Speed Dominates – Faster Speed Kills the Competition – We’re Competing in a “Flash Boys” World

First, watch this clip. from The West Wing — Bruno Gianelli and the President in an “argument.”  The script is just below the imbedded video.  (re. the message at the end of the clip, added by whoever uploaded the clip to YouTube.  The blog is not about that issue…)

Here’s the script:

The President with Bruno
The President with Bruno

BARTLET: I’ll decide when I’ve used them up. You don’t poll where my family goes, am I making myself clear?

BRUNO: Mh-huhmm . . . sometimes I have a difficulty talking to people who don’t race sailboats.


BRUNO: I have difficulty sometimes talking to people who don’t race sailboats. When I was a teenager, I crewed Larchmont to Nassau on a 58-foot sloop called Cantice. There was a little piece of kelp that was stuck to the hull, and even though it was little, you don’t want anything stuck to the hull. So, I take a boat hook on a pole and I stick it in the water and I try to get the kelp off, when seven guys start screaming at me, right? ‘Cause now the pole is causing more drag than the kelp was.

See, what you gotta do is you gotta drop it in and let the water lift it out in a windmill motion. Drop it in, and let the water take it by the kelp and lift it out. In and out. In and out, till you got it.

The voters aren’t choosing a plumber, Mr. President. They are choosing a president. And if you don’t think that your family should matter, my suggestion to you is to get out of professional politics. And if you think that I’m going to miss even one opportunity to pick up half-a-knot boat speed, you’re absolutely out of your mind. When it costs us nothing, when we give up nothing?! You’re out of your mind.


Have you ever gotten “trapped” behind a slow driver on the freeway. Someone who drives 45 in the middle lane? It’s enough to drive you crazy…

Why? Because, we want to go as fast as we possibly can. That’s the way it’s always been. Do you remember, back in high school, the boys wanted the fastest car?!

I remember the time I walked to lunch with the CEO of a large company. It was a four block walk, in downtown Dallas. I thought I could walk fast. It took all I had to keep up with him. He was simply the fastest walking human being I’ve ever been around. In a hurry! Even in a hurry for a “leisurely” lunch.

Think back to your computer dial-up days. Do you remember waiting for pages to load? We would wait, and wait, and wait… Today, we want high speed connection, and the moment a higher speed is available at a price we can afford (or, at least “justify” in our minds), we want it …now.

I could keep going. But here’s the point – speed dominates. Speed kills the competition. We want web pages to load…immediately. We want to drive in the fast lane. And we want no one, no thing, to slow us down.

And if you can deliver faster than the other guy, that provides an amazing competitive advantage.

And, sometimes, speed actually obliterates the competition. Think Amazon Prime’s two-day delivery. I order from no other web site, unless I just have to.

That is the message of the clip from The West Wing. Bruno Gianelli (Ron Silver) is explaining to President Bartlet that a tiny piece of kelp on a sail boat has to be removed, because it causes “drag,” and thus costs you speed.  Bruno:

…if you think that I’m going to miss even one opportunity to pick up half-a-knot boat speed, you’re absolutely out of your mind.

A split-second of speed is worth…everything. (The argument is about whether or not his political guy should have any say over where he vacations. It is a compelling clip). Underneath it is the reminder that speed matters.

flashboysAnd, of course, “speed dominates” is the real message behind the new book by Michael Lewis, Flash Boys. Being a tiny, tiny, tiny bit faster than the other guy can be worth a …fortune. And, it is worth paying a lot of money to get that tiny bit of speed advantage!

The key story in Flash Boys revolves around a very smart guy who figured out that if he could deliver a higher-speed connection – even a tiny bit faster than the other available connections – people would pay a fortune for the access. So, as it neared completion, the company starts lining up buyers. It was hard to explain. But the best quote of the book may be this one. One client grasped the implication, left the room to confer with his colleagues, and came back and:

The client returned with a single question: “Can you double the price?

“Can you double the price?” In other words, this is such an amazing advantage (remember – a split-split-second faster was all that was being promised) that he wanted to pay more, setting a price that would scare competitors away.

No matter what your business, once the customer wants your product or service, he often wants it now — right now; immediately!

Getting information before the other guy is invaluable. Finalizing a trade has to be done fast…faster than the other people trying to make that same trade.

Speed – we all need more of it. And, we all need to provide it faster than our competition.

Speed dominates – speed kills the competition – speed really matters!

And, it gets worse. The customer wants speed, but at no sacrifice of quality. “We want it high quality – very high quality. And we want it fast – really fast.”

Man, it’s a competitive world out there.


(I will present my synopsis of Flash Boys at the May 2 First Friday Book Synopsis. If you are in the Dallas area, come join us.  Register here).

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