Today, everyone seems to be in such a rush. From the time it takes to fly across the Atlantic to the time it takes Google to pull together your search results, speed is everything. Products are increasingly rushed to market, investors are increasingly impatient for the exit, and the social innovation community – that’s us – is increasingly impatient for scale. We have innovation accelerators left, right and center, and if we fail, well, we need to do that fast as well. When did we get in such a big hurry?

When I speak at conferences, I often highlight the disconnect between funding cycles and the time it takes for a technology solution to first get a little traction, and then get to some kind of scale (depending on your definition of scale). Typically, how long does it take an innovation to take hold? One year? Two years? Three years? Five years? If we’re honest, we don’t know. All we do know is that we usually lose patience (or interest) after a couple of years or so.

How many potentially great products have died prematurely because they weren’t given the time? Tweet This Quote

I often speak of my own experience with FrontlineSMS, which took about three years to really get going, and – if I’d taken funding and committed to deadlines and deliverables early on – how it would likely have not made it that long. As a product, maybe it just needed three years to bed in, to take hold in the imagination of its users, for news to filter down. If that’s the case, then speeding up the process through an accelerator of some kind would have been counterproductive, and perhaps also have led to an early demise. Sometimes things just take time.

It begs the question: How many potentially great products have died prematurely because they weren’t given the time? Or because they were rushed? What proportion of projects do accelerators kill compared to those they genuinely accelerate?

slow

As with many things in the social innovation and international development sectors (including innovation challenges), we don’t have the evidence either way. Just as small is often cited as beautiful, perhaps we need to recognize that sometimes slow might be sensible?

Perhaps we need to recognize that sometimes slow might be sensible? Tweet This Quote

Accelerators almost certainly have their place as one of a number of tools and approaches, but we seem to be painting everything with the same brush. Acceleration might not be best for everyone and everything. Maybe speed only really matters if:

  • You’ve quit your day job and need to start earning money fast.
  • You’ve banked some money to prove your idea, and the clock is ticking.
  • You’re working to some arbitrary deadline – a competition closing date, a school term, or a funding deadline.
  • You’re working in the midst of an unfolding crisis, and your solution was needed yesterday.
  • You’re worried that a ‘competitor’ is going to beat you to market.
  • You’re impatient.

In the social innovation and international development worlds, we seem to have fallen into our fair share of self-made traps. Assuming scale is everything is one of them. So is believing that open source is best for everything – without question. And that innovation challenges hold the key to unlocking all our great ideas.

Maybe questioning why we’re always in such a damn hurry should be another.


This originally published on Ken’s blog.

About the author

Ken Banks

Ken Banks

Ken is the founder of kiwanja.net, Means of Exchange, and FrontlineSMS. He is a Pop!Tech and Ashoka Fellow, Tech Awards Laureate, and National Geographic Emerging Explorer, and has been internationally recognized for his work applying mobile tech for positive social and environmental change in the developing world. Ken is also the Entrepreneur in Residence at CARE International.

  • TedKidd

    Nicely put!

  • Anthony Coscia

    Ken,

    I really enjoyed this article, and I couldn’t agree more with what you said. I am a student studying business with minors in innovation and entrepreneurship, and I’m also in a program dedicated to entrepreneurship. Within this particular program we’ll have classes dedicated to “creating” a business. Often times in these classes, although its never explicitly stated, speed is extremely important. We’ll be tasked with the goal of creating a business within six weeks! We have to come up with a product or service after one week, conduct market research the second and third, and have a fully functional business plan by the sixth! Furthermore, for this particular class we watched an online video series that detailed the startup process over the course of one month… Although my professors never advocated the importance of speed in the start-up process, its implied, at least to me, throughout the entire process. And that’s not all. My university, as well as countless others across the country, will have “business competitions” in which students compete to develop a business through the course of one semester.

    You’re right in saying entrepreneurs are obsessed with speed. I’m surprised it took me this long to realize. If I were to guess why this obsession exists I would say they’re just excited for the process. They want to throw themselves into their work, and the idea of working at a slow, moderate pace isn’t too enticing, despite the fact it’s the most logical course of action.

    It’s paradoxical in a way, because although my entrepreneurship classes implied speed was good, they also explicitly taught us the importance of conducting research, and taking accurate, logical control over the process… But is it possible to combine speed with accuracy and precision in the start up process? I’m interested, how do you think we can slow down the current pace of start-up development? Do you think this is even possible, given our culture of speed?

    Best,

    Anthony