The Way of the Tortoise - A Book

Indy Neogy
Indy Neogy
3 min read

The Way of the Tortoise: Why You Have to Take the Slow Lane to Get Ahead (with a foreword by Sir Andy Murray)

Matt Little is a Strength and Conditioning Coach in elite Tennis who notably worked for a long time with Andy Murray (who provides a forward to this book). In the light of that, it is maybe not surprising that there is less about thinking in this book than I had hoped. Sports coaching is quite focussed on actions and behaviours. I deal with those as well as thinking in my own business and life coaching. Thus, the book was a useful read for that, but there were also some parts that stimulated my thinking about thinking, which is what Mind Atelier is all about.

The title of the book is what first caught my attention - The Way of the Tortoise - it references the fable from Aesop - The Tortoise and the Hare. I think we live in a world that pays a lot of attention to Hares. We might think of how Mark Zuckerberg became very successful at a young age, or the way tennis itself (Little's specialist area) has often embraced prodigies. When it comes to the world of thinking, we similarly see a lot of emphasis on "natural talent" and on speed or "decisiveness." The book almost never directly talks about thinking but a few sections did catch my attention.

"I learned later that being a Tortoise is also about networking and keeping in touch with people you meet along the way." (page 18) This is a thought about actions regarding people, but I think it's also a good point to think about regarding knowledge. I have yet to write extensively about the role of knowledge in practical thinking, but both facts and ways of thinking from the past can give us extra ideas and perspectives in the present moment. Is valuing this a Tortoise perspective? As we'll see later, maybe it is, in contrast to how Little defines a Hare. Of course we should also notice that this idea shows up (named differently) in the book Range: How Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein.

In writing this book, Little contrasts the Tortoise with the Hare in quite a blunt way. There's a definite sense of making Hares the villains of the piece. I would not go so far, but it does illustrate a few things we can apply to thinking.

"Hare takes a ‘just enough’ approach to winning, doing what’s required to stay in front, rather than realizing their full potential." (page 33) I would link this to "decisiveness" as mentioned earlier. One way of approaching thinking is to look for the quickest route to a conclusion or decision. There is always a tradeoff between exploring facts and context and moving to conclusions, but we all know someone who is just too keen to leap to action.

Little does mention a positive side to this however:
"The Hare’s no-holds-barred approach means that it ploughs forward and makes mistakes faster than most, and therefore learns more swiftly than most." (page 41) This of course links us to theories of dealing with complex and chaotic systems, where concepts like "probe and response" and "test and learn" hold sway. But it's not obvious that Hares do this systematically. "Even though the Hare may learn a great deal very quickly, there are bound to be gaps in this knowledge." (page 41)

What this is at heart about, Little comes to a little later in the book: "The Tortoise, however, has urgency. Although it moves slowly, it is operating at 100 per cent. It is desperate to win the race and possesses the work ethic to follow through. Urgency and patience may feel like uneasy bedfellows, but they are both part of the Tortoise’s essential toolkit."

This different kind of urgency is I think the key lesson the Tortoise has for the practical thinker. It's a world of balance between patience and speed. It's an obvious thing, but as we'll see in coming articles it has big implications for how we create a thinking process.

book reviewurgency

Indy Neogy

Indy Neogy is the main author of Mind Atelier. He is a coach, consultant and thinker about better thinking using tools, spaces and principles for thought.