Having worked in venture capital and at a private-equity-backed business, I found this level of discipline dogmatic. There is so much capital available, why not take advantage of it? After all, in business school, we learned that the first step of starting a company was to create a business plan in order to get funding. Yet we celebrated equity and funding rounds without fully understanding what they meant. These raises represented money that needed to be paid back—with an expected return, fast. When did it become standard to celebrate owing and borrowing so much?
While not everyone can take a multidecade approach to growth, I think many businesses would benefit from going slower. Consider expanding into one less market, releasing one less product feature and borrowing a little less. This will give you the time and energy to be able to execute with excellence. It will also allow you to maintain a steady pace and avoid burnout.
In a recent article in The New Yorker, author Cal Newport makes the case for what he calls Slow Productivity, with the goal of keeping “an individual worker’s volume at a sustainable level.” As the volume of work increases past a certain threshold, he argues, “the weight of these efforts can become unbearably stressful.” This thinking ties back to the Toyota Production System principle of heijunka, a lean manufacturing method for reducing the unevenness in a production process and minimizing overburden. A steady, predictable amount of work can be liberating and motivating.
It can be tough to intentionally slow down, particularly when we feel there’s always someone else willing to work harder. But there are diminishing returns. Instead, do less, but better. As my dad reminds me, “Business is like an all-you-can-eat buffet. Our eyes are always bigger than our stomachs. Fill half your plate and come back for seconds. If you fill yourself up too early, you might not have room for dessert.”
Jamie Shah is an entrepreneur-in-residence at the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at the University of Chicago.