A giant turtle. Photo Credit: pxfuel.com

In this ‘hare’ culture, let’s be tortoise

The story of the tortoise and the hare portrays a picture of arrogance and over-confidence of the speedy hare versus the perseverance of the tortoise, who despite being mocked by others, works hard to win the race. The tortoise challenges the conventional wisdom that it could beat the speedy hare; and wins the race through sheer hard work, commitment, and dedication. At first, this fable, with its message of “slow and steady wins the race,” appears essential in our culture, as it is told in elementary schools to teach kids the importance of hard work and perseverance. Unfortunately, the lesson stops here. Throughout middle, high school, and then in college, we are taught to work fast, learn fast, score fast and eventually earn fast. Malcolm Gladwell, in a podcast episode entitled “The tortoise and the hare” (Revisionist History), explains how American society promotes and then rewards hares.

We live in the ‘hare’ culture, where we are obsessed with everything ‘fast,’ such as the hourly fads, the hottest Netflix show, today’s breaking news, and the latest tweet. Videos go viral for a day or a week and are then forgotten. We are flooded with information, yet we are becoming more ignorant. Technology has the means to connect us globally, still we are disconnected more than ever. Eva Hoffman, in her book entitled, Time argues the urgency of time is perpetuated through its acceleration, commoditization, and compression. Our thoughts and perceptions are being pushed in faster and shorter units, such that we can only focus on the immediate present.

The corporate world promotes and rewards hares like no other. A fast culture compels leaders to focus on machine-like efficiency at the cost of human well-being. Fixation with quick profits promotes short term orientation, and neglects the long term decisions that create ‘common good.’ A blind focus on efficiency favors fiduciary responsibility over social responsibility. We all know that such a culture hasn’t served the ‘majority’ well. There is a widespread dissatisfaction with corporate/political leaders globally, and the rising levels of socio-economic inequalities have left our economies unhealthy. The widening gap between Wall Street and the main street has sparked anger, unrest, and protests.

In an earlier blogpost, I had hoped that post-COVID-19 we reinforce a different approach that redefines human progress beyond machine-like efficiency (COVID-19: could this be the wakeup call that we need?). Unfortunately, while COVID-19 has further exposed (for example) racial, gender, geographic, and economic inequalities, efforts to stimulate the economy are also playing out quite unevenly. The economic slump will likely hurt smaller companies disproportionately and may leave bigger companies stronger. Institute of Policy Studies reports that since mid-March 2020, America’s top 5 billionaires have seen their wealth increase by US$ 76 billion. Over the same time, 36.6 million Americans have applied for unemployment benefits. In addition, as companies are beginning to assess the overall impact of COVID-19 on their bottom line, many are resorting to layoff and furloughs, thereby further perpetuating inequalities.

We need to change the ‘hare’ culture that relies on short bursts of speed in order to benefit just a few. We need to be the tortoise, and challenge the conventional practice of fixating on quick fixes to save costs. We need to think long term (beyond our immediate present) in terms of a broader social responsibility for the “common good.” From the tortoise, we can learn that success is earned through slow and steady progress — no matter how painful that may be. It will be our openness to time-consuming and unpredictable conversations with our stakeholders that will help us understand humanity; thus, become more humanistic in our decisions.

By becoming the tortoise, we may be able to fulfill the promise of human perseverance and self-sacrifice to create an equitable economy. As we move forward, the big question is how do we change the current organizational processes to recognize the importance of this shift. I would argue that leaders engage with their stakeholders to appreciate a variety of perspectives, embed ‘social responsibility’ in thinking, and constantly reflect on ‘how their decisions promote human well-being, dignity and sustainability’.

Shaista E. Khilji- May 26, 2020

This article has emerged out of the “Humanizing Initiative,” which seeks to humanize leaders and organizations to cultivate leadership. For more information, please refer to https://www.humanizinginitiative.com



Shaista E. Khilji is Professor at the George Washington University University. She is also Founder of the Humanizing Initiative.

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Shaista E. Khilji

Shaista E. Khilji is Professor at the George Washington University University. She is also Founder of the Humanizing Initiative.