November 11, 2020 Carole Levy

Slow Cultures in Fast-Changing Organizations

If it’s true that we only have ten years to stabilize our world – by limiting carbon gas emission, transitioning to a green economy, reducing wealth gaps/social disparities, and repairing what’s repairable- we are facing a paradox: 

Proceeding with a sense of urgency, while having to slow down.

Indeed, we can’t perpetuate the same kind of energy that has led us here. We are on the verge of collapse. We can’t continue to function ruled by speed, over-consumption, competition, domination and greed. 

Yet, we don’t want to miss the opportunities to innovate in our field, swiftly pivot, offer solutions to critical issues, and take purposeful action. 

One obstacle we face is that: the energies of urgency and grasping easily overlap.

A quest to have a meaningful life and make a difference in the world doesn’t make us immune to a fear-based desire to have more (even just a little bit more): time, money, power, control, resources, efficiency, admiration, validation, security, relevance, health, confidence and a significant impact on others.…

If you’re a leader aspiring to change society, if you carry responsibilities and recognize that you have an ego, you probably experience confusion regarding urgency and grasping every day – just like me.

This confusion depletes our vital energy and spirit.

We have entered an era that requires unshakeable integrity –consistency between what we want to see happen in the world and how we make it happen.

A few weeks ago, I thought about the slow movement phenomenon that has given birth to slow food, slow fashion, slow gardening, slow sex, slow media, slow marketing, slow cinema… Why not slow culture in organizations?

Leaders in mission-driven organizations are often in pain about their organizational culture – the frantic pace, the legitimate pressure to achieve excellent results, the necessity to create time for meaningful conversations about race, equity, diversity and inclusion, as well as time for learning and growth. 

Slow culture would aim to foster cultures in organizations that challenge the status quo paradigm of efficiencyquantity and speed with a paradigm effectivenessquality and slowness. Why not?

Establishing a slow culture in organizations wouldn’t necessarily mean doing less. It would mean creating more room for reflection – for pausing – for being more conscious and deliberate about what we choose to do, how we do it, who the people are with whom we share the responsibility of doing the work, and how we will truly build relationships with each other. 

Slowing down in organizations wouldn’t be easy, but it would be bold. And it would be deeply beneficial to an ailing planet.

When I was working in my first organization– a non-profit delivering personal mastery workshops in France- our leaderwouldn’t let us start our day without connecting to ourselves and to each other, and processing. We would address our dynamics or “icky” moments, debrief the news in the world that would impact our mood, take stock of our unmet objectives, and reconnect with our purpose. Our “real” workday would often start around 11am or noon. It was annoying at times, but in retrospection, there is no doubt that we were doing the “real” work that ultimately would allow us to achieve a a great deal – often, beyond what we thought was possible. 

The next ten years will require us to achieve things that go way beyond what we think is possible. Organizations have a huge part to play in helping shift our current mentalities. 

There is no guarantee that we will save the world, or even that we will work less. But at least, in learning to slow down, we can learn to work and live together in a more healthy, conscious and satisfying manner.

Reflective questions: What would you change, if you were intentional about slowing down? Individually and within your organization?

Easy resources for data and inspiration about climate change: https://www.ted.com/topics/climate+change

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