Careful With Comparisons: A Zebra Is Not A Horse

A zebra is not a horse. Zebras are smaller and significantly more aggressive. They can run about 65mph, kick hard enough to kill a lion, and if they bite – they won’t let go until you, or whatever they’re biting, is dead. So if you see a herd of horses, cool. If you see a dazzle of zebras, careful. 


Jared Diamond made the case in Guns, Germs, and Steel that societies around the world evolved at different paces largely because of the plants and animals available in their geographies. As humans started to figure out how to farm, hunt and gather more collectively, people with access to horses and cows realized faster communal development than people with zebras and rhinos or moose and squirrels.


As we develop in our professional lives and inevitably compare ourselves / get compared to “peers,” we have to remember how our own starting conditions matter. People from different places and different times have had different experiences with different resources. It’s up to us to avoid the less relevant comparisons and seek out the most applicable tips, tricks, and tech. We can’t expect others to make these adjustments for us, and we should hold ourselves to a higher standard when we’re making comparisons for others. 


Just because we don’t have a horse to ride doesn’t mean we should try to ride a zebra. We want to develop our own personal, local knowledge so we understand what works and what doesn’t in our own backyards. Technology can always be imported, but local skills, and new ways to apply them have to be learned at home. No one learns to track lions in New England, and we should be skeptical lobster rolls in the Sahara. 


We’re all carving our own paths from our own starting points. Not everything is transferable, and not everything is importable or exportable. We should be careful with comparisons, both to peers and competitors. We should be smart about our local advantages, whatever they may be. Every geography has its own, it’s on us to embrace them.


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