WHAT IS THE SLOW FIX ABOUT?
It’s about finding the best way to tackle complex problems in every walk of life, from health and relationships to business and politics. Our addiction to superficial, short-term quick fixes is backfiring badly in so many ways. This book explores how to start forging solutions that work both now and in the long term. I call this approach the “Slow Fix.”
IS THE BOOK A MANUAL FOR PROBLEM-SOLVING?
Yes, it is, but also much more. On one hand, the book uses lots of fascinating case studies and first-hand reporting from around the world to show how to tackle hard problems intelligently and thoroughly. But THE SLOW FIX is also a philosophy of life. If we slow down, if we learn to do everything as well (rather than as fast) as possible, we can not only solve problems, work smarter and live better. We can also create a better world.
Absolutely. In fact, I would argue that we cannot afford not to. People often say there is not enough time or money for anything other than a quick fix. Yet we always seem to have enough time to pick up the pieces when our quick fix goes wrong later. And we usually find the money to clean up the mess, too. What I’m proposing is that we reverse that equation and start investing the time, energy and resources now in order to come up with solutions that actually work. That way we save ourselves a lot of time, money and grief in the future.
WHO IS YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE?
Anyone who wants to tackle a difficult problem. It could be something at work or in a relationship. Or it might be a global challenge such as poverty or the environment. Though it may sound grandiloquent, the The Slow Fix is also meant to be a handbook for making the world a better place. In short, it has something for everyone.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO WRITE THIS BOOK?
Very painful! At the start I had no idea where I’d end up. A clear vision eventually bubbled up from the research but there was a long time when I felt like I was groping around in the dark. (Learning to live with that kind of uncertainty is actually one ingredient of the Slow Fix.)
Loads. My approach was to travel round the world investigating successful problem-solving in situ. So I spent time with teachers and students at a school in a gang-infested corner in Los Angeles; coffee growers in Costa Rica; Formula One pit crews; companies in several countries that rowed back from the brink of collapse; therapists helping couples and families rebuild broken relationships; prisoners in a state-of-the-art Norwegian jail; anti-poverty campaigners in New York; a mayor who revolutionized public transport in Bogotá; fighter pilots in Britain’s Royal Air Force; doctors and families in the organ transplant system in Spain; a design team reinventing the water bottle in France; children resolving their own playground conflicts in Finland; disabled people designing their own public services in Australia; citizens reinventing democracy in Iceland; medical workers rolling back tropical diseases in Chile; and more.
ARE ALL THESE ‘SLOW FIXES’ RELEVANT TO EVERY READER?
Definitely, yes. Some of the slow fixes will be directly relevant to your own life, organization or community, but my goal was to go much deeper. What The Slow Fix does is draw universal lessons about how to find the best solution when anything goes wrong. That meant spotting the common ground between problems that on the surface seem completely unrelated. What lessons can peace negotiators in the Middle East, for instance, take from the organ donor system in Spain? How can a community regeneration program in Vietnam help boost productivity in a company in Canada? What insights can French researchers trying to reinvent the water-bottle take from the rehabilitation of a failing school in Los Angeles? What can we all learn from the troubleshooters at NASA? From the gamers who spend billions of hours tackling problems online? From the contestants in Odyssey of the Mind, the closest thing we have to an Olympics of problem-solving? Bottom line: The Slow Fix delivers a recipe that can help anyone tackle any problem.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH QUICK FIXES?
Every quick fix whispers the same seductive promise of maximum return for minimum effort. But that equation seldom adds up. When dealing with complex problems, the quick fix addresses the symptoms rather than the root cause. It puts short-term relief before long-term cure. It makes no provision for unwelcome side effects. Trying to solve problems in a hurry, sticking on a band-aid when surgery is needed, might deliver temporary reprieve – but usually at the price of storing up worse trouble for later. The inconvenient truth is that quick fixes rarely fix anything at all. And sometimes they just makes things worse.
I’ll give you two. Even as we drop billions of dollars on diet products promising Hollywood thighs and Men’s Health abs in time for summer, waistlines are ballooning all over the world. Why? Because there is no such thing as One Tip to a Flat Stomach. Academic studies show that most people who lose weight on diets regain it all, and often more, within five years. Even liposuction, the nuclear option in the slimming arms race, can backfire. Fat sucked from a woman’s thighs and abdomen usually resurfaces within a year elsewhere on her body, as bingo wings, say, or shoulder flab.
Even in business, where speed is usually an advantage, our fondness for the quick fix is backfiring. When firms hit choppy waters, or come under pressure to goose the bottom line or jack up a sagging stock price, the knee-jerk response is often to downsize. But shedding staff in a hurry seldom pays off. It can hollow out a company, demoralize the remaining workforce and spook customers and suppliers. Often it leaves deeper problems untouched. After sifting through 30 years’ worth of longitudinal and cross-sectional studies, Franco Gandolfi, a professor of management, came to a stark conclusion: ‘The overall picture of the financial effects of downsizing is negative.’
BUT SURELY FIXING THINGS QUICKLY ISN’T ALWAYS BAD?
Of course not. There are scenarios – patching up a soldier on the battlefield, for instance – when sitting back to stroke your chin is not an option. You have to channel MacGyver, reach for the duct tape and cobble together whatever solution works right now. When circumstances demand a quick fix, by all means deliver a quick fix, but never let it stand untested. Come back later, when time permits, to forge a more lasting solution.
DOES THAT MEAN A QUICK FIX NEVER FULLY SOLVES A PROBLEM?
Not never. Not all problems are created equal. Some can be fixed with a quick and simple solution. Inserting a single line of code can stop a misfiring webpage from inflicting mayhem on a company. When someone is choking on a morsel of food, the Heimlich manoeuvre can dislodge the offending object from the windpipe and save the victim’s life. My focus in The Slow Fix is on a very different kind of problem, where the parameters are unclear and shifting, where human behaviour comes into play, where there may not even be a right answer. Think climate change, the obesity epidemic, a broken relationship or a company grown too big for its own good.
IS THE ‘QUICK FIX’ A MODERN PHENOMENON?
Not at all. Looking for shortcuts is nothing new. Two thousand years ago Plutarch denounced the army of quacks hawking miracle cures to the gullible citizens of Ancient Rome. At the end of the eighteenth century infertile couples queued up in hope of conceiving in London’s legendary Celestial Bed. The amorous contraption promised soft music, a ceiling-mounted mirror and a mattress stuffed with ‘sweet new wheat or oat straw, mingled with balm, rose leaves, and lavender flowers’, as well as tail hairs from the finest English stallions. An electric current allegedly generated a magnetic field ‘calculated to give the necessary degree of strength and exertion to the nerves’. The promise: instant conception. The cost for one night of fertile fumbling: £3,000 (US$4,800) in modern money.
IS THE QUICK FIX MORE PREVALENT TODAY?
Definitely. The quick fix has become the standard across the board in our fast-forward, on-demand, just-add-water culture. Who has the time or patience for Aristotelian deliberation and the long view any more? Politicians need results before the next election, or the next press conference. The markets panic if wobbly businesses or wavering governments fail to serve up an instant action plan. Websites are studded with ads promising fast solutions to every problem known to Google: a herbal remedy to reboot your sex life; a video to perfect your golf swing; an app to find Mr Right. All over the world, doctors are under pressure to heal patients in a
hurry, which often means reaching for a pill, the quick fix par excellence. Feeling blue? Try Prozac. Struggling to concentrate? Join Team Ritalin. In the never-ending quest for instant relief the average Briton now pops, according to one estimate, 40,000 pills in a lifetime.
SO WHAT EXACTLY IS THIS SLOW FIX?
First of all, it is a state of mind. An acceptance that solving complex problems requires patience, effort and resources. Once we change that chip in our heads, then we can start forging a Slow Fix by taking the time to: admit and learn from mistakes; work out the root causes of the problem; sweat the small stuff, think long and connect the dots to build holistic solutions; seek ideas from everywhere, work with others and share the credit; build up expertise while remaining skeptical of experts; think alone and together; tap emotions; enlist an inspiring leader; consult and even recruit those closest to the problem; turn the search for a fix into a game; have fun, follow hunches, adapt, use trial and error and embrace uncertainty.
CAN WE REALLY PUT THE SLOW FIX INTO PRACTICE IN A WORLD ADDICTED TO SPEED?
Absolutely. There will be plenty of resistance, but the best arguments are all on the side of the Slow Fix. Fixing problems thoroughly is never an indulgence or a luxury; it is a wise and essential investment in the future. A problem left to fester now will almost always be harder and more costly to fix later on. Put in the time, effort and resources today, and reap the benefits in your business, relationship or health in the future.
SO YOU’RE OPTIMISTIC THAT WE CAN START PUTTING THE SLOW FIX AHEAD OF THE QUICK FIX?
Very much so. Wherever you go in the world today, and in every walk of life, more people are turning away from the quick fix to find better ways to solve problems. Some are toiling below the radar, others are making headlines, but all share one thing in common: a hunger to forge solutions that actually work. The good news is the world is full of Slow Fixes. You just have to take the time to find and learn from them.