“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” – Maya Angelou
When we refer to the miraculous metamorphosis of the caterpillar into the butterfly, we often use the words “Chrysalis” and “Cocoon” interchangeably. However, they do not describe the same thing. In my book “Undisruptable“, I detail some of the similarities of the transformation of the caterpillar and the transformation of organisations and individuals alike. For this Thursday Thought, I’d like to zoom in on one specific element of this transformation: the difference between “Chrysalis” and “Cocoon”, an element I removed from the book in a bid to make it shorter.
The main difference between a chrysalis and a cocoon is that the chrysalis is a life stage, while the cocoon is the casing around certain moths as they transform, but let’s come back to that in a moment. When a caterpillar hatches from its shell some caterpillars eat their shell as nourishment to fuel their future becoming. Caterpillars are like moving stomachs in their early life, eating many times their body weight every day. Caterpillars outgrow their exoskeletons as they mature, eating vegatation while shedding their skin several times to enable gradual growth.
This growth is akin to incremental change in organisation, it is not innovation, it is a normal act of good business: that is becoming an incrementally better version of what you were before. In fact, it doesn’t even mean that you are getting incrementally better, if a business is predicated on an outdated business model or product, that business will become more efficient at dying. They will be simply rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking Titanic.
With many innovations, we witness improvements of a product or service over time, like a bigger and better caterpillar. Once Apple created the breakthrough innovation that was the iPhone for example, the company continues to make better and better versions of the product for higher and higher price points. Companies pursue incremental change because this is what helped them succeed in the first place. However, after achieving success, they forget the pain of the initial innovation: figuring it out, positioning it in the marketplace, orchestrating logistics, point of sale and so on. The further removed the founder/innovator/product developer is from that initial breakthrough, the more a company pursues incremental improvements. They get stuck in a cycle of “exploit”, while they lose their appetite (and know-how) to “explore”.
And is it any wonder? Because once you become an incrementally better version of yourself, the leap to another transformation involves pain, it involves loss and a letting go of the past. As anyone who works in change will attest, the status quo by its very nature will resist change.
“It is almost banal to say so yet it needs to be stressed continually: all is creation, all is change, all is flux, all is metamorphosis.” – Henry Miller
When the time comes for a caterpillar to begin the great metamorphosis into a butterfly, it involves pain and an ultimate sacrifice. The chrysalis is not a silk cocoon, it is not a comfortable silk sleeping bag in which the caterpillar magically becomes a butterfly.
When the caterpillar enters into the chrysalis life stage, it releases a hormone called ecdysone. This hormone causes the caterpillar to shed its outer skin to reveal a hardened exoskeleton to protect it during the vulnerable transformational period that awaits.
Next, the caterpillar releases an enzyme that acts as an acid to dissolve the caterpillar into a gloopy liquid that acts as a melting pot in which the butterfly forms. Hitherto, dormant cells called imaginal discs awaited their moment of greatness. These cells go to work building the caterpillar into a butterfly, multiplying as they do so. Each set of imaginal discs contain a preprogrammed set of instructions to build the necessary structure that becomes the butterfly. (Imaginal discs are the architects of change in your organisation, you must protect them.)
When it emerges from the chrysalis (its hardened skin remember) a reddish liquid spills out, this is the waste remains of the caterpillar. (There is always collateral damage with any change.)
Is it any wonder that the caterpillars DNA resists the great change?
This transformation involves pain, sacrifice and the death of the old self to enable the new.
Is it any wonder why organisations, (organisms in their own right) resist transformational change?
Is it any wonder that those change-makers within organisations find themselves reviled, rejected and attacked?
Is it any wonder that those who profit from the status quo resist those who want to reinvent it?
The metamorphosis of an organisation (or individual) is a painful process and it takes bravery, it takes time and it takes great sacrifice. It is not easy, but it is possible.
I will leave you with the words of Joseph Campbell, who articulated it brilliantly:
“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as the have the life that is waiting for us. The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.”
THANKS FOR READING