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

Tag: teaching the caterpillar to fly

Teaching the Caterpillar to Fly – A Slideshare program

Teaching the Caterpillar to Fly is the theme of my ideas on managing and leading change. I have presented worldwide on the theme and even developed a complete Square Wheels Change Toolkit that has metaphors, exercises, jokes, illustrations, quotes and all sorts of resources for presenting on the topic and involving and engaging people for change.

Part One of my Slideshare program illustrates many of my key learning points with images of caterpillars and butterflies and a variety of poems and haiku about the issues and opportunities to involve and engage. It is about fun and perspective and the issues of understanding the process of change.

caterpillar butterfly poem

You can find Part One of the three part overview by clicking on the image below:

mentoring and change

You can find Part Two here and Part Three here.

I hope you find it fresh, fun and interesting — and your comments, reactions and suggestions would be most appreciated.

Scott Simmerman

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’s blog on Poems and Quips on Workplace Improvement is here.



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,


 (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!

For the FUN of It!

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 and you can see his profile at LinkedIn


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.

DO have FUN out there!


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

This is Part One 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

“I have a microwave fireplace at home…
You can lay down in front of the fire all night in 8 minutes.”
(Steven Wright, comedian)

Sometimes we expect “microwave fireplace results” when it comes to improvement and change. But improvement is never fast; it depends on the creation and realization of new possibilities and outcomes and occurs with some amount of trial and error. Call it continuous continuous improvement — but more on that later.

Realize that everyone has unrealized potential and this unrealized organizational and individual potential can be coached and supported; most individuals need the support and coaching of others to be successful. And there can be any number of issues and difficulties involved with these changes.

In order to begin any improvement process, it is important to focus on

  • understanding and capturing ideas and possibilities
  • reformulating and restructuring those ideas into a usable form and
  • then transforming them into actions and behaviors.

The situation reminds me of a story:

Two caterpillars are chatting and a beautiful butterfly floats by.  One caterpillar turns to the other and says,“You’ll never get me up on one of those butterfly things!”

Before moving on, take a moment and consider the meanings of this story. There are some wheels within wheels herein and some important lessons on perspective, leadership and creativity. So STOP for a moment and consider the story again.

Okay. What you’re being asked to consider may seem similar to what John McEnroe said on losing to Tim Mayotte in a professional indoor tennis championship:

“This taught me a lesson, but I’m not sure what it is.”

I’ve told the caterpillar and butterfly story many times. And people always “get it” as I did when first reading it. But there is also a major paradox in the story as it applies to thinking, personal growth, managing change and leading performance improvement. I can state the learning lesson as:

It’s Dangerous to think you know “The Answer.” *

* That’s “The” as in “Duh.”

As I first developed and used this story about the caterpillars and the butterfly, I assumed that everyone understood that the joke / story was about resistance to change — a single simple answer: “You’ll Never Get me…” But when I asked a room full of people to talk about the meaning of the story in an Asian training session, I was shocked by their many answers, since most were not about my answer but their perceptions.

In asking people to discuss the joke over the past years, there have been many different responses and answers, including:

  • Caterpillars have no need to fly. They are well grounded!
  • Caterpillars can eat anything green and find food everywhere.
  • Butterflies are a stage beyond caterpillars.
  • Butterflies have to fly to get anywhere and caterpillars can crawl and climb.
  • We can attempt to resist and suffer the stress and difficulties.
  • We can choose to be active participants in change. Or not, maybe.
  • We go through stages of development and butterflies are one stage closer to death.
  • Risk avoidance is normal.
  • Change is often actively resisted.
  • Change is inevitable.
  • Caterpillars don’t like wings.
  • Caterpillars must hate flying since they don’t even try.
  • Caterpillars focus only on eating and survival.
  • Butterflies can get blown around by the wind, but caterpillars can drag their feet!
  • Metamorphosis is an uncontrollable process with an unclear result.
  • Metamorphosis is a dark, damp, confined place, so I’m scared!
  • It’s easier for butterflies to develop perspective than caterpillars.
  • You have to stop being a caterpillar in order to become a butterfly.
  • Change is not always a conscious decision. Change will occur, inevitably.
  • There is a need for vision and perspective — we’re all on a journey to somewhere.

and my favorite answer:

  • I’ll NEVER be a butterfly; My mother was a moth.

How many times do we self-limit our perceptions and our thinking because we “know the answer” and thus don’t even think about different possibilities? I find this to be a very common occurrence — and one most deserving of our personal reflection and analysis.

When people talk about this story of caterpillars and butterflies among themselves, a most remarkable thing usually happens: They discover that they share different perspectives and a diversity of ideas, which is common when people discuss things. And each has a unique perspective.

Yet most of us, when we know “The Answer,” will generally self-limit any consideration of other possibilities and limit our thinking.

The fact that we can generate other ideas is a most interesting outcome. All of us have the capability to generate ideas and possibilities. What we need is a simple tool and shared base of experience and common ground. Most would agree that being a butterfly is a “higher existence” than remaining a caterpillar.

The story also links to some key learning points on leading change and dis-un-empowering people, including:

  • Even though we often resist change and risk, change is often inevitable!
  • Change will occur and we can choose to be active participants and go with the flow – or we can attempt to resist and suffer the stresses.
  • Each of us goes through many stages of development, a process that occurs repeatedly over time.
  • It’s easier for butterflies to develop perspective on things than it is for caterpillars since they have a better viewpoint.
  • Caterpillars focus only on eating and survival. There is more to life than this.
  • What is needed is vision and overall perspective – we are all on a journey forward.
  • Having gone through a process of change may make the next cycle of change less threatening and somewhat easier.
  • We need to be engaged and involved in the process itself rather than feel imprisoned by our environment. Change cannot be done “to” us — forcing the action typically generates active resistance to the process.

Possibilities are endless! Choosing to change is a really important part of improvement. And we all have a bit of the butterfly within us.

Before moving on, consider the meanings of this story about resisting change and making choices. There are wheels within wheels herein and some important lessons on perspective, leadership and creativity. So please stop for a moment and consider the story again.

“One cannot become a butterfly by remaining a caterpillar.”

Change and personal growth is all about discovering the inevitability of change and the need for one to clarify a vision of the future.

We all have the need to change, since the world around us is changing. Accepting that change is inevitable, that the future is often unknown, and that change is simply one more stage in the continuous growing that we do as human beings is an applicable premise.

Understanding the basics of change and development is useful. Knowing that change is something we can choose to do is important. Knowing that change cannot be pushed but can be coached is helpful.

Be the Butterfly!

In later posts, we will talk about ideas for involving and engaging people in the change process, coaching and mentoring,

You can go to Part Two by clicking here


For the FUN of It!

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 and you can see his profile at LinkedIn


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