There’s a great James Joyce story about the people of Beaugency who make a deal with the devil to get a bridge built across the Loire. Of course, a clever person gets them out of the horrific consequences of the arrangement – at the end, there’s a splutteringly angry devil (who apparently speaks bad French with a Dublin accent), a soaking wet cat… and a lovely sturdy stone bridge.
What makes these types of deal-with-the-devil stories so enduring? I think a huge – but overlooked – part of the appeal isn’t just the deceptively low cost, but also the sheer speed of execution. Get it done in one night, rather than undertaking a long dragged-out project which saps your will to live… (If you’ve ever lived through a big IT implementation, whether as a project manager or a decreasingly-patient user, you know exactly what I’m talking about.)
In real life, most things take time. And it’s tempting to take shortcuts. Marketing that uses the word “turnkey” takes advantage of this temptation (although in my experience there’s a lot of work required to get you to the point where you’re a good candidate for any kind of so-called turnkey solution).
The devil is in the details. You really have to get to know the devil to get the details right. And, if you take a bit more time, you also get a chance to build your learnings into the process – if the devil builds the bridge in the wrong place, well, it’s not like the process had time to be consultative, right?
People I admire who are building sustainable businesses and enduring brands tend to be great at knowing what they can fast-track and what has to go more slowly. It’s one of the less-understood arts of business. It requires judgement, and experience, and a clear set of values, to understand what’s really important. It means we have to take time to think, and to protect hard-won gains, while still moving fast enough to take advantage of opportunities that arise quickly.
I’m in the process of building a few bridges myself, and of course I want to be on the other side of the river already, so I need to remember what to be patient about.
But also, when things take time, there’s no time like the present to get started.
If you’d like to discuss how you can build some bridges without making deals with the devil, please get in touch.
Photo of France Loiret Beaugency Pont sur la Loire taken by Patrick Giraud, used under Creative Commons license via Wikimedia.