In New York City’s Fast Pace Culture, Should Companies Keep Up?

[Note: I wrote the below article for WECREATE NYC. They’re a super cool bunch of innovators interested in generating lasting economy and social change. Enjoy and share!]

By Jen Bokoff, a Brooklyn-based non-profit professional dedicated to facilitating discussions around philanthropy, sociology, and DIY ideas.

New York is inarguably a fast-paced city. From the way we walk to the embarassing dating websites for overworked professionals, a true “New Yorker” races around and multitasks like no suburbanite could ever imagine. We are a culture of conviction, of action, and of planning, where taking time to respond in a conversation could mean a missed opportunity to attend a meeting at the United Nations or  the next girls night out. We keep moving and processing information rapidly because, well, we have to survive in this city.

When we operate quickly – whether in the workplace or our personal lives – there’s a lot to be gained. We are often efficient and can pack more in; we don’t waste time on items of insignificance or exhaust ourselves through repeated action. We make decisions without agonizing for long, thus we see quicker results.

We’re a fast paced city so that begs the question: should workplace decision-making and communication follow in suit?

Well, let’s dig deeper: An email comes in from a coworker asking for approval to go ahead on executing a project involving multiple parties, substantial budgetary resources, and time. It’s been on the table for months, but now, here it is, in your inbox, asking, quite simply, yes or no. Do you reply then and there?

Our intuitive nature could lead us to automatically reply, without hesitation, “Yes.” Sure, brevity and speed have clear value; however, thoughtful consideration does too, and when we act too quickly, consequences are at stake. For example, it’s tougher to observe much deeper than surface level through quick processing, and in doing so, we lose an appreciation for detail and nuances. Quickly replying “yes” may just speed up an inevitable decision, but it could also shield us from the correct one. In doing so, we don’t open ourselves as much to be creative or experiment with new ideas because we act according to what we know since it’s innate. With a loss of creativity and openness to new ideas comes the stifling of innovation, and then, what are we rushing towards?

Let’s explore this question: Societal pressure tells us to do things quickly, but there is often counter-productive pressure of doing a job correctly, to do it well. In the above example, you, the decision-maker, need a clean slate on the facts. In a quick email scan, even when you think you “read” it all, you haven’t. It’s like those reading puzzles where the letters are all jumbled but you can read it anyway because you know what it SHOULD say. We read what we want to read, and then we respond how we want to respond; by nature, we’re in our own head.

I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, t he olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rgh it pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt! if you can raed tihs psas it on

But you have to get out of it, however long it takes, because you WILL make mistakes. Giving a decision, like an email, that extra bit of time for thought or inquiry will strengthen your ability to do your job thoroughly in a way that garners respect and understanding.

Same rules should apply to a company, be it corporate or startup, where a few things remain the same: there exists a hierarchy of decision-makers, decisions to be made, emails to blast, and hopefully a communications point person. However, nowhere is it mandated that an employer must identify the ‘norms’ for communications and flow. Since those guidelines are not clearly set, everyone develops their own sense of pace: a secretary knows that speed with turning around typed materials and mailings is key; an account manager prioritizes calls with clients over conversations with coworkers; an executive assistant does what is necessary to best accommodate the wishes of that particular executive; a comptroller cares most about the bottom line and maintenance of records. In short, priorities are different, and people work in a way that best accommodates that priority as they see fit.

Here’s a solution: The communications person and/or the head honchos need to step up priorities and communication flows with their employees. Some key concerns: What are the actual turnaround times necessary, and what’s to be gained and lost with respect to thoroughness and detail in different scenarios? Who needs to be looped in or out of meetings? Should the standard time to reply to an email be 24 or 48 hours, or can it sit as long as it wants? Is it ok for messages to come from a phone while on the go, and if so, is a more casual tone allowed? Can conversations happen completely remotely, or should time be made in person or via Skype? How do all of these answers affect the company’s culture internally and brand externally?

YES, we want companies to operate quickly; but it’s wrong for productivity to suffer because our fast-paced world told us to hit send. Let’s change that.

This piece is part of a thought-curated series on innovation and collaboration in New York City written by a community of visionaries who are interested in generating lasting economy and social change.

I like the man-smell of a hardware store:
odors of old leather,
fresh cut lumber, oiled machines,
limey smell of plaster and new paint.

I like the men who come to hardware stores,
men with calloused hands
in dirty jeans and sweaty shirts,
men who work.

I remember times we came together
for shingles and to re-roof the shed,
cement for the outdoor barbecue,
bricks for the patio.

Now I come alone and pause a moment
just inside the door.
Almost I see you there
beyond the ray of dust motes in the aisle.

So strong the sense of deja vu
I have to catch my breath
As if these old familiar smells
could bring you back from death.

An untitled, unattributed poem hanging in the back of Moody’s Hardware Store in Montgomery, Alabama. The poem and story of Moody’s was really a gem to stumble upon, because Boston Hardware in Uncasville, Connecticut was our family’s pride for more than 40 years.

It’s amazing what gifts small-scale blogs by everyday folks like us can bring in unexpected ways.

Pretty neat to think how the Wright brothers’ innovation didn’t have modern conveniences, but resulted in lifting a heavy thing into the air on its own power. December 17, 1903 in the little town of Kitty Hawk, NC was definitely a game changer.

Grandma Asked: Why is the Bronx THE Bronx and Brooklyn is just Brooklyn?

The Bronck family was a wealthy family living on many of the Harlem river’s surrounding acres. Jonas Bronck, the family patriarch, was a narcissistic man and wanted to name everything after himself. Thus, around 1639, the river became Bronck’s river. Once the Bronck’s started croaking and immigrants other than Swedes (Irish, German, Italian, Jewish….) settled more heavily in the area, the river retained it’s name. But, the Dutch realized it was easier to write an ‘x’ instead of “ck’s” (did they also invent “thanx”?!) and still have it indicate the possessive, so Bronck’s river, the Bronck river, became the Bronx.

Now, this only referred to the river, but in 1874, a huge area around the river became annexed into New York and was referred to as the Annexed District of the Bronx because the mighty river was the eastern border of the territory. Those aforementioned settlers hung around and weren’t quite as smart as the Dutch, and just plain forgot that the Bronx was a river and took the name to mean the whole territory. That territory became a borough, and it stuck. So ‘the’ just sort of happened.

The Village of Breuckelen was also named by the Dutch, but it didn’t refer to a river, and therefore didn’t take ‘the’ as part of its name. I guess the Gowanus just didn’t cut it…but just imagine…

Note to self: I’ll have to show Grandma how to use Google.