OK first let’s start off with the ‘standard’ story and understand “Why the Tortoise Really Won the Race” and we will go into the ‘extended version’ of the story.
Why the Tortoise Really Won the Race
Most, if not all, people are already at least somewhat familiar with Aesop’s fable of ‘The Hare and the Tortoise’:
The Hare was once boasting of his speed before the other animals. “I have never yet been beaten,” said he, “when I put forth my full speed. I challenge any one here to race with me.”
The Tortoise said quietly, “I accept your challenge.”
“That is a good joke,” said the Hare; “I could dance round you all the way.”
“Keep your boasting till you’ve beaten,” answered the Tortoise. “Shall we race?”
So a course was fixed and a start was made. The Hare darted almost out of sight at once, but soon stopped and, to show his contempt for the Tortoise, lay down to have a nap. The Tortoise plodded on and plodded on, and when the Hare awoke from his nap, he saw the Tortoise just near the winning-post and could not run up in time to save the race.
Then said the Tortoise: “Plodding wins the race.”
Now, if the tortoise is to be believed, she won the race because she “plodded”. But people who are successful rarely understand the true cause of their success.
While it may be true that the tortoise did indeed “plod” (which literally means “to proceed in a tediously slow manner”), she also did a few other things that may well have contributed more to her victory than she realized…
1. She was well rested
In the recovery movement, there is an acronym called H.A.L.T., which stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. The idea is that when you notice yourself experiencing hunger, anger, loneliness, or fatigue, you should “halt” what you’re doing and focus on taking care of yourself.
Otherwise, you will tend to give in to temptation and make poor choices in an unconscious attempt to meet your needs in the moment instead of making those choices which support living the life of your dreams. Once you’ve taken the time to take care of yourself (i.e. you’ve eaten, rested, connected with others, and got yourself back to some semblance of equanimity), you can move forward confident that your inner guidance system can once again be trusted. While Aesop never tells us what the hare was up to the night before the big race, it’s clear that he didn’t get enough sleep to fully recharge his batteries and be at his best.
2. She stayed focused on her goal, not her “self”
One of the unspoken truths of success is that it’s considerably easier to achieve when it not about you. That is, staying the course or reaching your goal is best done by actually focusing on the goal, not on what it would mean about you to succeed or fail.
It’s easier to just win a race than it is to win a race in order to prove he was the fastest animal in the world.
‘Self-esteem’ is just a story we tell ourselves about our value and worth in the world being dependent on our performance. In fact, your value and worth in the world are a given, and have nothing to do with what you do or do not do with your life. They are your birthright, and no amount of success or failure in life will make you any more or less worthy of love and respect.
3. She kept on going until the race was done
I don’t know if the tortoise actually believed she could win the race when she started out, but somehow she knew to focus on what was within her control – bringing a disciplined approach to the race and keeping her feet moving until the finish line was crossed.
Although I was born too late to ever watch him play, I used to delight in stories about the tough mindedness and will to win of Detroit Lions quarterback Bobby Layne. Perhaps my favorite quote about him came from his college teammate Doak Walker, who said “Bobby never lost a game – sometimes, he just ran out of time.”
While some might point to the hare’s last ditch effort to cross the finish line first as showing ‘determination’ , I would say it was just a desperate attempt to stave off the embarrassment of losing a foot race to a tortoise.
Perhaps he would have done well to heed this quote from David Campbell:
Now, there is a new / extended version of this story with a new twist. Read this inspirational teamwork story with lessons in teamwork from an age old fable.
1. 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. The tortoise and hare both 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.
2. But then recently, someone told me a more interesting version of this tortoise and hare 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.
3. 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. The tortoise and hare 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 opportunities for growth and advancement.
The story still hasn’t ended.
4. The tortoise and hare, 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 the tortoise and hare 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. Both the tortoise and hare 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 inspirational teamwork story.
Note that neither the tortoise and hare 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 do both.
The tortoise and hare also learnt another vital lesson in teamwork. 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 increasing market 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.
I hope you like this story, and most important of all, Never Give Up!
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- Quote: "Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be."