The Ants and the Grasshopper

Posted: January 5, 2012 in Less Than 70
Tags: , , , , , ,

The ants were spending a fine winter’s day drying grain collected in the summertime. A Grasshopper, perishing with famine, passed by and earnestly begged for a little food. The Ants inquired of him, “Why did you not treasure up food during the summer?” He replied, “I had not leisure enough. I passed the days in singing.” Then they said in derision: If you were foolish enough to sing all summer, you must dance supperless to bed in the winter.

Aesop’s fables are still as applicable today as they were when Aesop wrote them 2,500 years ago. We are in need of a moral education today just as much as Aesop’s students were in ancient Greece. Given the pace of life in the 21st century and the interconnectedness of seemingly disjointed events, perhaps we need such a moral education now more than ever.

Aesop’s genius was his efficient simplicity. In a few short sentences, Aesop communicated timeless lessons. We need this kind of efficiency today, with our hectic, compressed and noisy lives. Fortunately, we can turn to Aesop’s simple wisdom for guidance. We must be like The Ants.

In this age, information is transmitted instantaneously, and resources to make enlightened and informed decision are but a mouse-click away. We need an algorithm to process that information as quickly and as efficiently as possible in order to come to the most convenient decision possible. We must act impulsively.

When presented with new information, the most efficient process is to quickly scan the crumbs of knowledge at your disposal for those that already fit into your current world view. Trust in your preconceived notions and simply cherry pick whatever evidence supports those preconceptions. By doing this, you leverage previously accumulated knowledge. Simply parking lot any information that does not harmonize with your preexisting biases. This kind of impulsive prudence is an effective and value-added information management system.

The ability to make a truly informed decision is impossible. New information is always becoming available. In a less frantic world, prudence may have been a virtue. But we now live in an era where we are constantly being bombarded by new pieces of evidence; prudence has become a phase two virtue: that is, it is unrealistic. Divining what is “right” and “proper” is a waste of time, like putting socks on an octopus.

We live in a hyper-competitive world in which the strongest idea dominates. To position yourself in this marketplace requires ambition, focus, and constancy. Discernment weakens your personal brand by providing constant push-back, leading towards indecision, and indecision is a poison pill in building your personal brand.

Prudence is a two-faced monster that damages your personal brand. In the marketplace of ideas–which, depending on your state of life, may be your family, your circle of friends, your co-workers, or your electorate–you need to package your ideas consistently so that the consumers will know what they are getting. The goal of a personal brand, then is to present a clear and consistent image of what you stand for in order to build disciples, followers, and lackeys. By indulging prudence, you risk baiting your consumers, only to switch them to another brand. Prudence undermines the consistency necessary to build your brand.

Prudence also damages your brand because it is slow. Time-to-market is a critical factor in determining the success of your brand. The first product to market has a significant competitive advantage over any latecomers. This truism is just as important in the marketplace of ideas. When you act prudently, you waste time that should be spent in establishing your personal brand in the market. While you are judiciously weighing the evidence, discerning what is “right” from “wrong,” and then determining the proper course of action, your more impulsive competitors will have been first to market, and you will be forever trying to catch up.

A practical example may show exactly what I mean about the advantage of impulsive prudence. Back in October, President Obama dispatched 100 troops to Uganda to help fight the Lord’s Resistance Army. On his radio show, Rush Limbaugh criticized this decision, saying that the President is sending troops to “wipe out Christians in Sudan, Uganda.” Had Rush Limbaugh acted with prudence, he would have done the research on the Lord’s Resistance Army, and realized that this “army” is little more than a bizarre death cult. But had he done so, it would have undermined his brand image, which is one of vehement opposition to the Obama Administration. Rather, Rush Limbaugh acted impulsively, thereby positioning his brand in the marketplace of ideas. If he did his research before he spoke, and realized that the LRA are the bad guys, he would have been in the untenable position of actually supporting the President. Prudence would have undermined his brand.

If Aesop were alive today, he may have written the fable thusly:

The Ants were spending a fine fall day collecting as many seeds as possible before winter. A Grasshopper prudently and carefully selected the most nutritious seeds. When winter came, the Ants mocked the Grasshopper, saying, “Why did you not treasure up more seeds. Our stockpiles are full, while yours is half empty.”  He replied, “I acted prudently. I passed the days deciding carefully, selecting only the best seeds, while what you thought were seeds are but empty husks of no value.” Then they said in derision: “While they may be empty husks, we still have more than you!”

 The moral of this fable: It is prudent to act impulsively to get attention today.


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