Ideas on People and Performance, Team Building, Motivation and Innovation

Tag: ideas on coaching and mentoring

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

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.

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.”

Thoreau

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 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, currently retiring (and still working) in Cuenca, Ecuador.

You can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

 

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

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. butterfly

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.
  • 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.

Here is Part Three

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

For the FUN of It!

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.

You can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

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

 

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.

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

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:

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!

 

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