Smooth Is Fast, But Fast Ain’t Smooth

When I was a young Army lieutenant training at Fort Knox, Kentucky and learning how to take the fight to the enemy with a 68-ton Abrams battle tank, I had the good fortune to cross paths with a person whose simple advice sticks with me all these years later. His name was Gunnery Sergeant Mummey and he was just about the most crusty, battle-hardened Marine I had ever come across. Gunnery Sergeant Mummey spent his days and nights reveling in watching the newly minted officers who were his students flail hopelessly within the confines of their tanks, trying their best to manage a withering onslaught of tasks and priorities. He had many a good laugh watching us, I’m sure!

One day I was learning how to direct my tank crew in preparation for a field exercise at the gunnery range where we would finally get to test our skills with live ammunition. This was a big milestone for us and it was a test of our ability to direct the three other members of our crew against a series of “enemy threats”. In order to succeed on the gunnery range, each student would have to react to unknown situations and quickly issue clear orders to the crew to successfully manage the situation. Needless to say, new lieutenants are not so great at making all that happen at first go-round.

I was no exception. As I sat in my commander’s hatch trying (unsuccessfully) to get my crew to quickly respond to my orders before the presenting targets vanished, I felt a jolt to the top of my helmet. I ignored it at first, focused solely on getting my crew to do what I had so elegantly envisioned in my head for months prior to this moment. Again, I felt a jolt to the top of my helmet and this time I looked up.

Sitting above me was Gunnery Sergeant Mummey in an instructor chair that had been bolted to the top of the tank so that he could observe us in action. The heel of his boot staring me in the face he said in a surly and disapproving voice, “Lieutenant, smooth is fast, but fast ain’t smooth!” Not understanding exactly what he was getting at, I nodded in approval and went back to work at a frenetic pace. It only took one more kick to the head for Gunnery Sergeant Mummey to get my attention and reiterate himself a way only a senior sergeant can, “Lieutenant, smooth is fast, but fast ain’t smooth!”

I nodded again but this time something changed. As his advice made its way into my brain I realized that in my efforts to speed things up I was only slowing things down. Me yelling to my crew louder and more frantically didn’t actually have the positive effect I was looking for (go figure!). I took a moment to collect myself and I began issuing out orders in a clear, confident, and paced manner, which enabled my crew to understand what I was saying and execute. By slowing down and operating more smoothly, I was able to significantly increase the speed of execution of my crew.

I’ve taken that lesson with me over the years. Through combat and through my career in civilian life, the concept of slowing things down to speed things up has served me well time and again. In a culture where “speed is of the essence” and where “time is money”, I often find myself getting caught up in the fever of the moment. But a lesson learned many years ago in Kentucky comes back to me and I remember to slow things down and to challenge the assumption that we fall victim to on a seemingly daily basis, that fast is good and faster is better.

The next time you’re feeling frantic, I challenge you to take a moment to collect yourself, slow it down and smooth it out. I think that, like me, you’ll find that you will accomplish things much more quickly and effectively and you will feel much more in control and at peace with the demands of your situation.

Remember, smooth is fast but fast ain’t smooth!