Success requires both speed and quickness by Gary Gagliardi

The backbone of surprise is fusing speed with secrecy.” Karl von Clausewitz

In skating over thin ice our safety is our speed.”   Ralph Waldo Emerson

I've always found that the speed of the boss is the speed of the team.”  Lee Iacocca

Intelligence is quickness in seeing things as they are.” George Santayana

Let us start with some clear definitions differentiating between speed and quickness.

  • Speed is the ability to cover distance (as defined in S-BOK 4.4) in a straight line rapidly.
  • Quickness is the ability to change directions rapidly (S-BOK 5.3).

Speed in covering distance means both the physical and mental ability to change positions. Distance measures the space between positions. Distance exists both in physically space (S-BOX 4.4.1), which affects transportation, and in psychological space (S-BOK 4.4.2), which affects learning.  Good communication is affected by both forms of distance. To be communicate rapidly, messages must close both the physical gap of space and the psychological gap of knowledge as rapidly as possible.

As the quotes from von Clausewitz and Emerson above note, speed has a number of advantages other than the obvious ones of getting ahead and staying ahead of competitors. Since all opportunities are limited in time (S-BOK 5.3.2), speed make it possible for us to close the gap between our current position and an opportunistic position. It also allows us to get through difficult ground, in its various forms, (S-BOK 6.4) more safely.

Quickness, on the other hand, is a matter of clearly seeing a fast-changing situation and rapidly making a decision to change direction. The cycle time of the adaptive loop (S-BOK 1.8.3) where external event leads to appropriate reaction is determined by quickness.

Though speed and quickness are not opposing skills, too much attention to speed as opposed to quickness is dangerous. As a passenger, I have often noticed that when people are running late and get lost, they often speed up, even though they don't know whether or not they are going in the right direction. Speeding up when we are going in the wrong direction creates more damage not less. As the saying goes:

"Direction is more important than speed. We are so busy looking at our speedometers that we forget the milestone." Anonymous

As with all strategic characteristics, both speed and quickness are evaluated only in comparison. Competitors are only relatively faster or slower when compared with other competitors operating within their environment.

Interestingly enough, the critical difference between speed and quickness is most commonly recognized in the world of sports. Coaches have long realized that a given player can be slower in terms of straight line speed than another player, but still be many times quicker because they can see their situations and react to them faster.  It is the ability to quickly see and react to opportunities that makes a great competitor in any field.