Rethinking Tortoise and Hare fable:

01hare

Taiichi Ohno, creator of the Toyota Production System wrote in his book “Toyota Production System – Beyond Large-Scale Production” that “The Toyota Production System can be realized only when all the workers become tortoises”. He was referencing the Tortoise and the Hare fable.

There are more references to this in Toyota Production System. Some of them are given below:

  • Heijunka – Leveling the load. The heijunka system uses the theme of “steady”. The production schedule is rearranged where daily production matches daily demand. This allows flexibility in your plant and reduces your inventory. Most importantly, it reduces Muri (overburdening) on your people.
  • Go slow to go fast” – unknown. Taiichi Ohno has stated “The slower but consistent tortoise causes less waste and is much more desirable than the speedy hare that races ahead and then stops occasionally to doze” in his book “Toyota Production System – Beyond Large-Scale Production.” The idea is that slowing down helps to see the big picture, and eliminates making mistakes and reworks. Thus in the long run, going slow and steady makes you fast. A corollary to this quote is “Haste makes waste.”

I remember reading the Aesop’s fable about the Tortoise and the Hare, and trying to understand the moral “Slow and steady wins the race”. I did not get the moral from the story. In my eyes, the hare lost simply because he slept during the race. The tortoise did not do anything special. As an adult, I feel that a better moral would be “Do not sleep at your job” or “Keep your eye on the goal”.

I did some research on the origins of the fable, and came across “Fables of Aesop and other Eminent Mythologists: With Morals and Reflections” written by Sir Roger L’Estrange (1669). Interestingly, the moral of the fable was a little different.

moral

Up and be doing, is an edifying text; for action is the business of life, and there’s no thought of ever coming to the end of our journey in time, if we sleep by the way.

The last section of “Reflection” is indeed a little more familiar.

reflection

A plodding diligence brings us sooner to our journey’s end than a fluttering way of advancing by starts and stops; for it is perseverance alone that can carry us through stitch.”

My take:

My take on the fable is that the race was actually a “long” race and the persistent tortoise had a long term plan (get to the end of the race at any cost), while the hare only was looking at short term gains (food, sleep etc.). Curiously, this aligns with the first principle in Jeff Liker’s Toyota Way.

“Base your management decisions on a long-term philosophy, even at the expense of short-term financial goals.”

Thus, in my view, the moral of the Tortoise and the Hare fable is to operate from a long term philosophy to win the race, without looking at short term gains.

Always keep on learning…

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