How to navigate the business world at speed

In the early days of the internet, success was all about first-mover advantage — and speed was a part of that thinking. In fact, that need for speed was the genesis of one of our five guiding principles at Rakuten: Speed!! Speed!! Speed!!

But over the years, the quest for speed has led us to new understandings. Speed is important, not just because it gets you out in front early, but also because it generates momentum for your project. The greater the speed, the more momentum your project generates. The project becomes part of its own energy source.

With the launch of Rakuten’s game-changing new cloud-native, 5G-ready mobile network just hours away, the importance of speed has never been more clear to me. Of course, speed is only beneficial when properly harnessed. Otherwise, it can present a host of dangers to any business — something almost every entrepreneur experiences at one point or another.

Understanding two kinds of speed

As a business leader, it’s first important to understand two kinds of speed:

Velocity: This is the rate at which something happens. To gain speed, you must amp up velocity, looking for ways you can eliminate the wasting of time and minimize latency.

Agility: This is your ability to adapt to change at speed. You may start out on one path, but circumstances change in the marketplace. Agility is the capacity to meet that change while still moving forward.

What does this look like in action? Here are two examples from the Rakuten experience.

Englishnization: In 2010, I announced that our entire company would embrace English as our language of business.  The shift required thousands of hours of study on the part of our employees who were not native English speakers. I had many reasons for doing this, but one of them was velocity. By establishing a common language, we could accelerate our speed of doing business. We could communicate across our many global businesses with speed and clarity because we were no longer dependent on translation.

KPI-nization: KPIs or key performance indicators are widely used in business. At Rakuten, we take their use a step further. In a mindset we call ‘KPI-nization,’ we measure and collect data constantly. Rather than harvest information on a monthly or quarterly basis, we will select KPIs to report daily, even hourly. Why? This supports the second kind of speed — agility. With a constant flow of data, we are able to move quickly to take advantage of trends or correct a poor decision.

Embrace speed and the ability to change

Most importantly, the bigger you get, the more critical navigation and speed become. Large projects can generate great momentum, but you must always keep agility in mind. You must always be prepared for the next generation of technology to arrive and if you are already running a big project, you need to think about how you can change the direction of the project when the need arises. It is not a question of if, but when advances in technology will change the game. Who could have thought that TV companies would become less valuable in such a short period of time? Simply put, nothing is perpetual or eternal in business.

An agile leader understands that eventually, everything changes, and that’s why in business we need to be alert to change and ready to respond to it, even while embracing speed. When we say Speed!! Speed!! Speed!! we are not just demanding velocity. We are engaging in velocity, with the ability to stay agile and the entrepreneurial thinking to know when change is necessary. That is the speed that leads to success.

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