Catching the tortoise

The Greek Philosopher and smarty pants Zeno articulated a number of paradoxes. Paradoxes are statements that, despite seemingly soundly based on reason, appear to lead to seemingly logically impossible or self contradictory positions. 

One of the most famous is the Liar paradox – “This statement is false”.  A paradox because if I’m telling the truth then the statement can’t be false –  so it can’t be true. More variations can be found here.

The most famous of Zeno’s 9 paradoxes that have survived the years is probably Achilles and the Tortoise. I’m turning to Wikipedia to ensure it is explained clearly. 

In the paradox of Achilles and the Tortoise, Achilles is in a footrace with the tortoise. Achilles allows the tortoise a head start of 100 meters, for example. If we suppose that each racer starts running at some constant speed (one very fast and one very slow), then after some finite time, Achilles will have run 100 meters, bringing him to the tortoise’s starting point. During this time, the tortoise has run a much shorter distance, say, 10 meters. It will then take Achilles some further time to run that distance, by which time the tortoise will have advanced farther; and then more time still to reach this third point, while the tortoise moves ahead. Thus, whenever Achilles reaches somewhere the tortoise has been, he still has farther to go. Therefore, because there are an infinite number of points Achilles must reach where the tortoise has already been, he can never overtake the tortoise.”

We know this doesn’t make sense, we know that we can get there, that Usain Bolt would easily catch a tortoise, but because the problem is formulated around reaching a moving target, no matter how fast we move and no matter how much energy we expend we will never quite reach where we need to be. For infinity the tortoise dictates our failure. 

Modern business is full of this thinking: that we can never complete the race, that the world is moving on so we can never quite get there, that the natural logical progression of year on year growth is a requirement to reset for more year on year growth. We spend our lives never quite getting there. Never quite catching the tortoise. 

The way to resolve the paradox is simply to ignore, for a time, the concept of relative movement and just ask ‘given the tortoise’s current speed where can we plot an intercept point?”

Stop getting distracted by closing the gap to the tortoise, jog past it to where we want to be and then take charge. At what point can he stop the tortoise, pick it up and dictate all future movement by virtue of being a person. 

It is, after all, a tortoise. And what type of person would allow their life to be dictated by a tortoise? 

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