How The Tortoise Innovates

We all know the famous fable of the tortoise and the hare. It shows that slow and steady wins the race.

But it also shows us two completely different ways to innovate:

  • The Hare rushes forward, tries something new, jumps on the next opportunity. The Hare tries to move beyond the boundaries of the race, distracted by its greatness. It's going well but then distractions creep  in. The Hare moves fast, then stops, believing that he can rest because he's better than anyone else.
  • The Tortoise takes one step at a time. Every time. Slowly but steadily moving forward, not allowing distractions, cutbacks, or taunts from the Hare get under its shell. The Tortoise knows that the only thing it can't do is stop moving, even if its changes are incremental. He knows he always can improve.

Often, we are the Hare. We rush forward with the next big idea. But without the plan and purpose of the Tortoise, we fail. We have no reason to keep going forward so we let distractions seep in, forget the point of the race altogether, wrapped up in our own glory because we're the best. We stop moving, and therefore stop innovating. We think taking a break is ok, because we deserve it.

The Tortoise knows we can't take a break. We have to keep moving, keep changing, one foot at a time. 

Speed isn't the only way to innovate. First mover advantage only works if you're the best. As this HBR article argues, it all depends on your circumstances--is it a nice day or stormy? If Uber was first, but Lyft is better, guess who gets the $50M investment? 

Every innovator, intrapreneur or entrepreneur, is in a race. The question is, are you going to be the tortoise or the hare?