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The Inescapable Speed of Life

The ever-increasing speed of our lives is not an intellectual abstraction, but a real dilemma that almost all of us face at some point. Employers have been found speeding up the pace of production--with or without knowledge of the workers. As small business people we are almost forced to go faster to survive. Let's look at some examples, the consequences, and some possible solutions.

Imagine for a moment that you own a restaurant in the capital city of a small country where the pace of life is not quite as fast as in the more-developed world. You follow the tradition of closing for a couple hours after breakfast, after lunch, and all day Sunday. You make enough to pay the rent on the building you occupy and to provide your family with a modest living. For the sake of our demonstration we'll say that the rent on your space is $800 per month, and that your net profit after this and all other expenses is $1,000 per month--solidly middle class for the area.

Now imagine that a few foreigners come to town to live and to do business. They come from countries where speed is a given and life moves faster in every area. They see that there is an opportunity to make more money by opening on Sundays and by not closing during the day. Initially you aren't too worried about the competition because you make great food and those Sunday, mid-morning and mid-afternoon customers the new places serve might not have been your customers anyhow.

But that's not the end of the story. You see, because they choose to stay open longer hours and even on Sundays, they get more business. They get the customers who don't keep the usual hours--those who have to eat at three in the afternoon, for example. In addition to this, these owners are asking their employees to move faster, and are implementing other efficiencies to speed up sales. As a result these new restaurants of about the same size as yours are making a net profit of $2,800 per month.

Now, you might think this doesn't matter. After all, if you keep bringing in the same revenue as before, what difference does it make if a few restaurants make more money? You make enough, right?

Ah, but other owners are seeing the potential of implementing new hours and working harder and asking employees to work faster. Some of them want to also make more money, so they implement the new ideas. Again, you might think it doesn't matter. They do it their way and work their butts off, and you do it your way and still do okay, right?

Not so fast! As more potential business owners see that a restaurant can make that much in profits, there is a rush on real estate. $2,800 per month is more motivating than $800 per month, after all. Of course, with ever-more interest in the available space, rents go up. Before long a small space is renting for $2,000 per month.

What does that mean? Well, the extra $1,200 expense means that the "new-style restaurants might make only $1,600 in monthly profit. That's still a lot better than your restaurant, right? But what about your situation once your lease is up and the owner of the building raises your rent to $2,000? You might like to maintain your way of life and of doing business, but if nothing changes and you have $1,200 more per month in expenses, you'll be losing $400 every month--you were only making $800 before the new expense after all. You'll be bankrupt.

So you have a choice to make. Find a new business, get a job--probably for much less per month--or start speeding up the way you run your restaurant. Add hours, push your employees to move faster, look for every efficiency. Increase your speed of life.

Now some of you who are reading this will understand that this is a pattern which is happening all around us. If others are willing to work longer hours or rush more while working, and that has the potential to raise pay or profits, then it is tough for others to not follow their lead. This is true even as an employee. If a handful of employees on an assembly line are willing to work twice as fast as you to gain a small raise or promotion, their work pace will likely become the new standard.

Continues here: Part Two.

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Speed of Life