that old hare and tortoise story
Once upon a time a tortoise and a hare had an argument about who
was faster. They decided to settle the argument with a race. They
agreed on a route and started off the race. The hare shot ahead and
ran briskly for some time. Then seeing that he was far ahead of the
tortoise, he thought he'd sit under a tree for some time and relax
before continuing the race. He sat under the tree and soon fell
asleep. The tortoise plodding on overtook him and soon finished the
race, emerging as the undisputed champ. The hare woke up and
realised that he'd lost the race. The moral of the story is that slow and
steady wins the race.
This is the version of the story that we've all grown up with.
But then recently, someone told me a more interesting version of
this story. It continues.
The hare was disappointed at losing the race and he did
some soul-searching. He realised that he'd lost the race only
because he had been overconfident, careless and lax. If he had
not taken things for granted, there's no way the tortoise could
have beaten him. So he challenged the tortoise to another race.
The tortoise agreed. This time, the hare went all out and ran without
stopping from start to finish. He won by several miles. The moral of
the story? Fast and consistent will always beat the slow and steady. If
you have two people in your organisation, one slow, methodical and
reliable, and the other fast and still reliable at what he does, the
fast and reliable chap will consistently climb the organisational
ladder faster than the slow, methodical chap.
It's good to be slow and steady; but it's better to be fast and reliable.
But the story doesn't end here.
The tortoise did some thinking this time, and realised that there's no
way he can beat the hare in a race the way it was currently
formatted. He thought for a while, and then challenged the hare to
another race, but on a slightly different route. The hare agreed.
They started off. In keeping with his self-made commitment to be
consistently fast, the hare took off
and ran at top speed until he came to a broad river. The finishing line
was a couple of kilometres on the other side of the river. The hare sat
there wondering what to do. In the meantime the tortoise trundled along,
got into the river, swam to the opposite bank, continued walking and
finished the race.
The moral of the story? First identify your core competency and then
change the playing field to suit your core competency. In an
organisation, if you are a good speaker, make sure you create
opportunities to give presentations that enable the senior management
to notice you. If your strength is analysis, make sure you do some
sort of research, make a report and send it upstairs. Working to your
strengths will not only get you noticed, but will also create
growth and advancement. The story still hasn't ended.
The hare and the tortoise, by this time, had become pretty good friends
and they did some thinking together. Both realised that the last
race could have been run much better. So they decided to do the last
race again, but to run as a team this time. They started off, and
this time the hare carried the tortoise till the riverbank. There, the
tortoise took over and swam across with the hare on his back. On the
opposite bank, the hare again carried the tortoise and they reached
the finishing line together. They both felt a greater sense of
satisfaction than they'd felt earlier.
The moral of the story? It's good to be individually brilliant and to
have strong core competencies; but unless you're able to work in a
team and harness each other's core competencies, you'll always
perform below par because there will always be situations at which
you'll do poorly and someone else does well. Teamwork is mainly
about situational leadership, letting the person with the relevant core
competency for a situation take leadership.
There are more lessons to be learnt from this story.
Note that neither the hare nor the tortoise gave up after failures.
The hare decided to work harder and put in more effort after his
failure. The tortoise changed his strategy because he was already
working as hard as he could. In life, when faced with failure,
sometimes it is appropriate to work harder and put in more effort.
Sometimes it is appropriate to change
strategy and try something different. And sometimes it is appropriate to
The hare and the tortoise also learnt another vital lesson. When we
stop competing against a rival and instead start competing
against the situation, we perform far better.
When Roberto Goizueta took over as CEO of Coca-Cola in the 1980s, he
was faced with intense competition from Pepsi that was eating into
Coke's growth. His executives were Pepsi-focussed and intent on
share 0.1 per cent a time. Goizueta decided to stop competing against
Pepsi and instead compete against the situation of 0.1 per cent growth.
He asked his executives what was the average fluid intake of an
American per day? The answer was 14 ounces. What was Coke's share
of that? Two ounces. Goizueta said Coke needed a larger share of that
market. The competition wasn't Pepsi. It was the water, tea, coffee,
milk and fruit juices that went into the remaining 12 ounces. The
public should reach for a Coke whenever they felt like drinking
something. To this end, Coke put up vending machines at every
street corner. Sales took a quantum jump and Pepsi has never quite
caught up since.
To sum up, the story of the hare and tortoise teaches us many things.
Chief among them are that fast and consistent will always beat
slow and steady; work to your competencies; pooling resources and
working as a team will always beat individual performers; never
give up when faced with failure; and finally, compete against the
situation - not against a rival.
"Take my hand, my child of love
Come step inside my tears
Swim the magic ocean,
I've been crying all these years"
"I liked the world where i used to live
I never really wanted to live"