Change often, live longer

A few weeks ago, I was in the same room with my mother and my grandmother. Unfortunately, both widows.

I joked around the fact that in my family there are a few widows but no widowers. It looks like women in my family are better equipped for the senior years. And being a male this is not a promising statistic.

Out of curiosity, I checked the national statistics to understand if this is a phenomenon circumscribed to my family. Apparently, It is not. In Italy, the number of widows aged between 55 and 75 is almost five times bigger than the number of widowers.

Yep, one widower every five widows. If you are a married Italian man, I’m sorry mate, but numbers are all in favour of your wife

Women live longer. That’s a fact. I’m not an expert on the topic, and I’m sure Google is full of researches and studies providing reasonable explanations.

However, on the flight back home I didn’t have an internet connection, but I had a lot of time to think. I reviewed the lives of the widows in my family, and I noticed a recurring pattern.

In the course of their lives, they all had to change often.

Take my mum, a woman born in the mid-fifties. When she got married to my father, she was working in a factory. Then she had me, so she started working from home while taking care of her son. Later my sister arrived, we moved to a new house, she became a full-time housewife, she supported us through different schools, a third child came and so on. While we were growing, she had to keep growing with us. In the space of one life, she had to continuously change and adapt to the evolving circumstances of our family.

While she was going through all these changes, my father had been doing the same job day in and day out. Yes, he had to go through the same events, but his life didn’t change much when we arrived or when we move to a new house. He just kept going on with the same work, the same hobbies. Sure, being an entrepreneur, his work was more fickle than many others. Still, he didn’t have to adapt to the changing circumstances as much as my mum had to.

All the women in my family had to learn early in their life to be flexible, to adapt to the circumstances and to not be scared by changes.

At the same time, their men were bastions of stability.

They didn’t have to change much.

Then, their body got older, and they couldn’t do what they used to do anymore. Or they retired. Whatever the reason, at one point they had to change.

And often, while going through that change, they passed away.

I don’t want to come through as judgemental. These men were remarkable husbands and fathers. The grew up in villages that were recovering from an awful tragedy like the Second World War. Everything these men longed for was to create stability for their families. On top of that, a lot of them went from being farmers to become factory workers. Instead of dealing with the changeability of nature, they had to fit into the routine of a tedious job.

While their wives were continually changing and adapting, they were trapped in that same stability they had built. And when circumstances changed too much, they weren’t ready to adapt.

Even worst, they were probably too tired to try.

Everything changes and nothing stands still. — Heraclitus

According to biologists, large parts of our body cells are replaced by new ones every few days. Our red blood cells are completely replaced every four months. Some say that our all body is renewed every seven years.

If there is a constant in nature, that is change.

We are designed to relentlessly transform. So, to stay the same, we must exert a force against the natural flow of life.

A life spent resisting changes creates a constant subtle tension. One that we may not notice on an average day but that, on the long distance, will take a toll on us.

When inevitable changes come our way, we have no energy left neither to resist nor to adapt.

Just to make things clear, I have no data to back up my theories and no evidence except for personal experience. But, observing this pattern in my family made me think. It also gave me a new perspective to look at some events in my life.

Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them-that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like. — Lao Tzu

I grew up fearing changes and new things.

For the first three decades of my life, I have avoided new experiences as much as I could. I kept eating the same stuff, listening to the same music, going out with the same people.

I was boringly predictable. And you know what? Family and friends loved me for that. I was a fixed point in their lives. At least this is what I thought at that time.

My ex-wife loved that side of me too. I was undoubtedly an immutable partner.

Too much with hindsight. During our years together, while she kept growing and changing, I kept being the same twenty-year-old-guy she had fallen in love with. Those different approaches to life created a growing distance between us.

When that distance became unbearable, a significant change was necessary. Unfortunately, I was stuck in my stability. I didn’t have the energy to change or to resist, and we fell apart.

It was painful. And liberating.

With nothing left to hold together, I found the strength to surrender to change and embrace the transformation.

In the years after, with the help of beautiful friends and masters, I found new stability within constant changes. One that is helping me live in harmony with the universe and the people I love.

In closing, I can’t prove my theory with sound statistics. Though, I believe that being able to transform and change is vital and can make us live longer and better.

So, I don’t know about you, but I’ll keep changing often.

Just in case.

Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

My (not so) secret formula to create freedom

Discipline has played a crucial part in my childhood education. I’m talking about the kind of discipline that relies on punishment and guilt to educate people to follow the rules and codes of behaviour. Indeed, it was driven by love, but still, that was the idea of upbringing when I was a kid, in the seventies and eighties.

Nonetheless, I was a rebel and a dreamer. I have always sought freedom, since when I was a youngster wandering in the woods fighting my imaginary dragons. I was a rebel inside, and a rule-abiding kid on the outside.

No surprises that growing up I’ve always perceived discipline as a cage. I wanted to follow my intuition, to be creative without limits. How was it possible if I had to respect rules and form? Like when I aspired to become a rockstar. I wanted to be a songwriter, to write my songs and perform my guitar on a stage. I couldn’t understand why I had to repeat the same boring exercises day after day. Deluded, I gave up.

I was looking for freedom, not discipline.

So, I repeated the same pattern on any other project that required discipline. It didn’t help that the ones who loved me kept telling me how smart and creative I was. It just fed my ego and my belief that I didn’t need discipline. My talents were the unique source of my achievements.

With everything perfect, we do not ask how it came to be. Instead, we rejoice in the present fact as though it came out of the ground by magic.” F. Nietzsche

The first breakthrough came when I attended a riding class on a closed circuit. As I wrote previously, a circuit is by definition a closed loop. During the day of the course, I repeated the same sequence of turns and movements for hours, lap after lap. At every lap, my moves became a little more smooth, and my overall speed improved. In the last hour, I had the opportunity to do some free practice without the instructors. It was exhilarating. I instinctively knew where to put the wheels, where to brake and accelerate. I was free to play with the motorbike. I was so excited about the whole process that I forgot about my assumptions on discipline. To my surprise, I had been able to stay disciplined a full day, and at the end, I felt freer than when I started.

That day, I felt that there was something wrong about my beliefs on freedom and discipline. I wasn’t entirely aware of it, but I started digging. I learned about underlying automatic commitments and limiting beliefs, but it was only when I met the Japanese word “Shuhari” that I had my second breakthrough.

Shuhari

It is fascinating how the Japanese language can embody a whole concept into one word. The word Shuhari represents the three stages of learning to mastery in martial arts.

  1. Shu (守) “obey”; It is the first stage, in which the learning is focused on the fundamentals. As students, we practice the techniques, the forms and the rules. We mainly learn from a single model through imitation and repetition until we can execute the form flawlessly. The focus is all on the what and the how.
  2. Ha (破) “detach”; The second stage is about expanding the learning, both in depth and width. We explore the “why” beyond the “how”. We learn the theories and the principles behind the techniques and the forms that we can now execute flawlessly. We also look for other models and integrate all these new learnings into our practice.
  3. Ri (離) “leave”; The higher stage is when the students become masters. Everything becomes natural to us, and we transcend rules and forms to create our own way.

I’m not a martial arts practitioner, and my knowledge about Japan comes only from movies and books. But this concept immediately resonated with me.

“Ri”, the higher stage, is my idea of freedom.

Freedom is not the denial of the form. It is the transcendence of it. And discipline is a vital ingredient that sustains the journey through the stages.

Thanks to the Shuhari concept I gave meaning to discipline. It wasn’t any more a limit to my freedom, but rather the way to achieve it.

But then new and relevant questions rose to my mind. How do we know when we are ready to move to the next level? How do we avoid the risk to get stuck at the first level becoming perfect machines? How can we be sure that what we achieve at the end is freedom and not just the illusion of freedom?

I needed another piece to complete the puzzle, and I found it in the conscious competence learning model.

The four stage of competence

In psychology, the four stages of competence, or the “conscious competence” learning model, relates to the psychological states involved in the process of progressing from incompetence to competence in a skill. — Wikipedia

In short terms, it is a model that focuses on our consciousness along the learning process. The four stages are:

  1. Unconscious incompetence: at this stage, we don’t know how to do something, and we don’t recognise the deficit. Only when we accept our incompetence, we can move to the next stage.
  2. Conscious incompetence: at this stage, we recognise our deficit, and we start the learning process to address that gap. Rules, forms and imitation are essential to building the competence we need (the Shu stage).
  3. Conscious competence: at this stage, we have finally acquired the skills we wanted but to use them we must concentrate. Conscious is highly involved in using the newly acquired skills. Being conscious of our skills allows us to go deeper in the understanding and explore the principles (the Ha stage).
  4. Unconscious competence: at the final stage what we have learned become “second nature”, and we can operate using the new skills without consciously thinking. We finally reach the Ri stage. Freedom.

Self-awareness was the element I needed to complete my formula.

Without self-awareness, the learning process won’t even start. The first necessary step to grow is to become conscious that we need and want to grow.

It may look obvious, but it is not. Becoming stuck in our beliefs is easy. When faced with our incompetence it’s easy to accept it as a “limit” and make it our reality. And because we can’t go against reality we ignore our inability, or we find good rational explanations on why we don’t need to learn. That is precisely what I did with my belief about discipline.

Self-awareness is also a fundamental piece of the whole learning journey. Without self-awareness, we won’t be able to understand when we are ready to step to a higher level. We won’t be able to go beyond the form, connect with the meaning and transcend it. Self-awareness magnifies our discipline and allows us to achieve the freedom we aim for.

So, here it is, my not so secret formula to create freedom.

Discipline + Self-Awareness = Freedom

 

Photo by Roman Mager on Unsplash

Push or Pull

How’s your willpower?

Is it healthy and mighty?

If it is, I’m very happy for you.

Mine has always been weak.

I was the kind of kid whose parents are told by teachers that “he is smart, but he doesn’t work hard enough”.

I still remember the guilt for not having enough will to do more, to do better.

Add to this that my father was a strong-will man. When he wanted something, he always made it happen.

I was not like him.

First of all, because I never knew what I wanted with enough clarity. And second, because even when I thought I knew what I wanted, I lacked the willpower to do the work to get it.

I was lazy, and I felt weak and wrong.

Though, results were telling a different story.

Growing up, my results at school were above average, sometimes even excellent. As soon as I graduated, I found a good job that started a successful career by all measures.

I’m delighted with the life I had.

Delighted but not as much proud.

Because of my lack of willpower, I always thought I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time.

It wasn’t my doing. I was just a lazy lucky guy.

A few weeks ago I decided it was time to dig deep into this with my coach.

We took a look back at all my previous successes. Analysing the reasons that made me succeed I realised that there were always some external elements determining my results; a supporting team or partner, the right location, an accountability structure and so on.

So, apparently, I was right; I was not the master behind my achievements.

I have to thank the circumstances.

Then one of those revealing questions emerged; “Who or what created those external elements?”

That was indeed an AHA moment.

Because it was me.

I choose to work in that company, with that team. I decided to move to that place. I created that space in my house. I developed that accountability structure.

It was my doing. So maybe I did more than I thought.

Here’s what I’ve learned from this inquiry into my lack of willpower.

Push vs Pull

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

I know people who push through things to get what they want. Their commitment, resilience and grit are admirable. No matter the obstacles they find on their path, they keep pushing.

And the more they push, the more they are energised and motivated. It is as if their willpower is fueled by the resistance they encounter. My father was one of them.

I am not like that.

My willpower runs out as soon as I start whatever I want. So, when I try to push myself into doing something, most of the time I fail. And, believe me, I can be very good at finding excuses and procrastinate.

In the past, I used to push myself even when the results were not coming. I thought it was the only way to do something and own the achievement. But that attitude led only to failure, shame and guilt.

No, pushing doesn’t fuel my willpower.

I am a pull type of person.

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

I am like water.

You can try to push the water towards something, but most likely it won’t work. In particular, if the direction is upward.

Instead, if you create an empty space before the water, it will flow into it, naturally.

I need to be in an environment that pulls me in the direction of what I want to achieve.

I need to be pulled into the results. Like water.

Master the Environment.

“The addict only needs to change one thing… their whole damn life.” — Ben Hill, PhD

To make it very simple, you can think of your environment as the sum of everything existing outside of your head. The physical space in which you live and work, the people and relationships, the tools you use, the clothes you wear, the car you drive, the routines you have, everything outside your mind contributes to your environment.

If you also are a pull type of person, the first step is to accept that the environment is more powerful than your willpower. Like water, you will always adapt to the situations you are living and working in.

The key is to transform this apparent weakness in strength.

If your environment controls you, then use your willpower only to steer the environment in your favour. Then you can save your willpower for other tasks and let the environment pull you towards your goals.

I know, the amount of things you can control or influence in your life, is limited. But the good news is that most of the time, you don’t have to do much. Just some little tweaks to turn your environment in your favour.

Last week I experienced the power of a small change in my environment.

Lately, I found myself wasting too much time on youtube. It’s like an addiction, a single video to relax my mind easily slip into a series of meaningless videos that eat big chunks of my time and undermine my focus.

The problem is that the computer is my primary working tool. I cannot just stay away from youtube.

The solution was simpler than I thought.

One day I went to work in my usual café, and when I got there, I realised that I had forgotten my earplugs.

Without them, I couldn’t watch any video in a public space without disturbing all the clients. So, no youtube that day and I ended up writing for three hours without distractions.

If you are a pull type of person, you should learn to master your environment.

And the great thing about shaping the environment is that you need to do it only once. At the very beginning, when your willpower is still strong enough. And then let the environment you just shaped pull you towards your goal.

If you are struggling to push through the things you want to do, you may be a pull type of person. So, stop pushing so hard for a moment and check your environment.

Are the people around you supporting your goal? Is your space helping you to focus or is it a source of distractions? Do you have an accountability partner or structure?

The key to a better you may be just around you.

This is not the end, this is just the beginning.

“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.” ― Henry D. Thoreau

As the people close to me know very well, I am not very good at celebrating my achievements.

I’ve always been like that.

Maybe I’m just restless.

When I arrive somewhere, my mind immediately starts to think about the next destination. The moment I have completed something, I am already projecting myself towards what comes next.

Not a big issue, I know. But it’s annoying.

In particular, because rewards are effective ways to motivate ourselves to achieve a goal. Because I don’t find rewards and celebrations particularly attractive, I can’t play this card to drive me to take action.

Luckily for me, my coaches helped me in exploring this topic, understanding what drives me and defining alternative ways to pull myself into action. As Thoreau beautifully says in the opening quote, my growth and transformation are my sources of motivation.

Though, this feeling of missing out is still present.

The story of this post is an excellent example of my complicated relationship with celebrations.

On the 31st of July, I completed my Coach Training and I got my Certification from ICA.

It’s the result of thirteen months of study, work and sacrifices.

I thought the occasion deserved a celebration and a post of its own.

9 days later, I couldn’t remember how many times I had written, deleted and rewritten it. I couldn’t understand what I really wanted to share.

The why behind these words.

Do I want to celebrate the achievement? Do I want to let the world know what I’ve been doing for the past year? Is it just a way to rub my ego? Is it a way to legitimate the sacrifices that I (and my partner and my family) have been through over the past year?

With this questions running through my head, I kept rewriting.

What’s wrong with celebrating an achievement? Why is it so complicated for me to write about it?

The answer revealed itself today. And as it often happens, it came out of the blue when I wasn’t looking for it.

This morning a lovely friend sent me a picture of a sunrise.

And I thought about my love for the dawn.

That fleeting moment of transition when the night is not entirely gone and the day is just a promise.

I remembered how much I love to stay in the in-between space. How much I love airports and stations.

I remembered my fascination when I read about the Bardo, the liminal state between death and rebirth.

The answer was there all along, but I couldn’t see it.

I don’t enjoy celebrations because they are only about the end.

What gives me pleasure is the liminal moment between the end of a journey and the beginning of the next one.

That’s why I crave a new beginning. So I can savour the feeling of breathing between the old and the new.
And the awareness that those moments are ephemeral makes them even more rewarding.

Finally, I found the why for this post.

It’s not the celebration of my achievement. It is me sharing the pleasure of being in this liminal space.

My journey as a student coming to an end and a new adventure unfolding in front of me.

Direction; unknown.

Post scriptum.

“if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

One of the rituals I do every morning is to welcome the new day expressing gratitude. And it is with gratitude that I want to embrace this new adventure before me.

I wouldn’t get so far in this journey, as a person and as a coach, without the support of an extraordinary team of people.

The fantastic ICA teachers and students from everywhere in the world, the unique energy of the Italian chapter, my gorgeous peer-clients and my precious peer-coaches, my supporting friends, my loving family, my late father and his lifelong example of integrity, Sujith and the extraordinary people of Being At Full Potential. Rossella whose relentless guidance, energy, optimism and trust is a constant inspiration for me. Lorena who believes in me more than I do and inspires me every day to be the best version of myself.

This is not the end, this is just the beginning.

Can we learn to make better decisions?

Maybe it’s because I have quite an experience in making bad decisions. Or perhaps I was just fascinated by the job title; Chief Decision Officer. Whatever the case, among the many articles that crowded my social streams, this onegot my attention.

Each day we make countless decisions.

Some of them are conscious such as what you want to eat, with whom you want to talk, where do you want for dinner and so on.

Most of them are unconscious, or so automatic that it’s hard to call them choices; like braking when you’re approaching a cross.

Most of the time, they have no visible consequences, a few times they may be life or death choices.

Conscious or unconscious, being able to make choices is a vital function of a human being.

Now you can understand my curiosity when I read that Google defined a new discipline to help humans make decisions.

To achieve that, Google combined data science with psychology, neuroscience, economics, and managerial science to enable individual humans, groups of humans, and machines to make wise decisions.

Fascinating.

Though, two questions arise in my head after I finished the article.

What is better?

The goal of the “chief decision officer” is to help people to make better decisions, but what makes one choice better than another? Is it the direct outcome? Or how it makes me feel? Or something else?

Take the example of choosing a hotel for a holiday. I may pick a hotel that is entirely bad (for my taste) but in which I meet the love of my life. Would you say that I made the wrong decision?

So, If you are asking yourself; “Am I making the right decision?” let me answer by sharing with you this little old Indian story.

Once upon the time, there was an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbours came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbours exclaimed.

“Maybe,” replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbours again came to offer their sympathy for his misfortune.

“Maybe,” answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbours congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.

“Maybe,” said the farmer.

Before asking yourself how to make better decisions, you should probably find clarity about what better means to you.

Better and wiser are subjective terms, while we are talking about an objective decision process. And this distinction leads me to the second point.

Can it be engineered?

From the article, it seems that better decisions are the result of an engineered process.

Something we can study, model and improve.

But what about intuition?

What would you do if the Decision Intelligence Process tells you to choose something while your guts tell you something different?

Who would you listen to?

Dave Gray wrote that “Reason does not get people to act. Emotion is what causes people to act”.

If we follow a well-engineered process, is there the risk of making a wiser decision on which we won’t act because we are not emotionally attached?

Chief Awareness Officer

I believe that science can highly contribute to our ability to make decisions.

But as I see it, the opportunity is not in making better, wiser decisions through a refined process. Instead, it’s more in helping people to rise in awareness.

From a higher level of consciousness, they will be able to see possibilities beyond data, to detach from the outcomes, to make choices that align their physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual layers and, to lean into the unknown allowing the decision to emerge.

So, what about a new job title; the Chief Awareness Officer?

When Innovation hides in the small things

A lesson about innovation by a pirate who never existed

One of my favourites childhood heroes was Sandokan, the Tiger of Malaysia, a fictional pirate created by the Italian writer Emilio Salgari in 1883. The character became very popular at the end of the seventies thanks to two TV miniseries on the national TV. I cherish those evenings with my father in the early eighties, watching together Sandokan’s adventures in exotic islands.

In particular, there is a scene in the movie that I can’t forget. It’s part of the of the second series titled “The Tiger Is Still Alive: Sandokan to the Rescue”.

At the end of the first series, Sandokan was forced to flee from his island, Mompracem, after being defeated and having his wife killed. In the second series Jamilah, a young rebel fighting to free Mompracem travels to India to convince Sandokan to get out of his solitary exile and help the rebels in their fight for freedom. When she finally convinces him, they begin a perilous journey back to Mompracem.

When they are almost at their destination, they pass near a small village. One of the villagers runs desperate towards them and begs for their help. The sultan’s soldiers are robbing them of their harvest, beating and killing everyone who tries to resist.

Sandokan wants to help them while Jamilah is impatient to join the rebels to fight against the tyrant.

The dialogue between them is short but incredibly powerful. I still remember every word of it [the translation from Italian is mine].

[Jamilah]: Sandokan, at this time in every part of the world, soldiers are taking the harvest away from peasants. And even you can do nothing about it.

[Sandokan]: “I know, but I am here, now. And maybe I can do something; I believe that by avoiding the small and close things we end up never achieving those that are big and far.”

We all love big audacious goals and moonshot thinking.

On Youtube there are plenty of videos inviting you to think bigger, to have a high impact.

And it’s great to think big.

To aim high.

As long as it doesn’t make us blind to what’s close to us, and it doesn’t become an excuse to avoid taking action.

Quite a paradox. The shiny light of a big goal may stop us from seeing the small, sometimes tedious, things that compound to achieve that same big goal we are aiming for.

The risk is to achieve neither the big nor the small results.

This is particularly true when we talk about innovation.

Experts favour notable examples, the ones with a substantial transformative impact when they explain how individuals and organisations can become more innovative.

The reason is evident, those examples are the most visible, they are usually well known, and they work well in motivating everyone to aim high.

On the other side though, someone may feel excluded from the game of innovation.

What’s the point in playing at all if I can’t change the world?

As both Tarde and Schumpeter wrote decades ago, innovation is defined by the novelty criteria, not by the size of it.

Just take a look at the origin of the word innovation“mid-15c., “restoration, renewal,” from Late Latin innovationem (nominative innovatio), noun of action from past participle stem of innovare “to change; to renew”. Meaning “a novel change, experimental variation, new thing introduced in an established arrangement” is from 1540s.”

No mention of the size of the change in the original meaning.

But also in a recent, and one of my favourites, definition of innovation by Scott Anthony, “Innovation is something different that has impact”, there are no references to the size of the impact.

What emerges from these definitions, is that a minor innovation is just as important (or maybe even more) as a radical innovation.

Innovation can manifest at the most modest of levels. It can be even unnoticeable when it appears, though the impact may be huge in the long terms.

So, what happened?

Why are we so focused on the big innovations that we overlook the small ones?

Gabriel Tarde gave us the answer over 100 years ago, in his “Les lois sociales”. He explained that we speak too much “of great men when in fact we should be speaking of great ideas, which often come from very small men, or even of small ideas, of the tiny innovations each of us contributes to the common enterprise”.

We love innovation heroes.

Those individuals and organisations that spectacularly change the world.

But what about your world?

Your life?

You?

Do you think you can do nothing and wait for some great innovators to make your world better?

What I learned from Sandokan is never to underestimate the power of a small act.

Innovation is a mindset.

There are infinite opportunities to innovate everywhere around you. They may be tiny, hard to see. But they can start a ripple effect that will innovate your world.

If you’re not ready to innovate the small things close to you, you may never create the big and far impact that you dream about.

 

Originally published on medium.

Don’t fear the cracks if you want to innovate

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
— Leonard Cohen

I am excited when I discover a crack on something.
Ok, maybe not so much when it’s on the wall of my house.
But when it is on something intangible such as an organisation, a process, a software, a methodology, an idea, a thought, an argument, a relation.

Then, I am thrilled.

And not because it’s an opportunity to use my skills to fix it.

Cracks are created by stress and tensions; the typical symptoms of a change or growth pushing to happen. And because innovation is about changing something to create something new and different, I see in any crack an opportunity to innovate.

When I found a crack on something, I ask myself “Is there anything that wants to emerge here?”.

Maybe, the best option is not to fix it. At all.
On the contrary, it may be better to widen it.
As lobsters do.

Image from University of Washington [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A lesson on innovation from the life of a lobster

Lobsters are invertebrates with a hard protective exoskeleton. In other words, they don’t have an internal skeleton but an external one, a shell, that supports and protects their body. The shell of a lobster is hard and inelastic, so it doesn’t grow over time.

But the lobster does, and while it keeps growing, its shell becomes smaller and smaller. At some point it gets so painful to stay in the shell that the lobster has only one option; to shed the old shell, get out and create a new one. This process is called moulting, and a lobster does it multiple times during its life. During the moulting process, the lobster, with its new softshell, becomes vulnerable and must hide from predators for at least a week or two.

Lobsters take stress and pain as signals that it is time to grow.

So they crack their shell to build a new one.

In doing so, they accept the risk of being vulnerable for a while.

What can we learn, from the lobsters?

When we find a crack in our life or in our organisation, we are presented with various options.

  • We can ignore the crack in the hope it will disappear, or at least that it won’t get bigger. Unfortunately, the tension that created the fissure won’t go away just ignoring it. It will keep working until, one day, everything will crumble, and we will be left only with some rubble. I did it in one of my previous jobs, and it didn’t end well. I moved with the feeling of having lost a great opportunity.
  • We can fix the crack using the best tools and products. Unfortunately, mending the breach doesn’t eliminate the tension that generated it. The crack may appear again in the future, maybe even bigger and impossible to fix. I also tried this, with my marriage. When the fracture came back, it was too big to deal with. We couldn’t do anything but parting away.
  • Or, we can open up the crack and deal with the tension beneath. What wants to emerge? What is pushing behind that crack?

The problem with opening up a crack is that we don’t know what we may find. And, even more scary, in doing so we will have to expose ourselves.
Like for the lobsters, we will become vulnerable.

But, we will also connect with the tension that generates that crack. A tension that we could transform in new energy to innovate and grow.

In the end, the choice is ours.

My coach helped me understand that for me, being vulnerable is an act of strength. This is why I now look at cracks with excitement. They are opportunities to innovate

What about you?

What are your going to do, next time you’ll find a crack in your shell?

Are you going to take some pills and live in the painful, cramped space of your limiting shell, or are you going to act like a lobster and take your chance of being vulnerable to innovate?