On the Celebrated Turtle Races of Nisswa, Minnesota

How indecision results in failure.

I’ve just gotten back from two weeks at “the lake” with my family. 
My wife, as many of you know has Alzheimer’s, and as a result the first
two days were horrible for me.  But after that adjustment I had a grand
time just realizing that she would have enjoyed the vacation as much as
I.  Few Walleye this year, but the largemouth bass were really biting.  I
caught a 15 inch, 3.5 pound largemouth bass, and we walked away
with filet from a dozen fish.  Steve, my son-in-law, caught a 33 inch
pike, loaded with eggs, so we tossed it back.  

While fishing we watched two bald eagles chasing an osprey with a
fish in its mouth.  One eagle went for the osprey, and the other went
for the fish when it was dropped.  The osprey flew off, sans fish,
chased by the eagle.  That’s called team work.  My eleven-year-old
grandson, Henry, however, thought that those bald eagles are mean birds.

We also spent several days on a pontoon boat in the middle of the
lake, jumping off and climbing back on.  This reads dumb, but it was
hilarious.  Kids and their parents pushed each other off and clambered
back up.  I asked my seven-year-old granddaughter, Ariadne, how many
times she jumped off and got her response: “Hundreds of times.”   Funny
how often simple things can be happy things.

My Gen-Y protege, Liam, came up for a few days to join the hilarity. 
After successfully finishing the GMAT, he needed to unwind.  On the
second evening, he was playing spider solitaire and Ariadne came over to
watch.  They played until nearly 1 a.m.   She loved it, and though Liam
was heading back to the cities the next morning, she collected on
him for another session–for two-and-a half hours!!##@@  At the end of
the second session, she was talking strategy, choices and breakdowns. 
She’s going into second grade this Fall, so I was really amazed at her
insights.

Turtle

The highlight of the week, however, was the celebrated turtle races
of Nisswa, Minnesota.  You really won’t believe this until you’ve seen
it, but here goes.  The turtle races have been going on for nearly 50
years, every Wednesday during the summer at 2PM.  The races take place
in the parking lot in front of one of the short strip malls, across from
the tourist center.  Nisswa is a big town of 1,532 people.  The
audience and participants for the turtle races number at least 1,000.  I
counted them. 

The turtle track is two concentric circles.  The inner circle has a
diameter of about 15 feet, enough for 20 contestants and their turtles. 
The second circle adds about 40 feet to the original diameter.  The hot
pavement is kept wet to protect the turtles. 

When the whistle blows, all twenty contestants drop their turtles and
start throwing water on them to get them to move.  You can’t push the
turtle with your hand, nor can you step over the line once they’re off
in the running.  A seventy-year-old quickly that lesson when he stepped
over the line to push his turtle.  He was immediately disqualified.  Can
you bet on the race?  Not legally.

In the third race, one turtle really took off.  Just watching him run
was an eye-opener.  Everyone was screaming, clapping and urging him
on.  He was way out in front of all the other turtles, until, that is. .
. he got to the finish line.  About two inches from the finish line, he
stopped dead.  He looked to the right, the left, straight ahead. . .
and just kept looking.  Everyone was screaming, laughing, tossing water
on him, but no: he just sat there looking.  He couldn’t make up his mind
to crawl confidently over the finish line.  Meanwhile four or five
other turtles passed him up. 

That turtle’s behavior reminds me of some so-called leaders I’ve met
in the past.  Can’t make a decision and move on.  Yet, from case studies
of great military leaders to experiments with MBA students, the
research shows that acting confidently will help you to become
confident.  In other words, “belief follows behavior.”  One of my
colleagues responds to people who can’t make up their minds, who get all
caught up in the pros and cons of a decision, with this adage: “just
get on with it.” 

In his wonderful new book, Good Boss, Bad Boss, Bob Sutton
relates that one of the reasons that General George Washington was so
successful, even though he screwed up constantly, was that he always
looked and acted confidently.  “Faking it until you make it” triggers a
self-fulfilling prophecy of success, impacting not only yourself, but
those around you.  Indecision, like that turtle, often results in
failure.

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