Quick Take: Puppies and Butterflies

My wife is committed to helping animals. At various times we’ve fostered puppies and helped caterpillars develop into moths or butterflies. Either process can be very messy.

Both puppies and butterflies undergo change as they move toward their adult/more-developed state. But the processes are very different.

Puppies grow incrementally. They play, learn, discover, and progress toward their adult selves. The change is gradual and you won’t see visible, significant, obvious changes from one day to the next. But the progress is there.

Caterpillars don’t ‘grow’ into butterflies. They transform or metamorphose (today I learned ‘metamorphosize’ isn’t a word) from one state fully into another. The caterpillar creates a cocoon (chrysalis) and later emerges a butterfly. At some point in the process, the caterpillar deconstructs itself and ceases to be a caterpillar. It then creates a new form for itself and emerges as a butterfly.

We use the word ‘transformation’ frequently in professional settings when we talk about change, especially organizational change. Often, those leading or supporting transformation use this language to generate energy, excitement and focus for the difficult task of changing an organization.

But what if all ‘transformations’ are not best thought of like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly? What if many ‘transformations’ won’t entail deconstructing what was there before in order to form something new…something new that might look unrecognizable when compared to what came before?

What if instead of a ‘transformation’, an organization, business unit, or team needs incremental growth and change. What if instead of destroying what they were before to create something new, they can develop incrementally. Like a puppy, they can play, learn, discover, and grow toward a better, more mature, and more effective form.

Incremental change will never help a caterpillar become a butterfly, just like metamorphosis will never help a puppy become an adult dog.

When you think of the group you’re helping to change, what kind of support do they need from you to move toward a more effective form? In this moment, do they need help transforming or support in developing incrementally?