An Entrepreneurial Fable Of How the Tortoise Beat the Hare

An Entrepreneurial Fable Of How the Tortoise Beat the Hare


A hare ridiculed the short feet and slow pace of the tortoise, who replied, laughing: “Though you be swift as the wind, I will beat you in a race.” The hare, believing her assertion to be simply impossible, assented to the proposal; and they agreed that the fox should choose the course and fix the goal.

On the day appointed for the race the two started together. The tortoise never for a moment stopped, but went on with a slow but steady pace straight to the end of the course. The hare, lying down by the wayside, fell fast asleep. At last waking up, and moving as fast as he could, he saw the tortoise had reached the goal, and was comfortably dozing after her fatigue.

The lesson? Slow but steady wins the race.

Putting the lesson into practice

Environments are dynamic, always changing, and plans, tactics and strategies in action are the great equalizer. In theory the hare cannot lose, on paper his physical advantages over the tortoise are undeniable. But the hare’s weakness is not realizing that success is dependent on a combination of skills.

The hare assumes that his physical advantages are sufficient to win, ignoring the importance of other elements of success. The tortoise understands that being short on legs is a disadvantage, so instead she works on exploiting the hare’s vain presumptions.

She will force him to make an unforced error, she’ll have nothing to do other than merely walk at her tortoise pace to the finish line, he’ll do the losing for her. In action, old assumptions are disrupted as new facts on the ground create new realities, new facts, new opportunities; it’s in these types of environments that entrepreneurs thrive.

There are advantages to doing research and relying on past data to make predictions and better decisions about future events. There are also disadvantages to letting personal biases and assumptions alone dictate future actions. Entrepreneurs look at data critically to spot trends which help them better identify wealth creating opportunities and make more informed decisions.

The hare is arrogant because he knows the data clearly establishes that a hare has never lost to a tortoise, that’s it’s physically impossible, therefore he has nothing to fear. But it’s not entirely impossible, there are other factors than merely physical. The hare is guilty of confirmation bias, he only looks at data that backs up his wishful thinking and eliminates all fear of losing.

“That’s the thing about counterintuitive ideas, they contradict your intuitions. So, they seem wrong.” Paul Graham

Good research and solid data can in fact help make better decisions, offering some visibility into the future, like a crystal ball, but only if its objective and looks at a problem from all angles, not just the physical, otherwise it acts more like a ball and chain.

Physical attributes are important to the hare, but the tortoise will win on her mental advantages. She looks at data from a more holistically perspective, rather than only that which will suit her false assumptions. Thinking holistically is an important skill for entrepreneurs who cannot reach their full potential if their thinking is rigid, dogmatic, grounded only in theory.

Exploiting opportunities successfully requires flexible, creative and critical outside the box thinking; the strategy must be aligned with the facts on the ground, adaptable and able to manage change in a dynamic environment. A holistic entrepreneurial mindset is always connecting dots, and is able to not only recognize but also capture, and exploit new opportunities. In a competitive environment, holistic and consequent strategic decisions and actions is where the rubber meets the road, which leads to a real world where the impossible becomes possible, where the tortoise can beat the hare.

As it turns out, it isn’t the tortoise who wins, but the hare who loses. The story is counterintuitive because all are guilty of looking at the problem from only one direction – except the tortoise. She’s in her comfort zone – entrepreneurs thrive in counterintuitive ambiguous environments.

She seeks a strategic advantage and turns the expectations of loss into a disruptive event – she’s in the game of finding solutions by thinking out-of-the-box. She turns the problem on its head, understanding that to win, slow must become fast, and time must become an ally, an advantage, a critical component of her strategy. The tortoise knows she has weaknesses; but by redefining the problem, the hare’s weaknesses are greater and become his fatal flaw.

She knows the hare thinks emotionally, not strategically, easily loses focus and distracted, with a short attention span, his mind clouded by his massive ego and conventional thinking. He doesn’t calculate, he prefers to wing it, she not. The hare not only underestimates his opponent’s mental strength and determination, but his own undisciplined mind plays tricks on him, and he overestimates his own inevitable victory.

Hubris blinds him, his rigid and false assumptions seal his fate as he falls asleep on the job, miscalculating, losing control, and bankrupting his chances. Thinking like an entrepreneur the tortoise focuses on her objectives, steadfast, mentally strong, strategically focused, racing all the way to the finish line on her short feet, and destabilizing her faster opponent precisely because she’s slow, very slow, so very, very slow.

“Time can be an ally or an enemy. What it becomes depends entirely upon you, your goals, and your determination to use every available minute.” Zig Ziglar

Alexander F. Goldsborough
Alexander F. Goldsborough previously researched entrepreneurship at OECD (The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) and was an Associate Professor of Practice at the China campus of Liverpool University (XJTLU). He is now the creator of Aesop For Entrepreneurs and the author of Creativity, Strategy and Leadership for Entrepreneurs. Visit for more information.