do, and our experiencing of the world and each other, we create more meaningful lives.

Below is the ironically fast-paced and humorous video of Carl Honoré's talk.


[image by artist Al Pisano]