Review: Superfast

Before the 20th century, no human ever experienced speed. By the end of it, it seemed we couldn’t get enough of it. Fast food, fast lane, fast track, fast buck. But fast just doesn’t cut it these days: welcome to superfast. 

Ironically enough, this is not a particularly quick read: it comes in at a chunky 368 pages and there’s no fluff or padding. It is however ‘easily digestible and dip-in-able’. Sophie Devonshire is CEO of The Caffeine Partnership, which prides itself on getting organisations unstuck and reenergised, and there’s a nod to this in the ‘Espresso takeaways’ at the end of each chapter. 

But if you have time for a more leisurely read, this is well worth the investment. There’s a delicate balance leaders have to find between moving fast – fast enough to stay one step ahead of disruption, to take advantage of new opportunities, to respond to a world in which change is happening at an increasingly dizzying rate – and taking the time needed to collect data, test assumptions and bring their people with them. 

Devonshire takes a comprehensive look at the key issues involved in the pace at which a leader can bring about organisational change: managing their own time and energy, structure, culture, hiring and firing, decision making and so on. The insights and stories are gleaned from interviews with more than 100 global ‘pacesetters’, from CEOs of the biggest multinationals to start-up founders, which anchors the theory in the messy reality of leadership. 

As a publisher, I was particularly struck by Devonshire’s analogy between superfast leadership and writing, or more specifically, editing: 

‘Editing is about cutting out some of what you’ve done or want to say. It’s about simplification and sharpening. Focusing on less is a radical way to make you better and to make you faster… A great leader needs to be a great editor.’

Who says an English degree doesn’t prepare you for the real world? 

Although the range of this book is wide, if there’s a single ‘secret’ to achieve superfast status it’s this: decide fast. Even if you’re deciding to wait, or to get more information, make it a conscious decision, and do it with energy. 

‘The discipline of making decisions sharply can led to phenomenal ‘unblocking’ of energy and velocity.’

Deciding, of course, is only the beginning: to lead effectively at speed Devonshire says you must then delegate and deliver. And this of course is where the pesky necessity of working with others can slow you down, and where the tactics she sets out in the rest of the book will prove so useful. 

But this is not a breathless paean to speed. As Devonshire memorably points out, some things – notably casseroles and seduction – are better done slowly. The trick is to know the right pace for the right moment, and to be able to move fast, and bring others with you, when required. 

‘Great leaders do not always rush: they go slowly when they can and fast when they must.’