02 March 2013

Fable of Lion & Gazelle vs. Waiting for the Right Pitch

There’s an odd little meme wandering around Facebook, one that Thomas Friedman included in his World is Flat book and that earlier appeared in the Economist.

Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle: when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.

It’s ironic, of course, because it’s posted by and read by people who – rather than running – are browsing Facebook. But it’s also untrue.

The lion conserves her strength and does not run until she sees an opportunity. Likewise, the gazelle conserves his strength and does not run until he senses a threat. If they began their day running, they’d be too fatigued to notice, much less respond to, threats or opportunities. This sort of mindless, every day you have to work hard kind of meme, is an artifact of the old 8 to 5 world when every day is expected to be the same. The world in which you have to create your way to success is one more characterized by intermittent periods of immersion, gestation, and creativity. It varies in intensity. For my nickel, this story attributed to Warren Buffet seems to better capture today’s reality.

Secondly, think of yourself as you go through life as standing at the plate and people throwing you pitches. It is a very special baseball game. There is no one calling the balls and strikes and you can stand there forever. You have got all these people in the bleachers saying, "Hey, swing you bum!" on every second pitch. You just have to learn to ignore them and when a pitch comes along and it is straight but it is a little high inside, you let it pass. Another one comes along and it is a little low outside. Every once in a while a pitch comes along that looks like the sweetest, juiciest, fattest pitch you are ever going to see. And when it does, you swing from your heels on it. You come out of your shoes on it. That is how you go through life. And you are only going to get about ten swings like that, maybe five swings. That is what you wait for. Too many people go through life batting at every other pitch. So just wait for your opportunities and when they come you swing from your heels.

Begin your day scouring the landscape for threats and opportunities. And save your energy to pounce once you see them. Don’t just mindlessly run.  Even the lions and gazelles aren’t silly enough to heed the parable about the lions and gazelles.

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