Like the Tortoise

~Based on a speech given at Wentworth Institute’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center.

tortoise

One fine morning the animals of the forest were gathered, having dinner, enjoying each other’s company when the hare, having had a little to drink, stood up on a soapbox and said, “I am the fastest of the woodland animals, there isn’t another as speedy as I.”

A tortoise nearby listened politely as the hare belted on about his great speed. When all was said and the hare hopped down, the tortoise spoke, “I will race you.” The hare laughed at first but then seeing that the tortoise was in earnest, accepted the challenge and the day of the race were set.

So the morning came a line was drawn in the forest’s path. Both took their positions and the hare took it upon himself to encourage the tortoise, “Cheer up my friend, I’ll be here to welcome you at the finish line.” The tortoise said nothing. The referee, a stout badger, waved the start flag rigorously, and they were off! The hare shot ahead like a missile that was designed for greater things than destroying them and left the tortoise in his dust.

When the hare was but ten feet from the finish line, he decided to take a nap. The tortoise would not catch up to him, that was evident so why not rest? So rest he did.

Here’s the catch, though, the tortoise didn’t stop and ran throughout the night. Though she was limping from the continuous movement. In fact, she was thinking, “There has got to be a better way.” Her feet were so sore, couldn’t the leaves from these trees cover my sores? Couldn’t this sap hold them together? Then I’d be able to keep running.

And so it was that when dawn came, the cheering ensued and woke the hare from his sleep. You see, the tortoise, having made some crude version of running shoes was mere inches from the finish line. And try as he might, her right foot had crossed the line just before he tore through in a hurry hoping to win.

The tortoise, though elated, could see that her friend, the hare was deflated. She smiled and said, “Cheer up my friend, for I was here to greet you at the end.

***

Based on the social norms, and biology the tortoise should not have won that race. I’ve taken the liberty to tweak the fable to emphasize that norms are meant to be challenged. Much like the tortoise we too, can challenge the norms, find the holes, and innovate to fill in the gaps either directly or indirectly and ultimately reach the finish line with a smile on our face to reflect our insides.

Happiness and innovation juxtaposed to each other make complete sense. The two, in my mind, are interconnected. Both happiness and innovation can be plotted on the same curve, as in the same tools we use to innovate are largely the same as the tools we use to seek happiness. Therefore, seeking to innovate could be looked at as a path to seek happiness or provide an avenue for it. Abstractly, an individual can take their current state and use the steps of innovation to become happier.

Why do people feel the need to seek happiness? Well, very basically we are seeking a personal fulfillment in order to live a better life. Why do people innovate? Well, simply we are seeking a fulfillment for something the world could do better.

More specifically we humans gravitate to find happiness constantly because life’s rules are constantly changing over time. If the rules are constantly changing, then why are some norms still fastened in concrete? Similarly, we are constantly innovating because needs change due to life’s ever changing rules. If we extend this further, Plato stated that humankind will always stretch for more, and so we innovate to find more and we seek happiness to have more value in our lives.

happyinnovation

I like to think of Steph Curry, the beloved NBA champion from The Golden Gate Warriors, Bo Burnham, a comedian and Plato. The three will never meet (unless we create a time machine) but they are representative of the three points above.

  • steph.pngSteph Curry is an excellent basketball player, and he was able to reach his goals through his talent and practicing a lot. The rules of basketball haven’t changed a great deal over time so it follows that if you have talent and you practice, then the game can be played.
  • bo.pngBo Burnham a YouTube sensation and comedian jokes about meaning and basically that it can be found when a high individual makes a peanut butter and jam sandwich. Meaning can be fleeting in other words, but also that it will be hidden in the unlikeliest of places.
  • platoPlato wrote about the human need to expand and find more, and that this also depends on the perceived value we attach to what more could be.

 

When I think of it this way I can’t help but see that innovation can be a pathway to also seek happiness as the pathways for both allows access to the same fundamental steps. Just as innovation can allow one to access happiness, it can also be looked at as a way to change your life now and identify where the holes are.

It’s become my firm belief that when it comes to happiness we are focused too much on the end goals rather than on the process to get us there. In order to zone in on the process, innovating your life according to the steps of innovation would allow you to identify the performance some “less than sparkling” factors in your life.

To innovate (broadly) calls for an individual to answer this question “What’s the problem?” and then to answer, “Why isn’t the current situation working?” So too does seeking happiness, we ask what the problem is and why aren’t we happy now?

Once we’ve narrowed those answers down we conduct our market research. In innovation, this might look like targeting clients, and understanding what needs to change. In happiness this would look like targeting eating habits, looking at our work/home lives and understanding what needs to change. After that solution brainstorming, and defining the stakeholders takes place in both innovation and happiness.Picture_1

Finally, with innovation we are tasked to work the plan, to stop waiting and test the product, run simulations and see if it works. It might need work, but then you pivot and you also didn’t market your product as perfect either so there is room for growth. For happiness this looks simply like making the change, stepping off the waiting platform and putting yourself out there. Your plan might not work, but then you pivot. Your brain might tell you to take a step back but don’t listen, after all, the planning and procedures you’ve followed, it’s time to let your brain take a back seat.

***

To conclude, you may innovate aspects of your life to reach happiness, you may find happiness as you strive to innovate for a new product, you may decide to have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for dinner or you may decide not to. You’ve always had the tools to innovate either your life or to innovate an aspect in life to fill a need that must be met. The nice thing here is that in the end, the choice is yours. Quite frankly you have the autonomy. You can wait, or be like the tortoise and challenge the norms.

~Tricia Demmers, PR, Editor, Journalist


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