Speed vs. Tempo

A cheetah can run about 70 mph. A peregrine falcon can dive at about 250 mph. The South Californian mite moves at about 322 body lengths per second or an equivalent 1,300 mph. Clearly, they’re all really fast, but we can’t learn much from speed stats alone. If we want a metaphor, we have to understand tempo.

Tempo is the Italian word for time. It’s most commonly used in music to explain subdivisions, like “60 beats per minute” or how relatively fast (ex. Allegro) or slow (ex. Adagio) a piece of music should be performed. Miles per hour is a form of tempo, and if we think of our speedy animals as performers, we’d also consider how many steps the cheetah would take, how many flaps the falcon would require, and how many mitings the mite would mite (I’m lacking the technical terms here, forgive me, mite enthusiasts).

If we’re at a coffee shop, the time from when we order to when we receive our drinks is speed. The actual steps and fluidity of the process is tempo. Whenever we make a decision, communicate, and think about the movements of markets, it’s an exercise in studying tempo. Tempo is an insight into the experience, not just how fast it started and ended.

Tempo, with its degrees of variation, is a key component of context and experience. It can explain how others are moving relative to us. Think of a dance – you (usually) don’t want to dance fast when everyone else is slow dancing or vice versa. Looking for tempo is a way to look for how to align ourselves with others. Clients, coworkers, strangers in the checkout line – there is a pace to be aware of and hone in on if we want to connect.

Tempo can also be used to shake things up and change pace. When done unintentionally it’s like watching two out of step dance partners. When done with purpose, it can be like a DJ announcing a slow song or inviting everyone onto the dance floor with a banger. We see changes of tempo when the cheetah or the falcon catch their prey, when someone gets excited about an idea and starts to talk faster, or when a talented presenter changes the speed of the communication- Just. To. Make. A. Point.

Tempo is everywhere when we start looking for it. Speed is just a stat, tempo is the how and why that tells us, and the people we are trying to communicate with, more of the story.

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