Revisiting the Tortoise and the Hare
Great moral, yet traditional businesses have had to learn
it over and over again. Now, with so many “first movers”
biting the dust, I think it’s time for those of us in
this brave new world of e-commerce to finally absorb the
lesson those other businesses, following in the footsteps
of that cocky rabbit, had to swallow.
When I was a little grokling, I always used to hear a fable about a race between two creatures, in which it seems laughably obvious that one is going to absolutely cream the other. But, surprise, surprise … the underdog prevails. You wouldn't know the creatures in my fable, but you have a tale just like it: The Tortoise and the Hare. And the moral is the same:
slow and steady wins the race. Focus on the task at hand, single-mindedly see it through, and the gold can be yours!
seem to value being really fast and getting there first,
even though neither one guarantees long-term success.
In an article that had me clapping, Jim Collins writes,
recently met with the CEO of a hot Internet company
who described his concept for competing on the Web:
"It's a big land rush," he explained.
"It's all about being the first to build critical
mass and create a brand name." Then, in a bizarre
twist, he admitted that his company's Web site didn't
work all that well and that customers might be
disappointed by their early experiences. … His
strategy hinged on one simplistic idea: be there fast,
be there first, and you win.1
think of Internet time as a kind of speed-of-light game;
if you can't get it together in the next 15 minutes
(better to have got it together yesterday), you are dead
in the water. Someone else will get there first, faster.
So, the illogic goes, someone else will win. If you think
you’re lost because somebody got there first, wouldn’t
you love to hear me say, “It ain't so”? Well, "It
fast and first is all too often its own liability.
There are lots of others out there, biding their time,
learning from your mistakes, and making plans to do the
job even better. You know how to recognize the pioneers,
don’t you? They’re the ones with all the arrows in
their backs. Collins's article is full of great examples
from the archives of business history. VisiCalc, the first
computer spreadsheet, lost out to Lotus, which lost out to
Excel … and the company that developed VisiCalc doesn't
even exist anymore. The first PC’s came from Sol, and
Altair and a dozen other names now long-forgotten. The
first portable computers came from companies like Osborne
Computer (also extinct). Apple had one of the first
handheld personal computers (the now ubiquitous Personal
Digital Assistant), but who remembers the Newton? Today,
everyone calls them "palm pilots" the way they
call tissues "Kleenex" (in case you’ve been
visiting me on Mars, Palm Pilot™ is 3Com's PDA).
wasn't first in the computer market (remember Univac?).
Boeing wasn't first in commercial aviation (remember De
Haviland's Comet?) And Hewlett-Packard's Personal Computer
Group took 17 years to top the PC market. Are you getting
the idea? "It doesn't really matter who gets there
first, so long as you figure out a way to produce a better
solution, doggedly persist in bringing that solution to
the world, and continually improve," concludes
to naysayers, the "land rush" in e-commerce
isn't all that different, despite our concept of Internet
time in the world of clicking. The bottom line is the
same: customers won’t accept lengthy downloads,
confusing sites, hidden charges, obnoxious policies or
lousy service. How is it possible so many dot-coms missed
that, and still do? Yes, there is one important difference
thanks to the Internet: it puts the customer in the
driver's seat even more than before. Your customers have
an unprecedented range of choices available to them. Your
competitors are just a click away. If you don’t
listen to what your customers value and want, then deliver
brilliantly, being first to market will only mean being
first to fail. To succeed out there, you need learn
from everybody and work at being best.
on. Dare to be different. Dare to be the tortoise.
See you at the finish line!
"Being the best beats being first." Jim Collins,
CNBC and The Wall Street Journal.Business on MSNBC.com. <http://www.msnbc.com/news/449953.asp>