Axolotls and Change

Originally posted here.

I have decided that the perfect metaphor for change is not the butterfly; it is instead the humble axolotl.

A few years ago now, in the darkness of winter, I travelled 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.

As anyone who was fortunate enough to work in a way where challenge drives motivation, 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.  At several points I have thought myself broken.  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 these moments what has kept me going were the lovely people I work with.

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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.  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.

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