Long before the Europeans came, the Iroquois were a tribe that lived across most of New York, Pennsylvania, and Eastern Canada. Like most societies, they had a creation story.
“They swam to the Great Turtle, master of all the animals, who at once called a council. When all the animals had arrived, the Great Turtle told them that the appearance of a woman from the sky was a sign of good fortune. Since the tree had earth on its roots, he asked them to find where it had sunk and bring up some of the earth to put on his back, to make an island for the woman to live on. The swans led the animals to the place where the tree had fallen. First Otter, then Muskrat, and then Beaver dived. As each one came up from the great depths, he rolled over exhausted and died. Many other animals tried, but they experienced the same fate. At last the old lady Toad volunteered. She was under so long that the others thought she had been lost. But at last she came to the surface and before dying managed to spit out a mouthful of dirt on the back of the Great Turtle. It was magical earth and had the power of growth. As soon as it was as big as an island, the woman was set down on it. The two white swans circled it, while it continued to grow until at last it became the world as it is today, supported in the great waters on the back of the Great Turtle.”
Have you heard Stephen Hawking’s version?
“Long ago, a famous astronomer was told by an elderly lady that science was all wrong. The world, she said, rests on the back of a giant turtle. When the astronomer asked what the turtle stands on, she replied: ‘You’re very clever, young man, very clever. But it’s turtles all the way down.’”
There are two ways to imagine the earth on the back of a giant turtle. Either there is just one turtle, standing on nothing, or it’s turtles all the way down. Both are ridiculous, but one is infinitely more ridiculous, and that’s a whole lot of turtles.
In business, turtles all the way down is what well-informed people call those who dodge the tough questions because they haven’t any facts
What people don’t realize is that when they brush aside good questions with nonsense answers, they are revealing themselves as blind to their blindness, as Daniel Kahneman would say. All of us have seen this at work, when people who are pitching their ideas have no answers for the tough questions. You can defend yourself from these people by learning what questions to ask and how to evaluate the answers you get.
I spent two days with one top executive
The third day, she asked her department heads some hard questions and was pleasantly surprised to discover how easily she could determine which ones had real facts supporting their claims and which ones had to pull their heads back into their shells. She said it was like using truth serum.
Want to look at old things in new ways, see the commonplace in greater detail and hear complex subject matter explained in simple, conversational language?
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