Discover more from Below the Surface
Dive 48: The Cost of Speed
Hey, it’s Alvin!
When I was a kid, I’d sometimes watch the cooking channel on TV. There were chefs on TV who would teach people at home how to cook quick, simple meals at home by following along.
I remember one chef making a meal with sweet corn. He steamed a few ears of corn and let them cool a bit. Then, he took an ear of corn, put it in a big glass bowl with a flat bottom, and stood the corn vertically, holding it in place with his left hand. In his right hand was a knife that he used to slice through a few rows of corn at a time to shave them off the cob. An entire ear of corn can be shaved clean in 30 seconds with a sharp knife.
Judging by online search results, this still seems to be a popular way to remove corn from a cob. I get it. It’s fast. It saves time. But even as a kid, I couldn’t help but think to myself,
“That’s kinda dumb.”
Why? Because, while more efficient, this method destroys the integrity of the corn kernels. When the corn is steamed, the starch in each kernel hydrolyzes—turning into water and glucose—sugar water. When you cut through the kernels, all that sweet flavour inside the kernels leaches out. And you’re left with something mushy and bland. Canned corn has the same problem.
How do I know this? Because when my mother made corn dishes at home, she would often buy sweet corn cobs. After steaming them, she’d let them cool. Then, using just her hands, and sometimes with the help of a knife, she would gently wedge the kernels off the cob one row at a time, keeping the kernels intact.
The first row is the hardest because the rows are tight. That’s where a knife can be handy. Once you clear the first row, you can gently push the kernels in the next row towards the empty row to remove them.
This technique is slower and takes more effort, but the corn kernels stay intact. So, when it’s cooled down a bit, and you bite into it, each kernel pops in your mouth with a burst of sweet corn flavour. It’s fun to bite down and pop those corn kernels. And you’ll never get those flavour bursts with shaved or canned corn.
What got me thinking about corn preparation, beyond my dinner last night, was the realization that we live in a time obsessed with speed. And it seems like people are always frantic, looking for ways to do more in less time.
Some of the most talented software developers I ever worked with worry about efficiency all the time. Some use specific operating systems to customize their entire computing experience, so they don’t have to use the mouse. Because moving their hand off the keyboard to move a cursor takes precious seconds. They don’t want to waste time doing that.
They also LOVE keyboard shortcuts because they want to type less. Because typing more than necessary is a waste of time. Maybe voice-to-text will advance so much, typing won’t be necessary anymore. Then, we’ll have to limit how many words to speak.
No disrespect to any of them. In fact, I love them. Watching them work is fascinating, and they’re successful in what they do. But it really got me wondering…
Does it have to be this way?
Is life just about cramming as many tasks as you can into it before it ends?
This isn’t just a philosophical question. I know people who have taken on so many projects, they’re stressed. They desperately want to tackle more projects, but can’t find the time for them.
I’d hate to be in that position.
In fact, I believe squeezing more stuff into life is a losing battle. In a way, it’s an addiction. Because, if you think about it, shoving more projects into a packed schedule is no different from a hoarder shoving more things into a packed house. The difference is that sometimes hoarding is seen as a disorder.
I get it. Time is precious. We want to make the most of it. But consider quality over quantity.
I believe in living a meaningful life. One I can look back and remember fondly. But meaning can only be developed by devoting more time to fewer things.
The most meaningful relationships I have are the ones I spent the most time on over the years. Why? Because it takes time to bond to open up to one another. By opening up to others, we give way to vulnerability, which develops closeness.
The most meaningful projects were the ones I spent the most time on, too. Why? Because it takes time to encounter challenges, then overcome them. It also takes time to build things, especially things that last.
On the other extreme, there are people who watch three videos on one screen at the same time and can’t remember a single thing they watched.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said it best in The Little Prince. In one scene, the Little Prince describes the difference between the bunch of roses in front of him, and his one-and-only rose back home—the one he devoted time to tame:
“You’re beautiful, but you’re empty… One couldn’t die for you. Of course, an ordinary passerby would think my rose looked just like you. But my rose, all on her own, is more important than all of you together, since she’s the one I’ve watered. Since she’s the one I put under glass, since she’s the one I sheltered behind the screen. Since she’s the one for whom I killed the caterpillars (except the two or three butterflies). Since she’s the one I listened to when she complained, or when she boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing at all. Since she’s my rose.”
The key to a meaningful life is not to move faster, so we can pack as much as we can into it.
The secret is to focus on the few things in life that matter most to you.
And learning to say “no” to everything else.
Even Warren Buffett said, “the difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”
I could do much more than just my newsletter and my visuals. But I chose not to. Now, I can give more attention to what’s in front of me. I have fewer distractions, so I’m more present. I can develop deeper, meaningful relationships with people. And I can finally slow down (enough) to smell the roses. And so can you.
Life is like a kernel of corn. If you cut through it, you lose all the flavour.
I hope you enjoyed this dive Below the Surface of the hidden cost of speed. Reply to email@example.com if you have questions or comments. I’d love to hear from you.
Thank you for reading. Smell those roses. And I’ll see you in the next one.