The business world was thrown into a tizzy in 2009 when Gmail and Google's news site were reported as "sluggish" for "about an hour." The BBC swiftly cited pundits proclaiming that the temporarily slow Google was "bad news for Google's efforts to build up Apps, and to a less extent, Gmail, as critical business tools. If the mighty Google can stumble, then who can be trusted?"

Erm — since when did an hour's outage of anything, except maybe oxygen, become a major issue? It's time we slow the heck down, people.

At our agency, The Change, we were doing well, despite the recession. Poised to enter another stage of growth — presumably just what every business wants — when we said, "woah, slooow down" — and we did the opposite. We stepped back to a core team, adopted a worker-ownership structure, and began talking about ways to make our lives, both the work and personal dimensions, richer and more enjoyable. (This wasn't all peaches and cream. "Stepping back to a core team" meant we had to let people go. Something that's never easy.)

We don't think this is about loving work less — it's about loving it more. Taking the time to focus on projects, enjoy our relationships with our clients and our vendors and each other. Just as the slow food movement is all about really getting into food and the community it engenders, we think we need a slow business movement that's about the quality of work and the experience of doing it — as opposed to the alternative — namely the tendency to turn work into an ever-escalating arms race of longer hours, quicker email responses, and an obligation to be checking your Blackberry at your kid's birthday party. (The rush that is destroying the fabric of our social and family lives is the very same push for growth that's put the Earth on the brink of life support.)

Slow food, slow money, slow travel, slow business?

So as the slow food movement fights to bring back real food, real tradition, real flavor and real pleasure. As the slow travel movement aims to reclaim the concept of the journey being as important as the destination. As slow money advocates argue that relationships and consequences are as important as rates of return. We feel we need a slow business movement to put the soul back into our work lives too.

On behalf of life, love and the pursuit of happiness, (and the planet too!) we propose this slow business manifesto.

What is slow business?

  • Who you are matters. Work should be a meaningful expression of individuals. And any job description that doesn't allow this should be rewritten.
  • The rest of your life matters. When people bring their Blackberries everywhere and work until 10 p.m., it creates the sense that work is the most important aspect of our lives. When you slow down, you enable others to do the same.
  • Relationships matter. Being businesslike doesn't mean being less human. Let's acknowledge work is a part of life and start savoring the opportunities we have to develop real friendships (beyond small talk).
  • Joy matters. We're supposed to be evolving. Why should any humans be expected to spend large amounts of time not enjoying themselves?
  • Love matters (i.e., let's stop letting money drive our experiences as human beings). Work is more than a means to an end — it is part of how we relate to our lives. That's why it means something to buy a hammer at a neighborhood hardware store that's staffed by people who love fixing things. The only reason businesses that don't create their own products or provide their services with love survive is by being cheaper.
  • The planet matters. It's absurd that people acknowledge environmental threats like global warming as being real, then oppose remedies to fix them as being "too expensive." What the heck are we going to do with all our money come Armageddon?

What slow business is not:

  • It's not an excuse for shoddy service, poor quality or slackness — in fact, it's exactly the opposite. Just as slow food is better food, slow business should be better business.
  • It's not a quick fix. It's a massive cultural shift and each of us has power to shift the paradigm. Let's not shy away from making life better simply because it will take a while.
  • It's not a refuge for people who don't like their jobs. It's about refusing to merely go through the motions. It's ultimately about being able to apply your full humanity to whatever it is you do.
  • It's not even necessarily slow. Lightning fast street food fits perfectly into the slow food movement, whether it's a sandwich, a deep fried pakora, or even a decent burger. Likewise speedy, efficient and spontaneous work can fit with slow business. It's not speed we are fighting. It's speed-at-the-cost-of-quality (be that quality of life, quality of work or quality of pleasure) that we are mobilizing against.
Is this elitist? Something that works only for nifty creative jobs like ours? No. At the moment, we're writing this post at Johnny's, a neighborhood "convenience" store that also happens to have chickens running around and a growing watermelon patch — everyone here knows the cashiers not only name but also by their personalities and passions (whether it be music, mountain biking or their kids).

The only reason a job flipping burgers has to be dehumanizing is because a business has put profits ahead of humanity — which is exactly what our world has been doing for the last 100 years. Now it's time to slow down and shift directions.

This story was originally written for TreeHugger. Copyright 2009.

Slow business: A manifesto for reclaiming our lives
Business as usual is destroying our lives and the environment.