The Practice Of Slowness

Slowing down has become a life goal for many, but also a goal that's easier said than done. Crowd DNA New York's Kara Tullman takes a long, patient look at how people are tuning into slowness, and what the outcomes are of this change in pace...

It’s no secret that there has been a rising fascination with slow culture over the last few years. Whether it be through slow food, Scandinavian ‘hygge’ culture, or the language around mindfulness, there is an evolving trend of managing a fast external world by turning inward and winding down. The benefits of a slower pace have been confirmed by health practitioners. Just take a look at the Blue Zones, where a slower pace of life is correlated with greater life expectancy.

But slowing down is easier said than done. And while people might talk the slow talk, do they walk the slow walk? 

We wanted to take a closer look at different techniques people use to integrate slowness into their lives, unpacking the ‘aha moments’ that occur as a result. Ultimately we want to consider how we can apply these learnings to our own research practices, in an industry that is, by necessity, often fast-paced. 

Let’s meet three individuals that regularly employ slow practices.

Jordan – Baking

Jordan is a New York-based millennial copywriter who (like many) found a love for baking during the pandemic, something she has continued to integrate into her life. She now bakes at least once a week and has found enjoyment in an activity in which she previously had no interest. Baking offers Jordan light stimulation where her hands are in use and her mind has space to be self-reflective. Some of her best ideas come while baking. “I feel like I have really positive phone conversations with people during or after baking because I’m still sort of in that self-reflective mentality.”

Mark – Box Breathing

Mark is an American Wall Street veteran and decorated author who practices what he calls  ‘check-ins with humanity.’ Each morning he carves out time to do a four-part breathing exercise called box breathing and check in with his body. Throughout the day when business speeds up around him, he takes a moment to slow down his internal pace and box breathe, and he’ll finish the day off with another round of it in the evening. Mark says that these moments of slowness allow him to sharpen his focus and quiet the noise around him, increasing his overall ability to achieve his daily goals.

Per – Fika

Per is a born and bred Swede who partakes in the daily ritual of fika, a collective and somewhat obligatory break for coffee and cake. “Fika is a tradition, it’s always been there. When my parents grew up, they had three collective coffee breaks during the day. It’s something that is imprinted in our culture.”  Without a formal invitation or announcement, Swedes know that there is a co-worker waiting to socialise during fika time. In addition to partaking in daily fika breaks, Per opts to make his coffee with a traditional coffee thermos, a less convenient and slower process than a modern coffee machine.

 

What are the common themes?

1. Purpose

Intentional slowness provides a directed sense of purpose. Whether it be connecting to rooted culture through traditional rituals or producing a physical product through a labour of love, these intentional slow practices induce a feeling of personal productivity and accomplishment that can be lost when things are moving quickly.

2. Permission

In each of the examples above, there is a carved block of time where the guest has given themselves permission to be slow. Jordan says of baking, “there’s no real way to rush it; you can’t speed it up or the thing won’t bake.” This regulated time for slowness opens space for self-reflection and creativity. A permissive break away from a task-based mindset sparks free-flowing thought and conversation. 

3. Prescription

Following the bullet above, intentionally slow rituals often have prescriptive rules that promote a singular focus. There is a clear starting and stopping point that bookends the slowness; measurements and time windows for baking, four counts for box breathing, and an implicit 3PM coffee and cake are rules that provide order and predictability in contrast to a rather messy day. 

4. Physical Shift

Lastly and most concretely, there is a change of space that prefaces these slow rituals, signalling to the body that it is time for a shift. Jordan sets up her kitchen to set the mood with a lit candle and French jazz, while Mark moves to a quiet space better suited for box-breathing. Per mentions the relaxed social environment of daily fika builds more intimate relationships with coworkers and makes it easier to approach them about work topics later on. Adjusting their environment induces positive realisations from a place of comfort.

 

How About Slow Research? 

 

The goal of our work as cultural strategists and researchers is to uncover insights and ‘aha’ moments for our clients. However, this can be quite challenging with the quick timelines of short-term ethnography. Even on longer-term trends projects, insights tend to be dictated by the continuous change of fast culture. What would it be to use the principles of intentional slowness to aid in our own ethnographic practices? 

1. Between project handoffs and redirection, cultural strategists can often lose sight of a project objective. Taking a moment to recognize purpose throughout the project lifecycle can help with motivation and guidance internally, while also focusing clients and participants.

2. The above study reiterates the value of ‘go-alongs’ or activity-centred ethnography. When participants focus on a singular and slow moving task, they have greater available mental space for reflection and creativity that helps us unpack deeper findings.

3. The benefits of slow practices prompts the question: can we as strategists be more intentional about fieldwork design? Perhaps including a slow activity in task assignments and asking for a video diary can help capture that natural and relaxed state.

4Physical shifts of slow practices place emphasis on the importance of meeting participants in comfortable environments for more free-flowing and natural conversation. It also reiterates the value of meeting clients and coworkers in new environments to prompt fresh ideas.

Realistically in an industry where cultural changes move at lightning speed, we won’t have time to fully immerse ourselves in the lives of participants. However, taking learnings from slow practices can help us better perform our research (and perhaps help us slow down in our personal lives as well.)