Priorities and Pace

Priorities and Pace

Pace got the better of Priorities when they built the Concorde aircraft. I flew in it many times when the service between London and Singapore was operating. It was fast. Eight hours and twenty minutes for a journey that normally took sixteen hours. It was excruciatingly uncomfortable but the sensation of flying supersonically and the value of having done so at the dinner table afterwards outweighed the agony of cramped, stuffy conditions. Concorde is one of the rare occasions when speed was eventually overtaken by comfort.

Almost everywhere now you hear the plea for ‘faster’. Digitisation, the next generation of Supercomputers, Artificial Intelligence all sell on speed of delivery. High speed trains are frequently mooted, though often retrenched because of the frightening pace of inflation. Grab – in my childhood a word of disgrace and vulgarity – is now a respected taxi service. The Pizza Panda whizzes food to your door in time for you to catch the latest soap on television or on your 28” screen substituting for a desktop.

Has speed become too important?

It certainly seems to have done so in that it is pushing prioritisation to the back of the queue. Many people are now inclined to deal with the opportunities and problems that are easiest, because fastest, without regard to their importance. We all know the syndrome of dealing with the quick and simple and leaving the difficult to a time when we can really pay attention to it. Good managers never do that. They know that by the time the serious matters get dealt with the crisis has already overwhelmed them.

When Paul Chambers was Chairman of ICI he told me that he sorted everything that came to his desk into two piles. One was items that he thought, at a glance, probably had a solution. This was the big pile. Someone took it away and he never saw it again. The other, very small, pile, was matters to which there was no solution. “Those,” he told me, “are what I am paid to deal with”. It was a lesson I tried, not always successfully, to follow throughout my business career. I regard it as one of the best management practices I observed.

Competitive activity puts pressure on you, the threat of it perhaps even more so. Customer service has become associated with speed but ask buyers of faulty products if they would have preferred to wait a little longer and get the proper purchase and they will always say yes. Getting quickly to your destination is always time-demanding – at least until you have an accident. Our concept of time gets distorted by all sorts of pressures. We should think about them before giving in to ‘too fast’.

Missing from most people’s lives today is reflection. In my childhood I used to be encouraged by one of my uncles to sit by a stretch of water, possibly fishing but possibly not, and ‘think about things’. He called it pondering, perhaps because we were often sitting by a  pond. I have adopted the word from him and think that some of the most fruitful times I have both in terms of creativity and in terms of enjoyment are when I ponder. 

They may be big questions of world peace or smaller matters of how to reward someone who has done an exceptional job. Or they may be just a memory of something beautiful. Pondering about that, in particular, is very rewarding for the mind, better than the most gourmet meal, more satisfying than the most exotic journey. Our minds are fruitful fields if tended gently, poor mechanisms if raped by action drills.

Mind and time are the two most precious things we have in life. ‘Nurture the mind and it will reward you with joy’. 

It’s not something you do fast, but it is something to which you should hold fast.

Good morning. 

John Bittleston 

Do you ponder? We’d love to know at


The meander of a life is very similar to a meander of the mind. We teach people how to do that.

18 June 2023