Dec 22, 2023 5 min read

Permission to Go Slow

The Slow Lane gives the permission to go slow and sparks ideas and emotions, that go to the heart of why I wrote The Slow Lane.

Permission to Go Slow

Over the past months, The Slow Lane opened up conversations with people around the world. Often, these were deeply emotional, as people who wanted to see real change felt that the Slow Lane Principles gave them permission to go slow. These feelings go to the heart of why I wrote The Slow Lane.

The Tragedy of Being Stuck In The Slow Lane

“I have been stuck in the Slow Lane my entire life, wanting to get into the Fast Lane.” But whenever she tried, Karina told me, it felt like she was being pushed off the Fast Lane wagon as soon as she got a foothold. Karina is a powerhouse of a leader who creates change in the world of local government. And since Karina is blind, in a world that is unwilling to slow down, she has never been allowed to participate in her fullest potential and fulfil her dreams.

Karina's was a particularly powerful voice of the human potential a Fast Lane world casts aside. Unless we organize our world at the speed of trust and inclusion, we leave behind people like Karina who are fully energized and capable of contributing. Slowing down here means that we live and operate in a way that makes Karina feel invited and capable to truly participate.

The Tragedy of Wanting To Be Fast

At times, our conversations about The Slow Lane released emotions that seemed buried under the discipline and hopeful optimism of leaders who try to bring about real change. First, there is a general relaxation in the bodies of participants in these conversations. The Slow Lane, they would tell me, gives them permission to slow down. It is almost like they know, deep down inside, that change cannot be forced. Holding the urgency can be, I learned over and over, the most painful of the Slow Lane Principles.

And as we talked about how my research had shown that real change takes at least forty years, that in fact it will take the time it takes, it shook up a desperate hope that things could be alright tomorrow, if only we pushed hard enough. There were a lot of tears in the room, tears released when a desperate hope turned into a deep realization that we are in it for the long haul. That it is beyond their power to solve the tragic injustices we witness and that tear their hearts apart — like child or human rights abuse, poverty or discrimination. Tears that came from a place of feeling powerless to start with, turned into tears of relief. The insights, they found, gave them permission to go slow in a world where their own humanity, the tragedy around us, the funders who support them all seem to demand quick fixes, the promise that tomorrow all could be well.

Make 2024 The Year To Give Yourself Permission to Slow Down

Here is a fun fact, a comical twist of personal history: The outline for the book I was originally going to write was (I kid you not!) “The Quick Fix”. What stopped me from doing it? My body. Something deep inside of me resisted writing it, my hands refused to engage the keyboard beyond the outline. I think that what I felt then was how I could no longer pretend that quick would be an answer. However much I wanted it to, and however much I believed that it was needed for others to respect and care for me, I couldn't continue going against a truth I had known all along. Giving myself permission from then on to accept slowness unlocked so much potential. Suddenly, I could make sense not just of things that led to change faster, but of the experiences I had that led to meaningful, real change.

You may be reading this as a parent, as a mayor, as a business or global leader, a social entrepreneur, a volunteer, or an activist. Give yourself permission to go slow and don't be afraid if it touches something that hurts at first. Something that may feel like a loss, as acceptance always does. In her beautiful Stanford Social Innovation Review article “Exiting the Fast Lane” IMD Professor Sophie Bacq zeroes in on the joy we can unlock by embracing slowness. She writes:

Social transformation takes time, and joy fuels the patience and perseverance required to realize lasting change. ... As Nobel Prize laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama write in their 2016 work The Book of Joy, the secret to finding happiness and spreading peace in a fast-paced and challenging world is joy.

The Slow Lane Ideas Are Shared

Speaking of joy, the five months since publishing The Slow Lane have been full of incredible conversations. At Bloomberg CityLab in Washington, D.C. in October, I discussed the ideas in the book with city leaders from around the world who are leading real change from within complex bureaucracies. Their bodies, too, relaxed and engaged both technically and emotionally with how we can create governments that create pathways for truly everyone to participate in real change. Asked, on the main stage, what the future of innovation in cities might hold, we agreed that in ten years time city governments should provide a pathway for truly everyone to contribute to change on even complex issues.

The Slow Lane for creative procurement in South African cities, with the World Bank team.

Also in D.C., my wonderful friends at the Open Contracting Partnership hosted a conversation about how the Slow Lane Principles can be applied to the world of government procurement, one of the Zombie systems I unpack in the book. It was a delightful conversation that reframed the role of government from provide of services to passively consuming citizens to an enabler of true participation. A conversation that we continued in South Africa, on mission with my amazing World Bank team, we met decision-makers from the Treasure and City governments to look into using creative procurement for greater equity, transparency, and impact.

And in Cascais, Portugal, at the Annual Urban Cleanliness Summit, leaders of urban services wanted to talk about how The Slow Lane Principles could help transform the role of low-wage frontline waste workers in communities. Could we not unlock their true potential by creating pathways for them to engage communities to reduce waste and create clean and joyful urban spaces for all?

My colleagues at Ashoka in South Africa, Switzerland and Portugal brought together their communities of social entrepreneurs, partners, and supporters to talk about The Slow Lane in what became deep and human conversations about the permission to go slow. And to celebrate the upcoming German edition of The Slow Lane, to be published by Redline in February 2024, my co-conspirators Judit Costa and Katharina Hinze wrote a beautiful foreword that highlights how deeply the Slow Lane resonates with the ideas and experiences that underpin the work of Ashoka around the world.

These are just a few highlights. For me, they show how much hope, demand, and desire there is for us to create a world in which truly everyone feels invited, and capable, to contribute to change.

Thank you, for joining us!

P.s. Photos of pets in The Slow Lane were sent by many readers, like my colleague Shalini. You don't need to look far, to give yourself permission...

Sascha Haselmayer
Sascha Haselmayer
I am a social entrepreneur and author. I also work for Ashoka, where I help realize our vision of a world in which everyone feels invited and capable of making a contribution.
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