This is Part Two of a five-part post on issues surrounding people and performance and managing and leading change. Included are some ideas about:

  • managing change and personal growth   
  • assisting change management initiatives
  • developing individual and organizational potential

You can read about Part One by clicking here. 1heliconiuschari

In Part 1, the caterpillar/butterfly story about change was used as an example of the paradox and danger of, “knowing the answer.” Here, I’ll continue to illustrate this thinking on change with a few facts and another useful story.

In the past few years, I’ve learned a lot about Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) since having used them in a story in my training programs.

You may also find these factoids of interest:

  • There are roughly 150,000 species of moths and only about 19,000 butterfly species. One might think butterflies more common but we simply see butterflies more often because they are commonly brightly colored and generally fly during the day – moths generally fly only at night.
  • One difference between a moth and a butterfly is in the nature of their antennae. Moths have “feathery” antenna and butterflies have a bulb on a stalk. Their wing structures are also different.
  • Most moths have tremendously sensitive antenna that can sense minute quantities of their sexual attractant pheromone, in the parts per billion quantities.
  • The Monarch Butterfly of North America migrates great distances to areas slightly West of Mexico City, where they gather in the billions to reproduce. They then migrate back as far as the Canadian Border. They often feed on milkweed, which also serves to protect them — birds find their taste aversive and will avoid eating them.Caterpillar of the Old World Swallowtail from Didier Descouens collection
  • Some caterpillars eat as much as 27,000 times their body weight to support their lives as flying insects.
  • The big green adult Luna Moths lack a mouth and actually live only on the energy stored during their larval stage — their sole focus of their adult lives is reproduction.
  • Like some people we know, certain caterpillars like the Crystalline Limacodid, have bristles that dispense toxic chemicals. Getting too close to them can be a very painful experience!
  • Many moths, butterflies and caterpillars use camouflage as a way of protecting themselves in an attempt to hide from predators — we see these same behaviors in organizations.
  • One moth native to South America has a foot-long proboscis that it uses to sip nectar from deep-throated flowers while another moth has a proboscis that pierces the skin and can drink the blood of animals.

Thus, if you’ve read through the above list, you may have learned more about caterpillars and butterflies than you knew previously. (You can find a LOT more information on wikipedia) So, my challenge was to find some simple and straightforward ways to continue to apply this metaphor to managing issues of change in the people in our organization.

Then this happened. While working on this metaphor, and in a telephone conversation, Ted Forbes, then at UVA’s Darden School of Business asked me,

“Do you know about caterpillars and butterflies?”

Feeling as somewhat an expert on the subject and knowing the key learning point of Part One of this article, I, of course simply said,

“No.”

 (Remember the paradox of knowing The Answer?)

Ted then shared a great quote and training punch line and it makes a wonderful transition to any discussion about the issues of personal and organizational change. Ted said:

“In the change from being a caterpillar to becoming a butterfly, you’re nothing more than a yellow, gooey sticky mess.”

All of us need to continually deal with the gooey glop that most find uncomfortable. But you have to metamorphose in order to change yourself and that process will involve going through the discomfort of being less and less of a caterpillar while you are not yet a butterfly. As mentors and coaches, we need to expect that most people will have a degree of discomfort going through the change / improvement process.

Expect any transformation process to be somewhat uncomfortable — and note that it takes some level of commitment to go through the change process and actually implement something. So, one key is to better understand the change process and the realities of how to support change to create a somewhat different future.

Understand that we are incredibly perceptive. Our natural senses give us perceptual sensitivity that is nothing short of amazing. If your human physical senses are working normally, you can:

  • See a burning candle from 28 miles away (if you are totally dark-adapted)
  • Feel on your fingertips a pressure that depresses your skin .00004 inch
  • Smell one drop of perfume diffused through a three room apartment
  • Taste .04 ounce of table salt dissolved in 530 quarts of water
  • Feel the weight of a bee’s wing falling on your cheek from less than half an inch away
  • Distinguish among more than 300,000 different colors
  • Gauge the direction of a sound’s origin based on a .00003-second difference in its arrival from one ear to another

Thus, we have the sensitivity to be extremely perceptive. But we typically block our sensitivity and it goes unrealized and underutilized, just as do most of our other capabilities and potential for performance. (See an article about managing teamwork and performance by using Flow by clicking here)

Applied to personal change, we will often limit ideas and possibilities for improvement because we already know the answers. By constraining our thinking, we are limiting our possibilities and innovations as well as limiting the self-esteem that comes from successful accomplishment of change and the rewards of self-improvement.

It is often our beliefs that make it difficult to see what is obvious and those beliefs and perceptions prevent us from improving.

So, step back from the wagon and look around. See what Square Wheels are operating and what choices you have made and could be making. Be perceptive. And look for opportunities to change yours and the perspectives of others. It is Dangerous to Know THE Answer, so keep asking questions.

Stay tuned for Part Three

See the sidebar comments below the signature field for a few more thoughts on lepidoptera.

For the FUN of It!

Scott and Caterpillar Picture

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant. 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/

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Sidebar Comments:

I will admit that I love reading and learning about these lepidoptera creatures, since there is just so much fascinating information available. I went back and reread the Wikipedia article listed above and followed a few other links. So, I thought to add a couple of things.

The development of the wings are interesting. You cannot open the crysalis or cocoon to help a “struggling” emerging butterfly, since that activity is important for wing development. (You cannot “coach” them out!) Near emergence, the wings are forced outside under pressure and although these tissues are initially quite flexible and fragile, by the time the pupa breaks free of its confinement, they have firmed up. Within hours, the wings form a cuticle so hard and well-joined to the body that pupae can be picked up and handled without damage to the wings.

The glitter of a butterfly has to do with scales and these form during the change process. Caterpillars do not have them. Butterflies do. And they are pretty amazing things; they reflect light differentially to give the animals color. Below are electron microscopic pictures (from Wikipedia) that show the details with increased magnification from left to right. Amazing. And these little differences give the species is unique coloration.

butterfly wing scales

The species differences are interesting. There is a lot of mimicry in coloration and body adaptations to fit to their environment.

170px-Heliconius_mimicry

And some of the patterns are really interesting. The one below is a common one for people getting tattoos these days – it is of the Death’s Head Hawk Moth, a creature that really exists:Death's Head Hawkmoth 1

So, I hope that you find this stuff interesting. People are like caterpillars in that they want stability and grounded-ness. Many see flying as dangerous and risky but they find it less difficult after that first takeoff! Remember that flying is easy and lots of creatures accomplish it. What most need is just a little support and a little coaching and modeling. Some do it naturally.

Have FUN out there!