Sunday, June 24, 2012

Slow and steady does win the race in business afterall !

When I heard the story of the The Tortoise and the Hare for the first time, I was filled with questions. Why did the hare stop to take rest? Tortoise are so slow that even if the Hare slept for hours, it still could not win the race etc. All very logical questions and concerns in my kids mind. My father used to have a tough time trying to explain the concepts and convince my "scientific" mind to see the message behind the story and understand what it truly means.

Growing up and struggling to survive in the business world, I always felt that the hares won all the time. The person who can talk smoother, Dress better and network quicker won. The only thing I could do was to work twice as hard to make up for the lack of proficiencies in these departments ! Wallowing in self pity, I was slow to notice that folks who went up too quickly sometime crashed and burned even more quickly. There seems to be some natural force which balanced the inequality. Not all the time I admit (I have seen too many people in leadership roles with absolutely no skills) but enough to make me believe. Also, I noticed that some of the so called "hares" where really smart tortoise who were slow and steady - But too quick by my standards !! It was my short sighted views that labelled them as flighty hares !!

That was the state of the affairs, till I started reading the book "Great by Choice" authored by Jim Collins. The authors had analyzed the data behind successful companies and had some fascinating insights on how companies become and remain great. One of the concepts which interested me the most was the 20 mile march, which proves that tortoises win conclusively

One of the stories in the book revolves around the achievements of Roald Amundsen in reaching the South Pole and the failure/death of Robert Falcon Scott in trying to achieve the same goal.On December 15, 1911 Roald reached the South Pole and returned back successfully (every member of his team came back alive). On Jan 17, 1912, 34 days later, Scott reached the South pole to be crushed on seeing the Flag planted by Roald and on the way back, Scott and all his team members perished.

As you can guess by now Roald was the Tortoise and Scott the hare.  Let  us see how..

1. Roald (The Tortoise) had a policy of steady progress. He and his team traveled 17 miles a day- Good or bad weather. This allowed his team to rest and sleep regularly. Scott (The Hare) would drive his team to exhaustion on good days and sit in his tent and complain about weather on bad days 

2. Roald prepared for the journey months before. Staying with Eskimos to learn to survive, use dog sleds etc. He did not wait for the problems to hit him before he solved them.  Scott took the other approach - He did not prepare. He chose ponies instead of dogs. While Roald brought 4 thermometers, Scott just brought one which broke. 

3. Scott blamed luck for all his problems. Roald used his preparation to solve the various problems he faced !

4. Roald reached back on the precise day he had planned to return. Scott and his companions were found frozen to death, eight months later just 10 miles short of their supply depot 

Slow and steady does win the race after all !!!

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