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The Easy Way & The Hard Way (A Marketing Parable)

Imagine you’re walking on a dirt road in the country, with emerald green fields as far as the eye can see. The sky is electric blue, the air is crisp, and every breath you take is exhilarating.

After walking for several hours, lost in thought, you arrive at an intersection. A big arrow pointing right says ‘The Hard Way,’ and another arrow pointing left says ‘The Easy Way.’

When you look right, you see that the road winds its way up a mountain so tall the peak is obscured by clouds. The road is dirt and gravel, washed out in several places, and littered with rocks and debris.

No thanks, you think to yourself. No wonder the sign says The Hard Way.

Looking left, you see that the road is freshly paved, winding gently down a hill, around a corner, and into the valley below.

Which way do you choose?

.

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Simple, you think. No one in their right mind would go right instead of left. Even the signs are clear — one way is easy, the other is hard.

As you begin to walk down the left-hand path, a voice stops you in your tracks.

“You sure you want to go down that path, friend?”

Startled, you look around but don’t see anyone. “Over here,” says the voice again. Sitting in the cool shadows of a pine tree, you see an old man with a pipe. Smoke rings float around his head and drift off in the light breeze.

“Who are you?” you ask.

“Me?” the old man says, puffing his pipe. “People call me the Oracle. You can call me that too if you like.”

“The Oracle?” You look around suspiciously. “Is that some kind of a joke?”

The Oracle laughs, takes another puff from his pipe, and shakes his head.

“What did you mean when you asked if I’m sure I want to go down that path?”

“The paths are not what they seem,” says the Oracle. “Look closely and you’ll see it’s an illusion.”

“An illusion?” you ask.

“Yes. What you think you see isn’t real. You see the world through a lens that doesn’t always serve you well. Someday you’ll understand, and when you do, the illusion will disappear and everything will change.”

“Help me understand, then,” you say, less defensively than before. “I want to see what you see because the choice seems so obvious to me.”

“I help only those who help themselves,” the Oracle says. “It’s your journey. Your path. No one can walk that path for you.”

“What’s wrong with The Easy Way?” you ask, exasperated. “I’m willing to help myself. I want to learn. Please.”

“OK,” the Oracle takes a long draw on his pipe, “if you promise to listen with an open mind, I’ll help you see your options for what they really are…”

§

“Consider my mind open, old man.”

Looking left towards the gentle slope of The Easy Way, the lush valley below looks inviting. Glancing right toward the path labeled The Hard Way, again you see a washed out road littered with rocks and debris that winds its way up a mountain obscured by clouds.

“So, what did you mean The Easy Way is an illusion?” you ask the Oracle.

The old man removes a pair of spectacles from his pocket and hands them to you. “I see the skepticism, friend. Put these on, then look at the two paths again.”

You take the flimsy eyeglasses. Nothing about them seems special or out of the ordinary.

“Put them on,” he encourages.

When you put on the glasses, nothing looks different — at first. You see the old man in front of you, clear as day. The pine tree, the road, and the intersection are the same.

Sensing your confusion, the Oracle points a long, skinny finger towards the crossroads, pauses for a moment, and then says, “look closely…”

First, you stare at the path labelled The Hard Way.

You see the mountain again, but this time there are no clouds obscuring the peak. Behind the first mountain you notice another, slightly taller mountain, and behind that, an even taller mountain.

“I see a mountain…and behind it are…more mountains. They continue as far as I can see.”

“Indeed.”

The Oracle says nothing more. He just stares back at you with eyes that seem to sparkle with wisdom and life.

Next, you turn your gaze back to the crossroads, this time looking at The Easy Way.

That, too, looks like the way you first saw it. The smooth road descends gradually away from the intersection and eventually disappears around a corner.

You feel calm and content imagining walking that beautiful country road all the way to the valley below.

But, as you stare at the scene a little longer, you realize something’s not quite right.

“I don’t understand,” you say. “I can see the road all the way to the corner, and I can see the valley below. But I can’t see how to get to the valley — what happens to the road after it turns the corner and disappears out of sight?”

The Oracle smiles and shakes his head. “Perhaps you should walk down that road for a while and see…”

§

Following the Oracle’s advice, you begin walking toward The Easy Way.

“Keep the glasses on,” says the Oracle, “so you can see The Easy Way for what it really is…” Then, after a pause, he says, “I’ll wait here for you,” then draws deeply on his pipe and blows a quick succession of perfectly-formed smoke rings.

Excited to finally reach the valley below, you take your first step in your journey.

It’s even better than you imagined. The breeze is warm and comforting, and you notice squirrels, deer, and other wildlife along the road, in the fields, and among the trees.

Brightly colored flowers bloom all along the path, bees buzz among the blossoms, and birds float effortlessly, circling in the sky above. Everywhere you look, there’s something beautiful and interesting to see.

Before you’re completely out of sight, you look back at the Oracle, who waves toward the road ahead, encouraging you to continue on.

The path is smooth and well-worn, and it’s easy to maintain a brisk pace. You continue walking, step by step, enjoying the cool air, bright sunshine, and beautiful scenery.

Lost in thought, you finally reach the corner you had seen in the distance while you were standing with The Oracle at the intersection. “That was easy,” you say aloud. The road continues on disappearing around the corner.

In the distance, you can see the tops of tall pines sticking up above the horizon.

You pause for a moment and think to yourself: If this is an illusion, I want to stay here forever.

Then, as you round the corner, you see an intersection up ahead. You’re too far away to read the signs, but, as you get closer, something doesn’t feel right…

“Did you miss me, friend?”

You almost jump out of your skin. There, sitting in the cool shadow of the pine tree, the Oracle stares back at you, an impish grin on his face. You try to speak, but no words come out.

This is the illusion,” says the Oracle. “The Easy Way is captivating, and there’s so much to see along the way. But, when you take The Easy Way, you don’t actually get anywhere.”

“What do you mean?” you stammer, fearful that you might be losing your mind. “I just walked for miles — how did I get back… here?”

“The promise of The Easy Way is excitement. But that excitement is at the expense of real progress. There’s always something new, bright, and shiny to pursue, but eventually, no matter how far you think you travel, you always end up right back here where you started.”

“But…if that’s true, is my only option the hard way?” you ask, already knowing the answer.

“Correct,” the Oracle says.

Then, leaning in, he whispers just loud enough for you to hear: “The Hard Way doesn’t have to be so hard if you’re willing to learn how to climb mountains…”

§

Ignorance was bliss, you think. But now, you can’t unsee what the Oracle has shown you.

The iconic scene from The Matrix between Morpheus and Neo appears in your mind, fully formed, as you gaze up at the looming mountains:

“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill–the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill–you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember, all I’m offering is the truth–nothing more.”

Sensing your hesitation, the Oracle says, “If you want to make real progress in life, there is no Easy Way, friend. There will be many obstacles and constant challenges. That is reality.

“The Hard Way is hard because it needs to be. Iron sharpens iron. Experience, and eventually expertise, come from doing hard things.”

You consider his words as you internalize the implications.

“I need to go now,” you say, buoyed by the Oracle’s encouragement and wisdom. There’s a feeling of nervous — yet confident — anticipation of embarking on this new adventure.

“I think I’m ready to climb the first mountain.”

“Good,” says the Oracle, still smiling. “Remember, friend, the path ahead is not just the mountain you can see. Behind that mountain is another mountain, and another mountain after that. And each new mountain you’ll climb will be taller than the last.”

“Behind mountains are more mountains,” you say, as much to yourself as to the Oracle. “Does that mean I’ll never get to rest if I want to succeed?”

“Quite the contrary,” says the Oracle. “Every time you reach a peak, you’ll see a larger, more exciting view. You’ll choose the mountains you want to climb with excitement, not fear, because you will have learned how to enjoy climbing mountains…”

The Oracle’s words wash over you, and a new sense of steely resolve begins to emerge. You know that is your new guiding star. “Thank you, old man,” are the only words that seem appropriate.

“Engage, take responsibility, and do the hard work. This is how to shape your life. This is the game, the adventure, the dance of Life.”

With that, The Oracle leans back against the pine tree, blows a few more smoke rings, and waits patiently for the next traveler who may be enticed by the illusion of The Easy Way…

We wrote this parable for our August 2021 enrollment of the Momentum Builder Workshop (Lean Edition).

The Momentum Builder Workshop (Lean Edition) is an eight-lesson, learn-by-doing, content creation sprint where we teach a lean version of our customer journey framework.

It is, in the spirit of The Oracle, a course in climbing mountains.

—André & Shawn