tortoise-hareMost of us are familiar with the fable of the tortoise and the hare – the tale of the hare being so much faster than the tortoise and still losing the race. In the current business environment, the tale can prove cautionary or motivating; it can be revisited or revised.

The Hare

Many businesses can start off with a bang – blazing record sales, much fanfare and acclaim. These same businesses can subsequently fall victim to their early success and lose sight of the course they need to follow or the self-discipline they to employ. Alternatively, the hare that can start rapidly, stay on course, and keep the finish line in mind can gain untold advantages by consistently leading in the competitive race. Once out in front of the pack, the hare can’t easily be caught by slower, less nimble market entrants.

The Tortoise

Although the tortoise won the race in the cautionary tale of old, today’s hare can’t simply assume that slow and steady will win the race. Often in the rapidly changing competitive and technological environment the tortoise cannot keep up or overcome the early advantages gained by quick starts. Conversely, as in the fable of old, the tortoise with the right plan, the right approach, and an ability to establish a stable, self-disciplined company may make the wiser moves and establish the better foundation.

Tortoise or Hare?advantage

It isn’t a simple matter of choices. It is, instead, a consequence of preparation, ability, and recognition of the factors and influences each business faces. In some situations getting out of the starting gate quickly makes the difference in success or failure. On the other hand, a slow, methodical start is more appropriate to sustaining competitive advantage.

Realistically it is some combination or sequencing of both approaches that makes a winning combination. When a business is able to react quickly and nimbly to get out ahead of the competition AND can sustain a steady development of operations, market penetration, as well as revenues and profitability, then success is a matter of time. Alternatively, the business that is cautious when entering the market, taking time to prove the “product” and establishing internal capability can also win, because they commit to slow early stage development, working out how they will deliver when high demand kicks in.

Caught in a Trap

Too frequently the hare companies that bound out of the starting gates generate more interest and more demand than they can successfully fulfill in a timely manner at a quantity and quality that will retain the early stage customer. The interest they capture without the capacity to deliver can be the worst trap a business can be caught in.

Eat Their Dust … Left Behind

Just as frequently as the business which falls victim to too much early “success” is the company which gets left behind because of the methodical, plodding pace in which the business becomes too focused on getting things “perfect” or “finding the ideal time” to launch. This results in delays to market, too slow response to competitive challenges, and/or missing out on opportunities they aren’t prepared to pursue.

Tortoise or Hare or …

What is right for your business depends upon a number of variables:

  • Nature of the product, service, or technology
  • Your industry
  • Competitive environment
  • Ramp up time
  • Technology
  • Market size
  • Geographic boundaries
  • Regulatory requirements
  • Development time
  • Ease of market entry
  • Investment

Regardless of the parameters and variables, there is no one sure approach to success. The only certainty in running any race is that conditions change, competitors make moves which must be analyzed and adapted to, and finding the right grove in the course for your business requires an ability to do the following:

  • Strategize
  • Adapt
  • Maneuver
  • Respond
  • Counter
  • Prepare
  • Pursue
  • Lead

One final thought, the race to success in business is rarely about one single event. Instead it is about sustaining a high level of performance and sound strategy over time and across events. The race won today does not mean that every race will be won or even finished. Taking on each race as part of an overall plan for success is the best strategy of all. Getting out to an early start may be a good idea, but sustained high performance is ultimately the best idea of all.


Copyright ©2006 Lea A. Strickland, F.O.C.U.S. Resource, Inc.


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