David Abbott wrote some of the best copy/headlines for The Economist (h/t Cole Schafer). This is one of my favorites, and it’s particularly thought-provoking:
In real life, the tortoise loses.
The tortoise and hare parable is important and useful on its own, but like so many metaphors, it’s not universally true. Anytime you can find something widely believed but structurally inefficient, advantage: you. Now, the moral is fine, slow and steady can win in the long run against a flighty and arrogant opponent, but what if the race or the competition itself is different? Advantage: hare.
Warren Buffett might look like the ultimate tortoise on paper. He’s become the poster grandpa for the power of slow and steady compounding. But, his actions say he’s more like Bugs Bunny dressed in a turtle costume. In real life, when the setting and competition are constantly shifting, being able to out-sprint anyone OR bow out of the race to take a nap can both be strategic advantages.
The one-speed tortoise can get a job done, but not if that job’s a race against competent competition. In real life, we’ll encounter a wide variety of hares. Some will be less disciplined like the one in the parable while others will have tortoise-like “Buffett persistence.” Our goal is to be more like the latter. Slow and steady has its place, but fast and ready does too.
In real life, we want the ability and the discipline to control our own tempo. We want to be able to set it in terms of the race and whatever we’re up against. In real life, the smart hare wins.
Want to go a little deeper? See also this post on “Speed Versus Tempo.”