For years now I’ve been on a one person campaign to defrock the butterfly as the mascot of transformation. Human societies are not like butterflies in how they change. A colleague I met early this year a a Art of Hosting Training in Karlskrona, Sweden, took my challenge seriously. Here’s what she recently wrote.
By Phoebe Munson:
I have decided that the perfect metaphor for change is not the butterfly; it is instead the humble axolotl.
A few months ago now, in the darkness of winter, a few of us went to the Art of Hosting conference in Sweden. During one of the sessions, Bob Stilger was talking about transformation and change. At the time he expressed that he was frustrated with the constant use of the butterfly as the standard metaphor for change. After giving this a fair bit of mulling over space, I have come up with the ideal alternative candidate, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
This week Circus has had their first monthly strategy meetings. We have (of course) come up with a fun name – Cirque du Strategie – and a flexible meeting flow that will keep us on point. Having now been a team for six months we decided it was time to slow down, take stock and do a bit of planning before we speed up into the next phase of the rebrand, support and development and environment work.
With the help of lovely Una Nicholson, we had a couple of half days tucked up in each other’s houses, surrounded by flipcharts and juggling balls. After each of these sessions I was struck by how honest we were able to be about our progress and how we were feeling. It felt like we were truly living our principles and it was very exciting to feel that sense of empowerment.
As anyone who was unfortunate enough to be caught up in the whirlwind of the move will tell you, the last few weeks/months have been really difficult. Personally at times I have felt like a dumping ground, isolated in a sea of … well that’s probably not helpful to dwell on. It has been tough, and no one has been able to hide that. I think everyone involved has done an amazing job of supporting each other and I am very grateful for both Janet and Tina, I can’t say thank you enough. At one point I thought it had broken me, but having had a few days to step back and take stock, I can see that maybe this will be the making of us. What I have realised is that when you are facing a task that seems insurmountable, feeling disconnected and alone is very real. People need something to rally to. In the darkness among the pink crates, what kept me going were the lovely people I work with.
And being a self-managing team during all of this hasn’t made it any easier. I have had no rulebook to hide behind, no one to tell me what to do, and when people in my team have asked me how I am feeling I know that they deserve an honest answer. As a result this experience has made me more determined to find ways for people to connect to each other. Self-management doesn’t mean working in isolation. If anything it is even more important for people to form strong relationships. It is the only way that people can operate in this system. Anything less and you crumble.
The saving grace is that every time I have felt close to breaking permanently, every time I have cried and wanted to throw my toys out of the pram, help has appeared. In setting up the Facilitation Champions I have been overwhelmed by the sense of ease with which people have embraced a new way of working. With the experimental On Boarding roundtable, I have had the privilege to hear story tellers from across the organisation share their feelings about their services. All of this came from a sense of pride and respect for individuals which is (without being trite) kind of awe inspiring.
So anyway, the axolotl and why I think this should be the new mascot for transformation. For those of you not familiar with this smiley little amphibian, the axolotl is closely related to the tiger salamander. Unlike most salamanders the axolotl reaches maturity without undergoing metamorphosis (bear with me). Instead of growing lungs and venturing onto land, it keeps it’s prepubescent gills and remains aquatic. They are used extensively in science because of their ability to regrow limbs.
What makes axolotls remarkable is the fact that, although they reach maturity largely unchanged, they exhibit a remarkable quality. If they ingest enough iodine, either through their diet or injections, they will grow lungs and transform into larger terrestrial adults. They can live their whole life cycles without reaching this stage, but if the conditions are right then they walk on land. Although nowhere near as beautiful as butterflies, I personally think they are much more poignant.