Hey Aesop, you messed up in your fable mate. Your story about the tortoise and the hare does not make any sense. I will explain how the tortoise made bigger mistakes than the hare.
You have heard the story about the tortoise and the hare. The story provides a good lesson on avoiding over-confidence and practicing persistence. However, the story makes a blatant error in making a hero out of the tortoise. The concept of tortoise winning due to persistence is flawed in many ways.
Yeah, yeah, I understand that the story is from the awesome set of Aesop’s fables. But the story also has a big hole. What is wrong is wrong. Just because the story is famous does not make every little aspect of the story right.
- The story of the tortoise and the hare:
- The flaws with the story of the tortoise and the hare:
- What should you learn from the story?
The story of the tortoise and the hare:
In case you have not heard the story, let me do a quick walkthrough.
A long time ago, an arrogant hare used to repeatedly tease a tortoise for being the slowest. He loved to boast about his speed.
Fed up with the comments, the tortoise challenges the hare to a race. What was the tortoise thinking? I have no clue, ask Aesop.
If the lesson was to stay away from over-confidence, what do you call a tortoise challenging a hare for a race?
Anyway, during the race, the hare noticed the tortoise far behind, got overconfident and decided to take a nap. When he woke up, the tortoise had won the race.
The flaws with the story of the tortoise and the hare:
I agree that the hare made a mistake due to his over-confidence. The fable does a good job of pointing out the blunder the hare made and helps us learn from it.
At the same time, the fable does a horrendous mistake of making the tortoise a role model. If you ask me, the tortoise made even more mistakes than the hare.
You already know the mistakes of the hare but I present the lessons for us from the flaws of the tortoise which everyone failed to see.
1. Do not challenge based on emotions
Let’s be realistic. In the real world, the hare could have stopped at a bar, had a few drinks, gone to a restaurant for lunch, taken a nap, woken up and still won.
It was plain stupid on the part of the tortoise to challenge the hare for a race because he was ridiculed. Ok, he won in Aesop’s fable but had he done that in real life, he would have faced more mockery after the race.
I do not mean to say that you must not stand up to yourself when people look down upon you. But making a heroic attempt when you are driven by emotions only causes more damage than good.
When your emotions run high, your good sense of judgment runs low. Take a deep breath and relax. Think with a calm head on how to defeat your opponent the smart way.
2. Don’t pick a battle which you’re sure to lose
Would you challenge a 300 pound 6 footer muscle monster to a physical fight because he made a joke about your chicken legs? I don’t think so.
If I did, you would ask me, “Are you out of your mind?” But when the tortoise challenges the hare to a running race, no one bats an eyelid.
You might argue that the movies make heroes out of those who pick a battle they are sure to lose. Do you know why that works?
Because there always exists another underlying reason outside the hero’s own interest to pick the battle. The hero takes up the challenge because he cares for something larger than himself outside the battle. There is a meaning in the loss too.
For example, Hector accepts Achilles’ challenge in Troy even though he knows it means certain death because warriors value courage over death. Not accepting the challenge would mean living a life of shame which in their book is worse than death.
Though he dies, he goes down as an inspiration for his family and kingdom, which is exactly what he wanted.
Whom would the hare inspire by losing a race? For what other reason does the tortoise attempt the race? Nothing that I can think of. Stating that the tortoise would feel good after trying does not suffice.
In life, only pick battles that you have a chance of winning. At least a small chance. The only case you should make an exception is when losing serves the better good for you or somebody else.
3. Don’t rely on the mistakes of others to win
In this story, the tortoise knows that his only shot at victory is if the hare goofs up big time. If his opponent does not make a major mistake, he will lose the race.
Yet, what does the tortoise do? He goes for it. He somehow foresees the future that the hare will make a mistake.
Do not expect your opponent to make a mistake and throw the trophy into your lap. It might work on a rare occasion with an opponent as dumb as a dodo.
Any rival with some common sense won’t give you that victory. Especially when he knows that it is your only shot at triumph.
If you wait for a mistake without upping your game, an intelligent opponent will keep you waiting for eternity.
4. Don’t make blind assumptions on things out of your control
Some people take additional lessons from the fable by considering the tortoise smart enough to foresee the hare’s over-confidence.
The tortoise had no control over the hare’s actions but he somehow knew that his furry opponent would take a nap. Does that sound foolish to you or is it just me?
Assuming things out of your control to work in your favor leads only to bad results. When your only shot at victory lies outside your control, assuming it will help you win is no different than gambling. In plain words, it is plain stupid.
You have a locus of control depicted in the orange circle below. You can only influence those areas by putting in the effort to change the outcome. No matter what you do, you cannot change anything outside your locus of control depicted in the blue circle.
In this story, the tortoise believed that things outside his control would pave the path of victory for him.
5. Expecting results by doing nothing different
In the story, the tortoise does nothing different. He walks as slowly as he always does but still wins because of so-called persistence.
Doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results is insanity.Albert Einstein
Now, you might argue how successful people like Jeff Bezos and JK Rowling persisted before they achieved triumph. Persist, they did. At the same time, they kept trying different ideas to make things work in their favor.
JK Rowling tried different methods to have a publisher publish her book. Jeff Bezos attempted various experiments to grow his business.
They sure did not always walk slowly as the hare did.
If the tortoise had spent a few weeks practicing to increase his speed, somehow improved himself and caught the hare off-guard due to his faster pace, you could have learned a valuable lesson from the tortoise.
“Hey, that’s not possible. A tortoise cannot increase his speed,” you complain? Well, in a fable where a hare can ridicule a tortoise and run a race, anything is possible if you ask me.
If you persist doing the same thing forever, your shot at success is quite minuscule.
What should you learn from the story?
Instead of taking a lesson from the tortoise, learn from the mistakes of the hare. Instead of trying to be the persistent tortoise, aim to become a smarter hare.
Here is how you can become a smarter hare:
1. Avoid silly mistakes
All the hare had to do to win was not make a mistake. Likewise, people underestimate the potential of reducing mistakes and over-estimate the need of doing something path-breaking for success.
If you learn from the mistakes of your own and those around you, you will improve little by little. Over time, learning to avoid mistakes reaps benefits you cannot fathom.
Unfortunately, people tend to spend more time and energy to come up with brilliant ideas than correct their flaws. You do not have to focus on correcting massive mistakes. The smaller errors pass right under your nose without your knowledge. You must aim to correct such little mistakes daily using the 2-second rule.
Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second timeGeorge Bernard Shaw
2. Keep your arrogance under check
What starts as self-confidence can turn into arrogance as soon as it crosses a line. Do not let your ego blind you into making rash decisions due to the sweet smell of victory. Whether you foresee an easy victory or a tough battle, give your best.
When you achieve minor success, you can fool yourself into believing that you are the expert. The moment such a thought creeps in, your arrogance takes over.
Irrespective of your expertise, consider yourself foolish and stupid.
Big egos are big shields for lots of empty spaceDiana Black
3. Do not underestimate the importance of continuous learning
No matter how good you are, make it a routine to improve yourself little by little using marginal gains.
When the world was moving towards digital cameras, Kodak chose to stay back on the film technology. By the time they realized their folly, other competitors had dominated the market. Kodak was among the big players but their lack of desire to improve led to their demise.
You have to keep moving forward and doing better all the time. The results may not show up in a day or two, but in 5 years, you will be in a different league altogether.
If you stop learning, an opponent will crush you in no time.
The day you stop learning is the day you stop growingTetsuyama San
I understand that the story is hypothetical and it intends to convey a lesson. When the variables change different elements of the story such as the tortoise’s and hare’s actions change. But my point is to make sure you do not take the wrong lesson.
If you want to learn one lesson from the Aesop’s fable of the tortoise and the hare, be neither of them. The tortoise has more flaws in the story than the hare.
Even if the tortoise teaches you persistence, keep in mind that it used a flawed approach. Instead of taking a cue from what the tortoise did right, take a lesson from what the hare did wrong.
At the end of the story, if I had to choose between turning into one of those two animals, I would choose the hare. The reason is, the hare is still faster and knows his mistake. The tortoise, on the other hand, is still sluggish as ever and also thinks he can beat a hare.
Do not be the slow tortoise, rather be a smarter hare.
Maxim Dsouza has spent over a decade experimenting and finding various time management techniques to improve his productivity. He strongly understands the fact that time is a limited commodity and tries to make every second count. He has extensive experience in leadership in startups, small businesses, and large corporations.
He has helped people of different professions and age groups gain clarity on their goals, improve focus, revise their time management skills and develop an awareness of their psychological cognitive biases.