Teaching The Caterpillar to Fly – Thoughts on Change – Part Three

Part One of this series talks about the danger of knowing The Answer when it comes to working to manage and lead change and Part Two focuses on some of the realities of the change process, with factoids on caterpillars and butterflies. To support this endeavor, we have also added two different poems on the themes of transformation and change that I hope you will find interesting. Joan Simmerman’s poem is here and Fern Lebo’s poem is here.

Here is the third part of this series, with a focus on how we can use the Square Wheels theme and approach to better involve and engage people in this process of involving, engaging and understand the process of change itself.

Ideas about:

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

Rolling forward… Some thoughts on Square Wheels and Change
Part Three of Five

Another reality is that we do not have to constantly invent ideas and frameworks. That takes energy and sometimes results in failure. On our journey forward, there are already others who may have done what we want to do or changed what we want to change. It is less about invention and more about discovery. With that in mind, let me share another metaphor and framework that others have found useful and that might be of benefit to you.

The framework is one of identifying the ideas that already exist and modeling the behavior of others. If we can identify the things that others are doing that may work for us, it might be a lot easier to make some improvements. No sense reinventing the wheel and learning through errors and mistakes if we can identify better ways that have already been proven.

To address some of these perceptual problems, let’s use my most useful metaphor, called Square Wheels One. Many people work like the people below. Take a moment and consider this illustration:



So here they are, working hard and thumping along on Square Wheels. Note that the Round Wheels already exist in the wagon. However, they continue to plod along as they have always done because their Square Wheels do work and they have worked in the past and will work in the future.

After all, how would we know that we were making any progress
if things didn’t go “Thump, Thump?

Some common thinking about this illustration:

  • The Square Wheels can represent many things, including traditions and habits. Organizationally, they may represent processes and practices that do not work well or inter-departmental conflicts. They are the shared experiences of any organization that does not move smoothly forward. They increase costs of doing things and are inefficient and ineffective.
  • The person in the front pulls forward but also gets isolated from the wagon itself and may not feel the thumps and bumps nor hear the talk at the back. Communication is hard. The view from the back is not very motivating and the pushers are somewhat blind to the future. The wagon can do the job, but it’s difficult to turn; changing direction is always hard.
  • Individually, the Square Wheels might represent the things we are so used to doing. They could just be preferences in how we approach job or home activities. What we have been doing works, but there might be more effective ways of doing things. But it is sometimes hard to see this. After all, we are making progress!
  • And there is another paradox: We set our personal and organizational goals based on Square Wheels. And we can meet our goals if they are set this way! Lastly, over time, it becomes increasingly hard to stop and step back to look for new possibilities for doing things because we are working so hard to meet these goals!

And to illustrate the power of diversity of thinking as we did with the caterpillars and butterflies, in our use of this image over the years, we’ve captured almost 300 different thoughts and themes about this one illustration! Some additional points include:

  • Trust among team members is important for motivation and focused effort
  • Communications between pullers and pushers is an obvious opportunity for improvement
  • Shared visions and goals are crucial for shared effort and motivation
  • Most organizations have difficulty in changing direction
  • There is a constant need for teamwork and collaboration
  • Continuous improvement and measurement of progress must occur because the round wheels of today will become square tomorrow
  • Issues of cost and performance are always present
  • Ideas for improvement already exist within the wagon

As we roll forward on our Square Wheels, we become accustomed to the Thump, Thump of our journey. Yet change and improvement tend to be inevitable for most of us and for our organizations. The key is choice and perspective. The risk comes from not changing, from trying to maintain our status quo in the middle of a rapidly changing world.

But we’ve also learned that many organizations may operate, in reality, more like this — up their axles in glop.

Square Wheels Mud Image and haiku


Lots of times, we work to make progress but we seem to be stuck in the ditch. And it is hard to really get a grip on what is happening to us. Progress is most difficult.

In other words,

Things are this way because they got this way and unless things change,
things will continue to remain the same.

Recognize that in organizations, this “yellow gooey sticky mess” is similar to the politics, systems, processes, bureaucracy and general goop that commonly seems to get well-intentioned effort bogged down. The same things tend to occur in our family and personal lives, where our past experiences, expectations and cultural context seem to slow progress or people feel they have no alternatives.

The wagon sinks up to its axles in this stuff, with the added reality that, “It may not be a yellow gooey sticky mess – it may be cement.”

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation
and go to the grave with the song still in them.”


Yet this gooey mess is also at the core of the reality of transformation and change. It represents a problem as well as an opportunity. How?

There are people around us who are not bogged down and who are already doing things differently and better. In organizations, these exceptional performers work in the same environment but get much more accomplished than the average performers. These “Mud Managers” have different models and frameworks — behavioral, mental and strategic — that simply allow them to operate more efficiently and effectively. They have made choices that are different than most.

One key is getting out of the ditch and up on the road. It is not about doing things the same way and expecting to make improvements. It is about making different choices and transforming ourselves to match with our potential.

What we need is vision, objectivity and perspective about where we stand and what is happening.

And people do have choices:

“We could be standing at the top of the world instead
of sinking further down in the mud.”

Meatloaf, from his song, “All revved up and no place to go.”

 In the transformation of the caterpillar into the butterfly, the caterpillar constructs a cocoon and then undergoes an astounding transformational process, where the old “caterpillar” molecules actually chemically transform into “butterfly” molecules. They have to stop being caterpillars before they can possibly become butterflies — and they actually become that yellow gooey sticky mess. But then they reassemble and become more than they were. They realize their inherent potential, something that all of us can do and something that most of us can support in others.

It involves accepting that we have potential…

“Caterpillars can fly, if they just lighten up!”

Each of us must be sensitive to our surroundings and look for things we might choose to do differently. And our friends, associates, coaches and leaders should be looking for opportunities to involve and engage others in gaining perspective and objectivity about their behavior and their organizations to make improvements occur. We need to ask questions, challenge “whee-ality” and search for a never-ending supply of Round Wheels to implement.

From a leadership perspective, it is a lot more about asking than it is about telling. It is more about collaboration and engaging than it is about being The Boss.

Round Wheels are also a paradox, since they already exist within the wagons and yet not all are usable, since some may not have rims or tubes. And we also have to actually stop making progress, momentarily, to discover and mount the wheels that will work for us. In organizations, implementing improvements also causes shifts in resource utilization and systems and processes; as the wagon moves forward faster, it causes other pressures in other operations.

 Don’t Just DO Something! Stand There!

In order to begin replacing Square Wheels with round ones, it’s important to “stop being a caterpillar” and let change happen by first stepping back to gain perspective. Give people a chance to express what it is that they see, from their own special perspective, what could be done differently. By getting these ideas out, you’ll spark innovation that can make the wagon move forward more easily by implementing some “round wheel” ideas.

Go directly to Part Four – Statistics and Ideas for Change – by clicking here

If you would like to see more information on our powerpoint toolkit for managing and leading change, click here or call me at 864-292-8700


Have FUN out there!

Dr. Scott Simmerman CPF, CPT is still managing partner of PMC

Scott is developer of the Square Wheels® images and the board game version of Lost Dutchman

Scott has presented his concepts in 47 countries and collaborates with consultants and trainers worldwide.

You can reach him at scott@squarewheels.com and you can see his profile at LinkedIn


Also published on Medium.