Why it’s important to “go slow at the beginning”

Dennis Sparks

“Anything worth doing is worth doing slowly,” Mae West said.

In addition to whatever reasons West may have had in mind, “going slow” is essential when the goal in significant professional learning or making important decisions.

In Leading for Results I recounted a story told by author Parker Palmer about a veteran heart surgeon teaching neophyte surgeons a challenging procedure in which they have only 60 seconds to complete a procedure during which a patient’s life hangs in the balance. The surgeon’s advice: “Go slow at the beginning.”

Recognizing the value of that advice in other contexts, I wrote, “So, too, it is important to slow down, to gain clarity and direction when our culture and the adrenaline flowing through our bodies tells us that success requires moving ever faster.”

These thoughts were brought to mind when reader Joanne Mattiucci commented on a recent post on the value of professional conversations:

“I have just participated in a Common Core workshop series that was done deeply and well. Your mantra of ‘go slow in the beginning’ was done to perfection through the use of a number of protocols. A protocol that was used through out the session was “Notice and Wonder.” Whenever the facilitator gave us something new to look at, instead of telling us about it, she asked us to read it closely and talk about what we noticed and wondered about it. The outcome was that meaning was made, and ownership for what we were working on was gained. The facilitator did a really solid job of modeling this practice, and again, I thought of Leading for Results: What we want for our students, is what we want for our teachers, is what we want for our leaders.”

I encourage you to “go slow”:

• at the beginning of meetings to enable participants to become fully present with one another and engaged with the meeting’s purposes,

• during conversations of substance so that all participants are fully heard and understood,

• at the start of what you anticipate may be an important learning experience to access prior knowledge and experiences, and

• apropos of Mae West, when experiencing anything that you would like to savor.

When else might it be valuable to “go slow?”


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