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Business Insight: To get ahead you have to stick your neck out


Jessica Nelson
26 August 2019

Many years ago, I came across the turtle metaphor, and over the years I have applied it to various business (and life) situations. It came to mind again a few days ago as I pondered the next phase of my life.

What is the turtle metaphor? I’m glad you asked. Think about the turtle. It effectively has two states: the stay-at-home-in-the-shell state, and the stick-the-neck-out state. The stay-at-home state, tucked up nice and comfy and warm in the shell, is the safest, most secure state for the turtle. But in that state, the turtle is immobile, and quite literally can’t go anywhere.

In contrast to the go-nowhere state, the stick-the-neck-out state means that the turtle can go places. But in sticking the neck out, the turtle becomes vulnerable to predators and life in general. But here is the rub: unless the turtle sticks it neck out, with all the danger that entails, it is effectively stuck in the same place, wherever that might be.

Now the place in which the turtle may be stuck just might be a beautiful, warm sandy beach, with all the turtle needs to survive. But equally, the place in which it is stuck might be a boring, uncomfortable, unsatisfying place.

To be sure, if the turtle wishes to move, it may just stick its nose out a little, testing the wind for pleasant – or unpleasant – aromas or odours. It may even peek out a little further to check out what is around it, to see if either danger or opportunity awaits. But if it never at least sticks its nose out or peeks out, it will be surely stuck in the same place forever.

What has the turtle to teach us about business? Or life in general, for that matter? Well, many of us can act, at times, like the warm, comfortable turtle tucked up safe and sound in its shell. It’s a no-risk strategy. While we are there, business and life just continue along in a humdrum routine.

But any business owner who wants to get ahead, at some stage, must take a little peek at what else is around, and ‘sniff the wind’ to identify any opportunities. They may even need, at times, to fully emerge from their shell to explore new opportunities, with all the risk that entails. It’s called ‘sticking their neck out’.

Yes, sticking the neck out entails risk and potential danger, but it is also the only condition that allows a turtle to move on, to explore new opportunities, and new territory. A turtle who never retreats to its shell is permanently exposed, so it is prudent at times to retreat into the shell to regroup energy or capital.

So, what sort of turtle are you? Permanently in your shell? Or ready to stick the neck out and explore new opportunities? The humble turtle can teach and inspire us to think a little differently about our situation.

This article originally appeared in the Business Insight section of the Gold Coast Bulletin newspaper on 24/08/2019 and is for general information purposes only.