Slow and steady wins…

Does speed always lose?

The fourth post in my ongoing series on conventional wisdom.

We all know the story of the tortoise and the hare. It’s one of Aesops fables and has been a staple of conventional wisdom since around 600 BCE.

The hare challenges the tortoise to a race. Gets cocky. Takes a nap in the middle of a race. The tortoise passes him and wins. And the moral of the story is: Slow and steady wins the race.

Wait! Except that’s not the moral at all. The moral is “Don’t get cocky and lose focus.” The tortoise was slow and steady, and yes, he wins. But if the hare doesn’t goof off, the tortoise loses in a landslide.

So why do we all remember “slow and steady wins the race?” Because I think it’s a comforting thought. If you work slowly and methodically, you will succeed no matter how quick your competition is. I fear that’s bad advice in today’s fast moving world.

I hear echoes of “slow and steady” all the time, with the distinct impression that slow somehow equals strategic and fast equals reckless. I don’t buy into that. I think it’s a oversimplification of reality.

First of all, everything depends on the “race.” I could believe that slow and steady wins the really long endurance race. But fast always wins in a shorter race.

I’m still not sure that’s right, though. There are people and companies that can move quickly without losing focus. And those people are going to win the short races and the long races, too. 

Perhaps the true moral of the story has nothing at all to do with speed and everything to do with consistency:

It doesn’t matter if you are fast or slow, steady wins the race.

Let’s just take speed out of the equation. Being consistent is key. Don’t slack off if you have a lead. Don’t quit if you fall behind.

The hare wasn’t true to his talent, slacked off and lost focus. The tortoise moved as fast as he could. In the end, the tortoise’s consistency was the key to success — not his slow pace.

Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. In his spare time, he is trying to get back into running... slowly. Follow Bob on Twitter and Instagram.