Understanding Speed and Velocity: Saying “NO” to the Non-Essential

by Ron Potter

Shane Parrish said in one of his blogs “It’s tempting to think that in order to be a valuable team player, you should say “yes” to every request and task that is asked of you. People who say yes to everything have a lot of speed. They’re always doing stuff but never getting anything done. Why? Because they don’t think in terms of velocity.”

Speed vs Velocity

I learned the difference between these two elements in engineering school.  Most people don’t know the difference between the two and use them interchangeably.  I admit that in most cases, it doesn’t really matter that people use them incorrectly.  But I believe that part of great leadership is saying what you mean and meaning what you say.  You can’t do that if you’re using words incorrectly.  People understand different words differently and it’s important to clarify what you’re saying.


Speed is a scalar measurement.  It tells us how far we’ve traveled in what amount of time.  It is distance divided by time.  Our roads have “speed” signs along the way.  Our state increased the speed on rural interstate highways from 70 miles per hour (mph) to 75 mph.  This means that I can cover more miles in the same amount of time.  My speed increases.

But speed doesn’t indicate direction.  I may merge onto the interstate and increase my speed to 75 mph.  I’ll be making good time.  But if I entered into the northbound side of the divided highway and my intended destination is to the south of my starting point, my speed is meaningless.  I may drive for an hour at 75 mph but at the end of that hour, I will be further from my desired destination than when I started.  It doesn’t have much value to go fast if you’re headed in the wrong direction!


Velocity, on the other hand, is a vector measurement.  It includes direction.  Going 75 mph to the north is the same speed as 75 mph to the south but has very different velocities and very different destinations.  Just going fast doesn’t necessarily get you to your desired destination.  In fact, you may have a faster speed but take longer to your destination if you have the wrong velocity.

Saying No

The title of this blog indicates that you must say no to the non-essentials.  If you don’t, you’re just going fast!

There must be a purpose or a destination in mind to achieve the greatest velocity.

Some people just can’t say “no.”   Even when they say yes to non-essentials.  They’re just going fast.  This leads to burnout, stress, health issues, and missed targets.  Without a clear destination, there’s no value in going fast.  It’s just that some people feel that if they’re going fast then they’re more valuable.  Wrong!

Successful People say No

I’ll close this blog with a quote from Shane Parrish’s blog:

The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.
– Warren Buffett

If I were to rank the CEO’s I’ve worked with through the years, the one at the top of my list (best CEO) said ‘No’ more than all the others.  There is a tremendous demand for the time of the CEO.  And the demands are almost all worthwhile.  But the best CEO I ever worked with made it very clear the three things they were focused on in any given year.  When a demand arose that required them to spend time on something other than the three things that were the focus for the year, they immediately said ‘No’ and recruited someone else to accomplish the task.  It’s usually ego that drives them to spend their time on the non-essentials.  Good CEO’s overcome the ego.

Increase Your Velocity

Three things are listed in the blog that will help increase velocity

  1. Ruthlessly shave away the unnecessary tasks, priorities, meetings, and BS.  See the paragraph above to help with this item.
  2. Don’t rely on your willpower to say no; instead, create systems that help you fend off the distractions.
    I think this is a really good suggestion.  Just believing you have the willpower to say no when the time comes will fail.  Rely on a visible system (to you and others) to put demands in the ‘no’ category.
  3. Say “no” to your boss.  This may be the most difficult one for most people.  But, if you have a good boss, you will be respected for saying ‘no’ based on your system.  If you are not respected for saying ‘no’ for the right reasons, look for another job (boss).

If you’re all about speed, you’ll simply experience burnout.  Velocity indicates you have a meaningful destination.  Velocity will lead to success and satisfaction.

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