I walked a Formula One race track last fall in Abu Dhabi, in the blistering evening desert heat. The city of Abu Dhabi opens the track a couple of days a week for bikers and joggers. I, however, was walking, due to a lack of appropriate sportswear, gasping for air, and happy to make it through even just one round. It was a surreal experience, not only because I was the odd outlier amidst hundreds of bikers and joggers, but also because it turned the purpose of the race track on its head – as my own private 'slow movement' against the race of the machines, fundamentally opposing the design intent of the venue. It felt like a meditation that turned the split seconds which typically frame the Formula One drivers’ quasi-automated blink decisions into an extended once-in-a-lifetime moment.
It took me an hour to complete the lap, and I relished every single minute of it. 'Going against the grain,' walking a Formula One track, turned out to be a fitting mental model violation, an almost situationist rebellion against time and space, and therefore a meaningful experience, a trance-like crescendo of happiness.
Speed, like happiness, is relative. Motion, on the other hand, is happiness’ absolute requirement. Motion is what holds it all together. Nations, cultures, organizations, relationships – and bodies. As the wonderful book of the same title suggests, the heart – the quintessential mechanism of motion – is a Sublime Engine, the enabler and ultimate jury of all life: it can stop anytime, for no rhyme or reason, and when it does, there is no more moving on.
It remains a mystery at what point motion becomes speed; perhaps when it exceeds the perceptional comprehension of the human sensory apparatus, when it becomes too fast to be felt, to be made sense of.
A couple of months later, on board an 800 miles per hour sky-rocketing 747 aircraft over the Atlantic, I was watching the documentary, Senna, about the legendary Brazilian Formula One race driver Ayrton Senna. True to its subject, the movie never slows down, and instead of a voice-over narrating the driver’s moved life, it simply races from frame to frame while slowly uncovering the essence of the story: the heart and soul of a passionate genius, a ‘man on a wire,’ full of concentration and determination, and of a fervent passion that’s always on the verge to its dark side, obsession. The devoted Christian Senna was a fanatic who raced to stand still and “just couldn’t quit” until he, as he put it, became a “complete man,” in perfect tune with God; a soul-searcher who touched those close and far from him with his humble but assertive heart that was beating so much faster than most others.
The documentary shows the last moments of Senna’s life, viewed from his car’s onboard camera, the painful elegy of a life that is about to pass every second (generally as professional risk and literally in this very sequence), a slow-motion blues that ends with an abrupt and absurd accident when Senna’s car fails (the exact reasons are unresolved to date) and crashes like a projectile straight into a wall. His death was as fast as his life.
Senna was a one-of-a-kind rebel, and he epitomizes the allure of the contrarian way of doing things your way: walk when others run, stay silent when others talk, be absent when others pursue presence by all means, disappear when others enter. Maybe that’s the ultimate differentiator in our fast-moving, over-loaded, hyper-charged, and ultra-saturated markets, for brands, companies, organizations, and leaders alike: to determine that it’s game over before it has even begun. Reclusiveness as the ultimate exclusivity. And maybe that is the very difference between being smart and being wise: Smart organizations and leaders are highly adaptive and thrive on constant feedback. Smart is fast. But wise is slow. Wise organizations and leaders need time and take it. Time for pause, for reflection. Time for not doing anything. Time to be quiet. Time to find the signal amid all the noise. Time to be the signal.
From Linda Stone’s “continuous partial attention” to FOMO (the Fear-of-Missing-Out) to Jonathan Harris’ long-form storytelling that propagates a “deeper, more reciprocal means of communication than shouting into a disconnected social media void,” from Speed-Dating to Slow-Dating, the Slow Books Manifesto, the Slow Food Movement, Slow Design, Slow Travel, Slow Money, Slow Living, Slow Brands. Motion may enable happiness, speed may accelerate it, but it is the counter-movement that grants us significance – and that, at the end, is the difference between a meaningful life and a life lived in vain.
[image credit: Forbes]
Tim Leberecht is the CMO of frog and the publisher of design mind.