The Laws of Physics and Traffic

Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Crimes to the Third Degree.

There’s an old joke about the cop who pulls the guy over for running a stop sign. The guy explains that no one was coming, so he just slowed down and looked both ways before rolling on through the intersection.

Flying by Night

“What’s the difference in slowing down and stopping?” the guy asks the cop.

In answer, the cop pulls out a club and begins to hit the guy over the head —slowly. Again and again and again.

The man cries out for him to stop, to which the cop replies, “Do you want me to stop or to slow down?”

I have the opposite problem. I don’t want to do either. Though I usually do stop for traffic signs.

When I don’t know how to do something but have an idea for a solution, I rush to research it, to find out everything I can so I can go do something.

If it’s already in my area of expertise, I jump right into it. That’s been my trademark throughout my career— “Want to knock it out quickly? Then call Lorna.”

If I don’t know exactly how to do it but know a few steps, I’ll jump on out there and get started, learning more as I go and adding features as I get to them.
Why? Because if I wait until everything is perfect, it will never happen.

I need that strong sense of forward motion. Sometimes, I have to make a course correction or, though I rarely have to back up, I might have to navigate sideways for a bit. But I’m moving forward, even if it’s sometimes forward doing a U-turn or going in a circle. I’m not stagnant. Being stagnant isn’t really stagnant either, but rather, the same as moving backward if you’re not moving forward because time does move forward in our linear world.

But at least I’m doing something.

Last week, I was invited to strategize with a new team at work. I love strategy sessions! I threw out a few ideas and the team got excited. Several of us had experience in the areas needed and those who didn’t were eager to learn something new. We were excited and couldn’t wait to go get the job done!

The meeting was a raging success until the last few minutes when, after 3 days of strategizing and laying out a plan of action, the one missing team member deigned to show up…just in time for the summary and the last rah-rahs before we sprinted off to make miracles happen.

“Let’s just slow down a bit,” she said. She talked about what a great idea this project was and how it was desperately needed, then went on to question whether we’d thought things through. Did we have all the research? Did anyone—she didn’t—have experience with this? Okay, that’s great but more people should be experienced with this. Maybe we could just table the whole project for the next three months and study some possible solutions.

“Let me just play devil’s advocate here,” she said, to which I murmured, “Why play devil’s advocate when you are the devil’s advocate?”

Then she went to the dry-erase board and started a list of dozens of things that might go wrong, while I grated out something about not putting the moon crashing into the earth on the list so it was therefore incomplete. Every negative scenario had already been covered in our strategy session, but she didn’t want to hear it. We had examined the risks inherent in the project and found ways to mitigate every one, though she disagreed with our assessment.

Exasperated, she finally said, “I’m not telling you to stop the project, but you just need to slow way down and think this through some more before you take any action. And then I’ll sign off on it.”

That project will die. Just like the last 3 projects she’s headed up that never went anywhere because she never let anyone take the first step to get the job done. Not even the first step!

She’s not alone. I’ve heard that insistence—”Let’s just slow down”—a number of times in my life, and almost always, it translates into “Stop!” I think back on so many wonderful projects—a new writing related one in the past few days—where I heard someone say, “Let’s just slow down,” and the project never went any farther. In fact, I can’t think of a time when I’ve heard that phrase that the project ever, ever moved forward, no matter how much it was wanted or needed by the other parties involved, and sometimes by the speaker himself. All it took was one person to kill all the momentum and it was never regained.

Objects in motion, momentum, friction, resistance, inertia. Torqued!

So what’s the difference in stopping and slowing down? A lot. But only if you’re in traffic court.